Author and innovation guru Max McKeown is sure of only one thing: “For the foreseeable future, the future will be unforeseeable.”
To negotiate such uncertainty requires the ability to adapt, which is the subject of his latest book, Adaptability.
“All failure is failure to adapt,” he writes, and success means not only recognising the need for adaptation, but understanding what needs to change, then doing what is necessary to make it happen. So how does he suggest you prime yourself for change? Here are four nuggets from his interview with Dawna Jones:
- It’s tough treading water. If the idea of change is daunting, remember that it takes as much or more effort to just hold still than to change.
- Take time between dreaming and doing to understand the nature of the change you need to make. If you skip this step and rush to execution, you risk failure. Recognising a system failure is step one, but you should also understand what has thwarted change so far so you can act differently.
- Go deep, not shallow. Does the very nature of the business need to change? McKeown compares now defunct US book retailer Borders to Amazon.com to illustrate his point. Initially the market leader, Borders failed to adapt to Amazon’s arrival, and failed to understand the impact the Web would have on its business model. It didn’t invest enough time in developing its site, instead virtually giving it to Amazon. By ‘going shallow’, it effectively handed over the most valuable part of its business to its competitor.
- Listen to the fringe and seek out more radical, extreme views: listening to the same people will only confirm your biases – not a great way to break out. Attune yourself to ‘the other side’, to organisations that are doing the opposite or people who think differently to you. The wider your vista, more opportunities and trends you’ll be able to spot. As Brian Miller of Sense Worldwide says: “At first, it seemed strange for me to take mainstream brands to fringe people. Running shoe design has been revolutionized by studying people who have never worn them. Now it seems strange to talk to regular people. What are they going to tell you that you don’t already know?