How To Beat The Odds In 'Interesting Times'

Last year was a bad one for many, but this is the normal. The good news is chaos brings opportunity - you just need to know where to look.

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Last year was a bad one for many, but this is the normal. The good news is chaos brings opportunity - you just need to know where to look.


How To Beat The Odds In 'Interesting Times'

Last year was a bad one for many, but this is the normal. The good news is chaos brings opportunity - you just need to know where to look.

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I believe that it's always been an ‘interesting' time to be alive, but there does seem to be something in the water at the moment. I'm writing this blog with Donald Trump’s inauguration on in the background.

Whether it’s Putin flexing his metaphorical - and in his case literal - pecs, the pound plummeting, inflation escalating, the unknown and everlasting boredom of Brexit…not forgetting that we’ll all be out of a job soon thanks to the rapid rise of the robot!

It's safe to say things are a little more up in the air than we’ve been used to, and we don’t like it…I received a car sticker by the conceptual and politically influenced artist, Jeremy Deller, in a friends Christmas card this year that simply said “Fuck You 2016”.

But my sense is that we’re only in the shallow end…in the words of futurist Ray Kurzweil in his essay 'the law of accelerating returns', "in a few decades, the world will be unrecognizably different. We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).”

If we want to thrive in this environment we need to embrace change, get comfortable with the unknown and adapt…it's the only viable option.

red pill

Isn't it time to take the red pill?

In my last role, we adopted Winston Churchill’s words “never let a good crisis go to waste” as our mantra and mindset during the 2008 financial crisis and our innovation training business subsequently blossomed: Those who skilled themselves up to initiate change would have a better opportunity to manage the change that was inevitable.

In the last 6 months, lots of businesses have pressed pause on investing in anything other than what they see as fire fighting the day to day, as part of a bigger ‘wait and see’ strategy. I get it as a panic setting but it is undoubtedly the wrong approach.

The uncertainty is unquestionably going to increase as the global political, economic and social forces shift through time.

The best investment you can make right now is to teach your people how to adapt and lead for change: Take note from the age old saying ‘What is often mistaken for 20 years’ experience, is just one year's experience repeated 20 times’.

Employees are just humans who happen to be at work. Let’s treat them like humans and help them feel secure, understood and able to self lead. It is the self led who will make it successfully and profitably through these uncertain times.

They work more productively, innovatively and creatively. Fact. Create a culture of impact, growth and purpose and watch the bottom line soar.

In the words of Jack Welch, ex CEO of GE (which in his tenure rose in value by 4,000%) "An organization's ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” and another from the King of creative wisdom, Steve Jobs “there’s always one more thing to learn”.

The secret to sustaining a self-led team is flexibility. You have to be flexible and diverse with your ways of working to create opportunities for people to flourish, develop and innovate so they experience purpose.

Happiness, as defined by Professor Paul Dolan, London School of Economics, is "experiences of pleasure and purpose over time". We need to have a balance of both. Money can buy pleasure, but it can’t buy purpose.

This requires a very different mindset from traditional leadership. It’s about experimentation to encourage growth. That means letting go of ego; the boss isn’t really the boss any more.


Let go of old models and start experimenting

Here are 3 tips to help you on the journey:

Find the fit

Its key that you communicate the companies purpose clearly and consistently and with passion. However, helping your people find their fit with it takes more creativity. We are all different and therefore need to find our own personal hook into that purpose so we all give a very big damn indeed.

As leaders, you need to create the conditions for this to happen. John Lewis have one of the best known set of employee benefits which help allow their ‘partners’ to develop their individual talents, from clubs to societies, education subsidies, charity opportunities, the options are endless. No surprise that they are one of the most loved, and most profitable, high street brands in the UK.

Social Proof

Make heroes and heroines of your people that really live it. Show case their stories and clearly illustrate that living self-led gets you further and gets better results. Tell stories constantly about how it is lived and all will find it easier to follow.

We have been working on capability building with Britvic’s marketing teams; their introduction of an internal awards platform to showcase projects has, in turn, created a forum for discussion and collaboration which allows individuality to fuel innovative thinking.

“We launched the WoWme awards with the objective of embedding our capability programme and at the same time rewarding creative behaviours and outputs," says Britvic’s CMO Matthew Barwell.

"People can nominate whomever they like so the feeling is one of team motivation rather than simply competition. The awards also act as a portal for sharing inspiring creative work through our internal site.

"WoWme has definitely established a ‘condition for brilliance’ which combined with promoting an environment which allows creativity to thrive, has seen our teams deliver a range of innovative and dynamic campaigns which have directly impacted sales growth."

Don’t manage, release

Appraisals and HR systems to manage your people are generally cumbersome and dull and produce terrible results. Let your people be themselves and manage themselves, then amazing things happen. Its hard to live in a business that has been centrally designed for cookie cutter adoption.

Accenture are one of the many businesses who have scrapped annual appraisals over the last few years, if they can do it with 330,000 staff, I guess we all can.

Encourage people to experiment more, fail fast, learn quickly and evolve as a business. But most importantly remind people that as human beings, we're all innately and uniquely creative.

Jim Lusty is partner at Upping Your Elvis, specialists in creative leadership.  

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How To Beat The Odds In 'Interesting Times'

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