Even the best laid plans have a way of becoming sidetracked by reality. The best analysis and risk mitigation measures can’t predict or control the future no matter how good the team, the project framework or the tools utilized. There’s an uncertainty about life that makes it gorgeously exciting.
When I took the last bus to the town of Lican Ray in Chile during a hiatus from studying at the University of British Columbia (Canada), I chose to get sidetracked, to break away from the norm, and, in the words of the Robert Frost to take “the path less travelled”. But can we apply that same thirst for adventure, quest for knowledge, interest in the unknown to our organizations today? Can we “plan” for the unexpected – not only in terms of risk management but also in terms of embracing the benefits of clashes of ideologies, of frames of reference and of ideas?
By laying the groundwork for innovation and growth to occur as a result – and not just in spite – of changes to the status quo, organizations can be better equipped to be part of the future. One way of doing this is by listening – to customers, competitors, analysts, stakeholders – effectively. Understanding, in the words of Simon Sinek, the “why” behind the product or service and what need, desire or aspiration it fills or seeks to fill.
Another way is by stripping away ego in order to become, once again, like hungry entrepreneurs – vying for the opportunity to show a solution to a problem that no one knew they had. Some organizations promote “intrapreneurship” or recruit talent that proves to be “entrepreneurial”. Others purchase entrepreneurial companies or startups – as much for strategic positioning in their industry as for the technology and talent they acquire through the purchase. Still others create innovation centers or tap into startup hubs to try to replicate the entrepreneurial energy and drive to succeed even before “success” is palpable.
A third way of laying the groundwork to leverage change is by being the change ourselves; looking at what has always been done and doing (strategically) something new. A recent example of this is Elon Musk’s June 11 blog post announcing that all of Tesla’s electric car patents have been removed “in the spirit of the open source movement” and “for the advancement of electric vehicle technology”.
I think there’s a balance between planning for the future and embracing the unplanned opportunities that present themselves; opportunities to learn, collaborate, and change. And it’s a focus on opportunity – coupled with talent and belief in a shared vision – that makes organizations able to survive, and to thrive on, changes to the status quo. Planning will always have its place; but in a world full of complexity and wonder, so will change agency (being agents of change).
Richard Branson said that “opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming” but I am glad that I caught that last bus to Lican Ray because taking the road less travelled sometimes makes “all the difference.”
NOTE: This piece was originally published in June 2014 on LinkedIn “Pulse”.
What do you think? Is it possible to build an organizational culture that thrives on change? How do you leverage the opportunities that come from change in your organization?