It would be flat out crazy to discredit the originals just because there are much more copycats; yet this happens all the time: think about the startup scene, the investment scene (vc, pe), management theories and practices or if we want to go a little deeper, about philosophies and arts.
The problem is complex but it is worth addressing it for the benefit of those who are paid to make decisions that make a difference.
First off: there is no such thing as original! More precisely: originality cannot be attributed to an individual. An individual always thinks in frames determined by the era, the geography, social milieu, all that stuff which manifest sub and supra individualistic “currents”/tendencies which are much bigger than the individual. Looking into these in detail would lead too far; we have partially addressed them when talking about the emergence of identities.
Second: one of the main such currents of our era is precisely individualism: celebrating the limited, the small and confusing it with greatness. This has birthed a fascination with bigness in terms of size and numbers (quantity replacing quality); this confusion is the context for judging originality based on who is obeying actual/current trends and tendencies more blindly. Good examples are Warhol and more recently Hirst in the “art” domain and just about any rock/pop/musical/whatever sensation in the music domain for the past 60 years or so. Here the trends are clearly sub-individual: the pre-requisite for success is giving up the remaining integrative factors in the personality to PASSIVELY give room for the above mentioned disintegrative tendencies, fostering undifferentiation while complying with the already undifferentiated mass.
What about business?
A keen observer may easily recognize analogies between business and the examples above. Intellectual PASSIVITY has become the main style element in business as well that never goes beyond questioning what is popularly referred to as facts: academia gathers and organizes experiences (what has worked in practice), management consultants create “easily applicable” methodologies and management buys them and tries to implement them with the least amount of pain possible. Challenging all this typically result in the kind of hostility only the fearful may exhibit.
The same goes on in the startup and investment domain: module mentality. “We buy ready made stuff”. The tendency is social, green, whatever: within this we pick teams who already did it (most likely in a previous trend) and depending on our geography we try not to be the 5th, 10th, 20th player in the domain. This is what we do, this is what we don’t do. Simple. Best is if nobody questions the fundamentals in the whole process: not the founders/owners, not the advisers, not the facilitators (the limited partners never do and we comply with them).
To be absolutely fair: yes, most of the people who question the fundamentals do so because they don’t understand them, not because they do and see the inefficiencies. And this brings us back to our opening point: just because a lot of people don’t get the fundamentals, don’t assume that neither of them do (for example the whole concept of elevator pitch competitions is based on this assumption).
So what the hell is originality?
Like in everything else, there are two types: pseudo originality and real one.
Pseudo originality is all of the above mentioned music and arts examples. Let’s pick a popular one in the business domain too:
A significant tendency today in the Western hemisphere is the elimination of differences; one current of this tendency is sharing. Anything that has to do with sharing is going to succeed among the masses.
Original is whoever pursues this more aggressively. From this point of view facebook is more original than myspace or friendster was (both too specialized in music and dates respectively, thus not allowing maximum sharing) or linkedin is (also too specialized).
More original because it’s closer to the current, but only pseudo original from the point of view that it doesn’t capture the concept (of disintegration in this case) consciously but does so blindly and passively.
Somebody MUST be aware! Ideally it’s the decision makers: the investors, the chairman, the CEO.
Awareness is a key element of originality or authenticity; awareness of fundamental (original) concepts! These concepts have nothing to do with business.
The better one captures fundamental concepts (in other words principle based concepts) the more original and authentic one is.
Some fundamental concepts whose capture may result in authenticity: independence, differentiation, integration, loyalty, control, power, dominance, intelligence; they all have their negative pole that results in pseudo originality: dependence, uniformity, selfishness, manipulation, aggression, cynicism and arrogance, street smarts.
These are the ones that should be relatively easy to translate to the business domain, yet there is great confusion about them in business.
Without being aware of principle based concepts, nobody understands dominating tendencies; without truly understanding current tendencies, nobody can judge either people or business propositions and without this vantage point nobody leads anything.
It’s a cliche that organizations and people resist change. This cliche is nicely embedded into change management initiatives to “manage resistance” – although way less frequently than you may think. When it happens it is done politely, in a civilized way, usually by cheerful facilitators.
I think this whole thing is comical.
Reality is much more brutal. A good analogy is if we thing about the organization as a body whose most vital functions we can’t control directly and quickly.
If we work on the execution of ideals that force the body out of inertia it will brutally pull us back. Marathon runners, long distance swimmers, perl divers experience this at critical milestones and martial artists understand how important it is to maintain form when the body already gave up: the (control over) form brings the body back.
Before we set out to execute our plans we must address the somatic reflexes: we must be aware of them and brutally repress them until they are transformed and obey us; yes: this will often result in nausea, dizziness, fainting or worse; if you are serious be prepared and follow through.
I have witnessed several corporate transformation initiatives both in mature and young organizations, where the concept and the strategy was beautiful, the management team was talented and capable but the somatic reflex of the organization sabotaged the efforts… and in the worst case scenarios leadership simply gave up.
The most typical scenario: we have become slow, we miss opportunities, the markets change way faster than we do. We MUST become nimble in our decision making process, in product launches, we must redefine how we reach our customers, we must hear and respond to their needs at light speed. We must transform the organization.
The company comes up with a new strategy, brings in a new leader or both and then starts executing as it’s usually done, following best practices, etc.; promises and commitments are made in context of the desired changes!
Then, very often quite early in the process, the Organization, including the project owners, the project sponsors, the very people who launched the initiatives, literally shows the middle finger. These are the moments when you realize that the organization does have an identity that integrates everybody after all!
Promises are broken, commitments are withdrawn, incredibly creative excuses are invented, the conditions that were so ideal at launch ALWAYS deteriorate and the person who is responsible for seeing it through is left alone, often isolated and literally suffocated. The body wants to be left alone.
In such instance the person responsible finds himself in a career defining moment (corporate transformations don’t come along that often…yet):
Maintain form or succumb to the body.
If the person simply gives up, it will be easy to rationalize the failure: it was a complex issue with many stakeholders involved, the challenge was bigger than expected, unforeseen circumstances forced management to reshuffle the budget, etc. The person will get great references (he didn’t step on toes after all) and move on.
IF the person decides to fight and the company actually completes the transformation most of the participants will be heros and the project will definitely decorate many resumes for years to come, contributing to stellar careers and everything that goes with it.
But the truth is: the person may easily die fighting (get fired, buried/demoted, etc.) even if he’s smart and does the basics right.
So if you find yourself in the driving seat of corporate transformation AND you are ready to fight the fight no matter what, don’t forget to address the somatic reflex of the organization:
- clearly articulate the patterns you want to change that currently define the organization; make everybody aware! Re-enforce their commitment. Get their permission to push them. Ask them to push you. Pick a team that is also ready to make sacrifices.
- clearly articulate what it means in practical terms to break the identified patterns; make everybody aware! Re-enforce their commitment. Get permission to push them! Ask them to push you! Have confidence that your team is also ready to make sacrifices.
- put the taboos on the board for everybody to see: doing the following (that pulls us back) is forbidden: it’s simply not an option for anybody and we will hold each other accountable.
It’ll be still a tough fight, taboos will be broken, you may still get fired, transferred, replaced, whatever: but you’ll know you have fought a good fight and fighting a good fight and loosing is much preferable in the leadership domain than fighting a bad fight and not getting hurt: nobody wins in a bad fight in the long run.
Most perception gaps I’ve encountered exist between the C team and the staff. It’s much rarer when a perception gap develops between the whole organization and the market, which seems to be the case with RIM.
Sure: it happens often that the organization thinks it’s perceived very positively by its customers when in fact they score very low on various surveys that actually ask the customers…but in most of these cases the perception gap is still there between the c-team and the staff, since most of the staff, especially the customer facing ones are highly aware of customer problems.
RIM’s an iconic organization in Canada with a mutual dedication and loyalty between the employees and the company which probably ranks way higher than the industry average; this is just an assumption I developed from having numerous conversations with RIM employees and employees of other companies.
I think the employees want to believe in the future, in management, and this is what blinds them. Recent reshuffling of responsibilities in marketing and consequent departures talk about a different picture at the helm… maybe the co-CEOs want to remain blind leaving no room for marketing guys who should be and want to be responsible for closing the perception gap between the company and the markets.
This way an avalanche is developing starting with marketing spreading over all the way to operations (the COO is on medical leave right now).
Operations is focused on product development and launches for now (rather unsuccessfully we must add) but without marketing, operations will be less and less aligned to the “world out there”… and make no mistake about it: appealing as it may seem, you can’t align the world to your operations…not long term anyways!
Message to the investors:
DON’T DEMAND HEADS (YET), DEMAND A CONCEPT!
Message to Jim and Mike: FIND SOMEBODY WHO HELPS YOU DEVELOP A CONCEPT!
And now a side note which should not be taken too seriously; it’s a cheap shot that I did for my own morning entertainment:
I looked at departing VP digital marketing & media (he’s going to Samsumg), Brian Wallance on linkedin ( http://linkd.in/lbhY1F ):
11 years at RIM; started at the good times although I don’t know in what role or capacity. So he probably wasn’t brought in to his role to bring perspective or thinking (the two is closely related).
he was the “social” guy who is supposed to know what people want…if he’s leaving as a result of his own decision, he may know something;
looked at his tweets, though (http://twitter.com/#!/bdwallace): pretty polite and boring stuff, nothing that resembles an opinion or a concept of any kind. Here’s an interesting one though from April 18 : “”Blah blah blah Brian, blah blah blah Brian” – what I am hearing on this conf call…”
Clicked on his “blog” link, I got twitter again…
And finally: looked at his picture: he has the same glasses as all marketing guys I have met in the past 10 years . The guy knows how to pose though
Draw your conclusions.