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Identify the Future Best Practice in Adapting to Irresistible Force Changes

Mar 30, 2008
Adapting to changes in irresistible forces is much more difficult than identifying irresistible forces and anticipating their direction. One reason for this difficulty is that many people need to be involved, each of whom can throw the operation off the right path in important ways.

Here are additional contributing factors:

-Changed directions can cause denial about the need to change ("If I keep doing the right things, I'll be all right.").

-Individuals may choose to ignore the new direction if their compensation is harmed by adjusting rapidly (the bonus and quota systems will usually reward appropriate behavior for the old environment rather than for the new circumstances).

-People in your company may have no idea what to do (this is particularly likely when the circumstances have not occurred before and you poorly communicate what is needed now).

-Your enterprise's insight into the changed direction may not be well understood ("If you really wanted me to stop hiring brokers, you wouldn't have just promoted me to vice president in charge of hiring brokers.").

When people have little choice but to change, they will do so. Your search for the future best practice will be most rewarding if you spend time finding organizations that routinely adapt to new circumstances when irresistible forces shift in advance of facing severely negative consequences.

Thriving on Earthquakes, Fire, Flood and Pestilence

A good place to find those who are at the cutting edge of best practice is to focus on organizations that have to be readily adaptable to fulfill their mission, because changed circumstances are their reason for being. For example, those who provide emergency relief supplies to victims of natural disasters in lesser-developed countries have to be adaptable at a moment's notice or they can never hope to do their jobs well.

Such groups are masters of contingency planning. Since they never know what terrible event will hit next and when, they are always planning for the widest possible range of disasters. To hone their skills in quick adaptation, they practice meeting disasters as exercises when no actual disaster is keeping them busy.

These organizations are usually open to access from outsiders, and so can provide you with better insights into the future best practice. For example, you and your colleagues can volunteer your time with these organizations and develop first-hand skill in becoming more adaptable.

From this direct experience you can also better understand the motivations necessary to create an enterprise that is very adaptable.

In these organizations, a strong desire to help others that transcends the need for one's personal comfort is often an element. You may even find that committing your company to support one of these organizations will be a future best practice in learning adaptability.

Scavenging Adaptability

Because so many businesses are essentially unable or unwilling to adapt at all, your search for the future best practice in adaptability will probably be the most valuable part of the three searches described in this article. A corollary to this harmful complacency is a tendency to be quickly satisfied with the first practice that your company finds that creates any adaptability at all, rather than continuing to search for the future best practice of any organization.

Like scavengers tracking predators to find the kills that will be their food source, many organizations choose to pay little attention to anticipating changes in irresistible forces, but do make being first on the scene their top priority. These companies often describe themselves as "fast followers." Their idea is to spot new, effective actions that competitors are taking, quickly improve on those actions, and be the first to make the benefits universally available to customers.

Manufacturers in Asian Tiger countries (like Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore) often have this scavenger characteristic, sometimes placing their version of newly introduced products into the market within hours of when the product is first introduced by the innovator in another country. A good way to see how this process works is to select a design you are working on that you have abandoned for some reason.

Take it to manufacturers who have a reputation for quickly copying and improving on designs for their improvements, and see how long it takes for other Asian manufacturers to launch variations on your now-improved design.

Then backward engineer the process whereby your design spreads into manufactured reality so quickly among so many companies, and you'll have learned a great deal about adaptability.

The Scenario's the Thing

Another source of potential future best practices is to study those who use scenario planning to be prepared to act in the event on a wide range of circumstances. These organizations typically believe that they can't predict or forecast the future with any certainty, but that they can be prepared to position themselves advantageously regardless.

Advance thinking allows these organizations to become comfortable with the idea of change, see the ways that change can be an advantage, and create advance communications through business plans to direct their actions when the time comes. This approach obviously fits well with monitoring and trying to anticipate changes, as previously discussed.

A well-documented application of this approach was by Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell Oil) after the Arab oil embargo in the early 1980s. The company's corporate planners identified a large drop in oil prices from the $30 per barrel level as one of several scenarios they had developed.

When it actually occurred, Royal Dutch moved well in advance of others to develop lower-cost ways of offshore drilling that turned out to be important when oil prices reached $10 a barrel in 1986 and began a long period of low prices.

Scenario planning has come a long way since then, so you'll want to explore the best of what is being done now and how that will probably improve the future. While other companies may not want to share the results of their use of such processes, they are generally willing to describe the steps involved to achieve the results. Knowledge management conferences and academic papers are other good ways to locate those who are doing top work in this fruitful area.
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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