- “The only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special.”
- Look at your business from the perspective of different CEOs to gain insights and make creative breakthroughs.
- Focus on what is right with your business, not just what is wrong.
FastCompany magazine cofounder and author of the book, Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself, offers four simple principles to transform your business in this ChangeThis PDF.
We are living through the age of disruption. You can’t do big things if you’re content with doing things a little better than everyone else or a little differently than how you did them before. In an era of hyper-competition and non-stop dislocation, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special. Today, the most successful organizations don’t just out-compete their rivals, they redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with me-too thinking.
There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as watching a young organization reshape its field—a blank-sheet-of-paper startup that transforms an industry, a challenger brand that redefines a market. Alas, there’s nothing quite as common as watching an established organization—a company that reached great heights in one era of technology, markets, and culture—struggle to regain its stature as a force for leadership in a new era. The work of deep-seated, sustainable change remains the hardest work there is.
Here are four of those principles—simple rules for transforming your company, shaking up your industry, and challenging yourself
1. What you see shapes how you change
We’ve all experienced déjà vu—looking at an unfamiliar situation and feeling like you’ve seen it before. Vuja dé is the flip side of that—looking at a familiar situation (an industry you’ve worked in for decades, products you’ve worked on for years) as if you’ve never seen it before, and, with that fresh perspective, developing a distinctive point of view on the future.
TBWA also uses what it calls the “CEO Hat” exercise to encourage organizations with tunnel vision to develop a new line of sight. Participants search for out-of-the-box answers to big strategic questions by reaching into boxes filled with hats, shirts, and other paraphernalia from breakthrough organizations such as Apple, Virgin, Target, Southwest Airlines—and then adopt the mindset of those free-thinking companies as they think about the questions with their clients. “We define possible strategies for companies through the eyes and values and under the leadership of a different CEO,” explains Laurie Coots, TBWA’s chief marketing officer. “The sheer act of being free to think like somebody else gives you permission to generate ideas that you might not get to otherwise.
2. Where you look shapes what you see
The most creative leaders I’ve met don’t aspire to learn from the “best in class” in their industry—especially when best in class isn’t all that great. Instead, they aspire to learn from innovators far outside their industry as a way to shake things up and leapfrog the competition. Ideas that are routine in one industry can be revolutionary when they migrate to another industry, especially when those ideas challenge the prevailing assumptions that define so many industries
3. There’s nothing wrong with your organization that can’t be fixed by what’s right with your organization.
I’m convinced that one of the big reasons for the failure of so many change programs is that by focusing almost solely on what’s wrong with their organizations, and by importing off-the-shelf strategies devised by outside experts consumed with what’s new, leaders undervalue what’s right with their organizations, and overlook home-grown strategies rooted in the wisdom of the past.
4. Success is not just about thinking differently from the competition
Even the most creative leaders recognize that long-term success is not just about thinking differently from other companies. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, about caring more than other companies—about customers, about colleagues, about how the organization conducts itself in a world with endless temptations to cut corners and compromise on values. For leaders, the pressing question isn’t just what separates you from the competition in the marketplace. It’s also what holds you together in the workplace.
- Use the CEO Hat excercise to look at your business and industry with the perspective of different executives? What would Richard Branson or Steve Jobs do with your business model?
- Look at what is working in other industries and try to bring it to your business? The next time you go to a magazine rack, read something completely unrelated to your business. Find out the most successful companies in that industry and analyze what they are doing right.
- Don’t focus on the negative. What is right about your firm? Can you build on that to really become exemplary?
- The hardest part of business and life is building and maintaining quality relationships. Businesses shouldn’t only be run by numbers. What can you do to care more about your customers and employees?