“Slaying sacred cows makes great steaks.” – Dick Nicolose
I was reminded recently of a problem that many leaders face on a daily basis. I was visiting with the leader of a business that’s been around a long time and, by virtually any measure, has been very successful. Over the past few years, however, things seem to have plateaued. This leader and his management team were struggling to figure out how to break out of the holding pattern they seemed to be in.
As they tried to work out solutions to a certain key issue, someone, almost by accident, came across notes they had made from a meeting several years ago. At that meeting, the same topic was discussed that the team was struggling with now. As that person looked at their notes, they realized that the conversation that day was exactly the same as it had been several years ago. They had discussed all the same solutions, and come up with all the same barriers to success.
So many businesses experience that exact thing. We approach things the same way, year after year, and then get frustrated that nothing changes. Part of the problem is that as organizations we convince ourselves that certain things are unchangeable. We say things like, “This could never work because X”, and then for the next 50 years we just accept that as truth. Or once at a meeting 15 years ago we decided that the best answer was Option Y, and then for the next 15 years we just accept that as the best answer.
The next time your leadership team meets, make a point to be contrarian. Don’t just accept things as facts without real discussion. Don’t just accept that because something worked in 1994 it must still be the right thing to do today. Don’t just accept that because at your 2008 strategic planning session you ruled out a certain course of action means that course of action is still off-limits. Break rules. Argue with inarguable truths.
That sounds difficult, you say. We have a hard time coming up with brand new ideas, you say. Fair enough. That’s true for most people. So go outside for ideas. Don’t limit your creativity to what you & your group can come up with. Don’t even limit it to people in your industry. We have access to more ideas from more people in more industries than ever before. Take advantage. Find people who do something completely different than you and get their insights. Read about someone’s success in a field that’s completely unrelated to yours. Get outside your comfort zone and get help.
Don’t just keep doing the same thing because it used to be right. Expand your horizons and figure out what’s right now. Leadership in the 21st century requires new ideas. Go find some and get to work.