Now is the time to innovate

It’s pretty scary reading the papers and listening to the news these days. We are all left wondering how this current downturn will play itself out. Unfortunately I don’t have a crystal ball and make no claim to any ability to predict the future. I don’t know what is going to happen any more than any commentator on current affairs.

That said, I’d like to propose two ways of looking a the current global situation:-

  • learning from the past
  • learning from the future

Firstly

Learning from the past.

You may already know this, but I’ll ask anyway. What do the following companies have in common:

  • Motorola
  • Hewlett Packard
  • Xerox
  • Unisys
  • Texas Instruments
  • Revlon
  • Ryder?

I deliberately organised the list this way so that you might be misled by the first five entries that they were all technology companies. But you would have know that Revlon was in the cosmetics business and probably (although I had to refresh my memory) that Ryder was a transportation and logistics group.

If you haven’t worked it out yet, I’ll tell you. All these companies were founded during the Great Depression. My source for the short quiz above was this article by David Silverman (although Silverman in turn tells us we could all do this research independently by checking Funding Universe .)

David also points out that a number of well known brands and products of today were established during the Depression. So while many businesses were going to the wall, it was as hard as it ever had been to raise capital and consumer confidence was at an all time low, some individuals were bold enough to launch new enterprises that have passed the test of time and some companies launched new products that have turned out to be stayers.

Now I have to put a disclaimer in here. This is, by necessity, a first look analysis. I generally criticise research which looks at successful anythings to try to find what the successes had in common. This applies to companies, leaders innovators, entrepreneurs and anything else you might like to name. We don’t know from this brief analysis how many companies started during the Depression went bust and how the success rate of startups during that period compares with that of startups during more bouyant times. So I am not suggesting this proves a downturn is a better time to innovate than during a boom. I am suggesting though that some people who have tried have found success in doing so.

And this first level analysis makes some sort of intuitive sense. Even if we think of it in terms of ‘survival of the fittest.’ Anyone can make money during a boom but in tough times, only the fittest (or perhaps in a business sense, the smartest) survive. A recession shakes us all around and sorts us out. During a recession we have to find new and smarter ways of doing things. We have to use our advertising dollars smarter. We have to work out which parts of our business never really made sense anyway but coasted along in the boom and which parts of our business could be the source of sustainable growth into the future.

All sorts of questions come to mind regarding our employees. Which ones stuck by us in the boom when they could have made more money elsewhere? Who shows real promise with creative thinking and can come up with some of the new ideas we need to survive and prosper? Who have just been hanging on and coasting.

Finally, as other businesses fall over around us what are the new opportunities? We can be fairly sure we are not going to grow by copying outdated business models or just copying products that our erstwhile competitors can no longer provide. But what new products and services do these holes in the market call out for?

“Oh for a crystal ball,” you may well exclaim. This is where we move on to my second way of learning:

Read more

Changes at The Spiral Path

Big changes are happening at The Spiral Path.
I have moved the blog to a much more robust server. Some of you have reported some problems with links to the site. That should pretty much be a thing of the past.
The elves are still working away at tweaking everything and getting the site working absolutely perfectly. You will see the sidebar doesn’t include everything it used to. I am working on rebuilding this with updated links and information. Please come back and check it over the next couple of weeks.
You will also soon see a new look and feel I completely revamp the site to match my chriscurnow.com site.
I am sure you will like the changes.
Thanks for your patience while I and my elves are working on the update.
I’d like to hear what you think.

Starting Over

For the last twelve months at least The Spiral Path has gone the way
of many blogs.

I started out enthusiastically, but then other things overtook me.
For one thing I noticed I was spending a lot of time blogging and not
enough time earning money.

Well I am going to have another go at starting this blog.

I do love writing here – even if no-one reads it. But I know for sure
you won’t read it unless I write it.

So let’s see how we go.

Feedback on this blog

Due to an overwhelming amount of comment spam, I have changed the restrictions on commenting.

If you do want to comment you will find you now have to log in via Typekey.

It only takes a moment to get a Typekey account and you can use the same account
for any blog powered by Moveable Type.

After just deleting nearly 1000 trackbacks, I have also disabled this feature.

I will try to change this in the future, but for the moment, this is the way it will have to be.

As with many of us, when we started blogging we spent lots of time setting up our blogs. Now the reality of the amount of time maintenance takes has set in. I don’t spend nearly as much time as I would like blogging, I don’t want to be spending large amounts of the time I do have on maintenance.

Avoiding Boring Meetings

Leon Gettler has a good piece on meetings here.
The trouble with meetings is not meetings themselves but the people who attend them. None of us say what we really think.
Although how we create an environment in which it is OK to say what we think is another matter. Now that sounds like something I would like to write about.

65 Roses Day Volunteers

I just received this email from Cystic
Fibrosis Victoria
:

CAN YOU = HELP?

We would love the support of volunteers to help us = promote
National Awareness of cystic fibrosis on 65 Roses Day, Friday May
= 25.

  • We need volunteers to = help
    at 14 locations around the CBD to sell merchandise
  • Roadside collectors to = assist
    at 3 main intersections in


    Melbourne at St Kilda, Elsternwick & Toorak
  • Shifts are between 8am =

    11am & 3pm – 6pm.
  • All proceeds will be = donated
    to research to help find a cure for cystic fibrosis
  • Training will be = provided
    if volunteers are available on Tuesday May 22 from 3-4pm & 6-7pm
    = in the lead up to the event
  • If you would like to sell 65 Roses Day merchandise
    in your own network please contact the office for an order form

Please call CFV on 03 9686 1811

  • If you would like to sell 65 Roses Day = merchandise in
    your own network please contact the office for an order = form

Please call CFV on 03 9686 = 1811

Cystic Fibrosis


Victoria



80 Dodds = Street

SOUTHBANK VIC = 3006

Ph:   +613 9686 = 1811 

Fax:  +613 9686 = 3437

Email: = njessop@cfv.org.au

Website: www.cfv.org.au

Wounds to the Soul

I wonder if you are carrying a wounded soul?

We start out with such ideals — entrepreneurs in particular, if
you class yourself in that category. But life has a way of presenting us with
such huge dilemmas.

I was moved to think about this after reading Ian Mitroff this
morning. In the course of his research, Mitroff interviewed a number of CEOs.
He tells the story of

Charles (not his real name) is a typical CEO of a midsize, highly
successful manufacturing business on the East Coast [of the USA]. In his early
fifties, in good physical shape, and happily married with three "great kids."
he has an enormous zeal for living and for life in general. He is quite prous
of the entrepreneurial skills that enabled the creation of his business and
tha have kept it fresh, exciting, and highly competitive over the years. Nonetheless,
it didn’t take long in the interview for a deep wound in his soul to surface.

"A few years ago, I had an epiphany, I realized — or better yet, I could
no longer deny — that the chemicals I was using to manufacture and treat
the furniture I was making were highly toxic. They were extremely dangerous
to the environment. To my dismay, I realised that I had become an unwitting
agent of evil, Needless to say, this does not sit well with my self-concept."

What do we do with such dilemmas?

Being Still

My apologies for the absence here for such a long time. It is over a month
since I posted. How can that be? How time flies.

I’ve been thinking about standing still.

Well perhaps not standing still in the pejorative sense, perhaps more being
still. Being still long enough to know what is happening around me.

C Otto Scharmer calls it Co-sensing.
If you are moved to look at his model, you will see this corrresponds to the
left hand side of the ‘U’. (It may not surprise you that I like to think of
this as a spiral rather than a ‘U’. On the spiral path you start where you
are now and be still. Then you move both inwards and outwards on the spiral.
But Ottto uses a ‘U’, so let’s stick with that for the moment.)

Otto describes this process as

‘Downloading’
(images of the past)

‘Suspending’

‘Seeing’ (with fresh eyes)

‘Sensing’ (from the field).

‘letting-go’

To get into the left hand side of the ‘U’ we need to stop and be still.

It’s not easy to find time to be still in our busy lives. But it is when we
are busy we most need to find the time to be still.

If you follow Otto’s ‘U’, you will see that it leads to ‘Co-presencing’ (connecting
with ‘Who is my Self?’ and ‘What is my Work?’) at the bottom through to ‘Performing’
(achieving results) on the right. I like to expand this a bit with ‘acheiving
powerful results connected to our my true self and my true work.’ But that
is running ahead of ourselves for the moment.

Remember where we started today. Being still. Try it for 10 minutes to start
with. Be still and be aware of what is around you. Don’t rush ahead. I’ll come
back to the other parts of the process. For the moment, just be still and be
aware, remembering that this is the beginning of powerful action.

Creating Shareholder Value

We are fascinated with this month’s lead article in Harvard Business Review Ten
Ways to Create Shareholder Value
(subscription required for full article
but you can get the abstract here or contact
me
for more details.)

In one way, we really wonder how ‘shareholder value’ became such unchallengeable
corporate orthodoxy. We wonder how people working in corpotations can ever
be motivated with the goal of making money for someone else. But that’s what
we expect them to do. We expect them to turn up at work every day and think
to themselves "how can I make more money for shareholders today." We expect
them to be over the moon with this prospect. Everything else they may put their
heart and soul into is expendable in the service to shareholder value. Even
their own jobs are expendable to this purpose. Then we treat them with disdain
because they are lazy and they don’t have any commitment to the corporation.

On the other hand we know how this came to be — see Agency Theory and Shareholder Value.

Given all that at least Harvard Business Review turns the emphasis from short
term to long term value. A small step. A step nevertheless.

Easy Answers

Perhaps the most fundamental quest in human history has been to find ‘the
path to a fulfilled life.’ Throughout time, men and women  have
sought to address this question at various levels of depth. For some it has
been a shallow ‘tell me everything I need to know in five minutes’ while
for others it has truly been a life’s work. For many this search has
been expressed through a religious journey, some through exploration of the
natural universe, some through personal conquest, and increasingly today many
find expression in the world of business. (Indeed we have heard it said that
business has replaced religion as the source for meaning in people’s
lives.) People in this category may attempt to find fulfilment through building
huge organisations, by amassing personal wealth or perhaps creating something
of enduring worth.

Hand in hand with the individual quest, have been those who offer to provide
either “the answer” or guidance along the path. In the field of
religion we have priests, rabbis, mullahs and teachers. We also have heretics.
In personal health we have doctors and medical practitioners of all varieties.
We also have quacks and snake oil salesmen. In business we have consultants
on the one hand and charlatans on the other (See Thomas
Szasz
). Somewhere in that mix, and across all fields of endeavour we have ‘gurus’.

A few years ago Spiral Path worked for a one of the Big Five professional services
firms in Melbourne. It was an eye opening experience. we could see in the
eyes and hear in the words of our clients two very different perceptions
of us. One the one hand there was a deep distrust. Our fees were higher than
anyone else in town and they knew, or suspected, that we were looking for
ways to broaden the engagement (and hence charge more fees) in almost every
conversation. In short, they felt we were out to ‘screw them’.

On the other hand, they engaged us because our fees were so high. Our fees
must be the highest because we must be the best. When they came to a presentation
in our offices, they met us at the hallowed thirteenth floor. There was a hush
when the lift opened. We did everything we could to make them feel it was their
privilege to be invited to come here. We provided them with a magnificent view
of Melbourne (a metaphor for our omniscience), the meeting was attended by
waiters who would serve tea, coffee and biscuits individually and when they
went to the bathroom they were regaled with marble walls stone floors and gold
fittings.

Throughout all this, Spiral Path felt they entertained (and we encouraged)
one abiding fantasy about us. Yes they could come to Level 13. But there
were parts of the building only staff were allowed. Surely there was, somewhere
higher in the building that they could only dream of where only the most
devout staff could go. A place where there was a huge book laid out on an
alter. In the book were all the possible scenarios that could face a business.
More importantly, next to each scenario was “the answer” — what
the business needed to do to solve the problems it faced or to obliterate
its competition. In their heart of hearts, Spiral Path believes this is what
they hoped they were paying for.

Spiral Path keeps this experience in mind whenever a new book, article or theory
comes across our desk. When we evaluate any leadership theory, the most fundamental
question we need to address is to what extent it provides practical and useful
direction in the art of leading and to what it extent it feeds our fantasy that
it is a shortcut that will enable us to lead and be successful without doing
the hard work of being a leader.