By Brian Mitchell
We are all different but all have a similarly physical human experience. We are born and dependent on others to feed us, keep us warm, and nurture us along. As we develop in our early years, we are inherently clueless about the world but we explore our surroundings, we test our leg, arm, and core strength as we crawl and stumble and walk and ultimately run. As we grow, we use those muscle groups more and more frequently and it becomes a central part of our daily existence without our even thinking about it. Some go on to leverage their bodies in sports and become particularly skilled. Some of us are born with genes that provide us strong muscles, size, and speed. Some of us are not gifted with those genes but physically train our bodies to maximize their potential by running, lifting weights, or other cardio or strength-training activities. Some people are neither born with strong muscles nor make any effort to build them and they remain physically behind. It’s ironic that the body builds muscle by stressing itself via resistance, which literally tears the muscles. Those small muscle tears heal and are replaced with stronger muscle fibers than we had before. In turn we become able to run faster, kick a ball farther, shoot a ball more accurately, or lift more weight. And as we get older, physical atrophy can set in if we don’t complete minimum exercise rigors every day or a few times a week. Those that stay physically fit also tend to stay cognitively fit for a greater part of their lives. The bottom line is that our bodies build tolerance to muscle strains and grow stronger as a result of the new physical tests we introduce to it, while inactivity leads to muscle and strength loss.
I believe company trajectories can follow a similar path. Companies are certainly born with more preparation than an infant but it’s all about the basics. The early business operator is ambitious and naïve much like the baby first learning to walk as it explores the room and falls down, he gets back up because the desire to learn and explore is greater than the temporary discomfort of falling down. The business operator goes through trials, ups and downs, endures many learning experiences and grows stronger. She studies and learns her craft, starts to zero in on real growth opportunities, builds infrastructure and staff, establishes process and systems, invests in technology and people, scales the business, and all the strain and hard work can become realized into a strong company body. But much like a strong body can be built, it won’t stay that way unless the company continues to test itself, endure new strains, breakthrough with new strategies to stay healthy, fit, and strong. And just like age will deteriorate the human body in the long run (father time is undefeated!), competitors will arise and out-execute our company with new innovations or business models or other threats so we must have ongoing ‘exercise’ (and it’s possible that simply won’t be enough either). Yes, companies need to exercise or they will experience atrophy, a loss of muscle, size, and strength. Doing the same exercise routine over and over leads to a plateau where additional growth becomes impossible. The same methodology that brought your company forward is not the same strategy to get to the next level – the exercise regimen needs to be disrupted for additional growth to occur. Your company will be out-flanked, out- paced, or run over if it does not continue to grow and adapt to new conditions, opportunities, and threats. Just like the guy at the gym who is fairly fit and worked hard to get that way, but continues to do the same routine over and over and doesn’t get any more fit, he doesn’t get stronger. As a company, if you’re not getting stronger, you’re most definitely getting weaker because competitors are looming with the fired up motivation you once had, they are planning to take you down. Market conditions are changing where you need a different approach just to keep your clients, let alone win new ones to grow. But that guy at the gym thinks to himself “hey, I’m pretty strong so I’ll stick to the same routine” and there are MANY executives at companies who think the exact same way. They don’t realize that this type of thinking leads to certain atrophy, weakness, and potential obsolescence.
I read a LinkedIn blog by someone a few months ago that was observantly mocking the hypocrisy of many established companies. The writer had a line similar to “I want you to find a bold and innovative way to do everything exactly the same as we’ve done it for the last 25 years”. It was a commentary on many mature companies who claim they want to be innovative but the reality is it gives some of those executives real pause when it comes down to making changes themselves. Status quo will not get it done. Ask the founder of MySpace. Purposeful disruption of exercise routines stimulate new muscle growth and purposeful disruptions to your company via innovations in process, people, or product are essential to your company’s muscle growth. If you really want change agents at your company, then you need to embrace and welcome change yourself. If you’ve been doing the same exercise routine (or none at all) for a long time, the good news is you’re still alive and it’s never too late to start. You can improve your health immediately by adopting an exercise regimen and straining your body. And it’s never too late to begin. You can adopt real change at your company by adopting the willingness to change your company in the first place. One can’t happen without the other. If you’re not sure if you’re one of those execs in its own way, create an anonymous survey among your employees and/or in your client/prospect marketplace to gain feedback on how your company is perceived. If the majority suggests your company isn’t progressive or innovative, then you must believe that data over your own opinion and embrace change. Initial discomfort is irrelevant or we’d all stay crawling all of our lives. Do not delay.