No Island. Connected.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. 

John Donne
Recently, discussing corporate culture and disruption, I was asked how is it that organisations cling to old views in the face of disruptive change.  How do people whose businesses are threatened still deny the need for fundamental change.  Many of these organisations cling to the past even when their performance has already begun to change for the worse.
As we talked familiar patterns of conversations in these organisations came to mind:
  • fad spotters who declare the inconvenient trend will is temporary or suits only marginal customers or competitors
  • past successes who can’t move beyond what worked before
  • boiled frogs that never don’t jump out until too late
  • safety first who fear loss and demand certainty, less risk, better proof or ROI
  • ostriches who see only what is convenient and celebrate variation as reversals of the trend
  • the wiser who know better than their colleagues, customers and competitors
  • premium providers who forget premium means more valuable and more relevant
  • technicians who see the great unravelling of the trend ahead because of a better technical solution or a flaw in the new technology
  • underlying performers who adjust away the difficulties to show sunshine underneath
  • tried & failed who know that their organisation’s failures define the limits of all future success…

I could go on this way.

One thing is common in all of these patterns: the individuals in the organisation have ceased to take inputs from their external environment. The organisation has become an echo chamber for business as usual views and any inconsistent information is discounted. 

The problem is easily rectified: engage people in the accountabilities of the real world –

  • start listening to customers and the community
  • start engaging with people beyond your own industry
  • start reading things you have not read before and 
  • start talking with people you don’t usually meet

No organisation can survive as an island.  An organisation that opens up to even the smallest amount of genuine engagement with its community discovers new insights.  This immersion and engagement will also drive to embrace new accountabilities for change.

Nobody can be an island.  We all need to be engaged in our communities.  Listening and engaging in the world outside the organisation is the surest first step to avoid the toll of disruption’s bell. 

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