A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a family sat despondently in their family room. They didn’t know what to do. Their color television had for some reason stopped working. Since they had never felt the need to communicate with each other while the TV had worked, they were now horribly out of practice. What to do? Things looked bleak. It was time for action.
Now here is where things get really weird. The eldest male of the family, the nominal head of the family unit (I say nominal head as this was only a fictional title. He actually reported to his mate, the most powerful woman in the universe) stood up, put the non-functioning television in the family’s means of conveyance (re: minivan) and took it to a place that was known as the repair shop.
Yes, he actually took the TV in to be repaired.
I can actually remember back to a time when this would not have been a fictional story. The reporting structure of the family is non-fiction. Every male, nominal head of a family does in fact report to their respective specific most powerful woman in the universe. The rest of this story is border line science fiction. Today when something breaks we don’t seem to fix it. We don’t even seem to be inclined to try and fix it. We just throw it away and go get another, newer one.
What used to seem to be a society based on the utilization of durable goods seems to have evolved to society based on the purchase of disposable goods. We don’t seem to want to fix anything anymore. When something breaks our first inclination is to get a new one. If that is not eminently feasible, the next step is to call someone to have them fix it. It has become the societal norm these days.
Now let’s go to go to different galaxy that is not so far away. We still have a disposable versus a repairable product mindset, but now we will be talking about businesses, not products. In this galaxy there is a business that has been performing well for many years, making products that have been well received and are well thought of by their customers. I was going to say that they made high quality, repairable televisions, but that would have been just a little excessive in my opinion.
Let’s say something now happens to this business. For whatever reason it is now no longer performing as well as it did. Its products are no longer well received nor are they well thought of by their customers. For lack of a better description, this business can now be considered broken.
Are broken businesses as disposable as broken products? How does a business actually break anyway? In a broken product, it is usually a component that fails and brings down the entire product. What happens when the components of the business are all still operating as they did when the business was not broken?
We were a culture that used to fix our own cars, change our own oil, fix our own flat tires, do our own home maintenance and improvement work. Now we just get a new replacement or call someone to come fix it. How does this culture translate to our new business models? What do we do when the current business model doesn’t work anymore?
I am fond of quoting Albert Einstein. I think he is universally recognized as a pretty bright guy, with the theory of relativity and all that. One of my favorite quotes of his, and I have used it before is:
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.”
I have met a few leaders that could actually change the way they think. There have not been many, but there have been a few. Most of the time a manager learns a way to do something successfully gets rewarded for that approach and spends the rest of their career replicating that solution set. They continue to think the same way. They just try to apply the same methodology in different situations.
Think of the old phrase:
“When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
In effect, they were once successful as a managerial hammer, and seem to have dedicated the rest of their managerial life to finding another perfect business problem nail.
Businesses are not disposable, and can invariably be repaired. Repairing a business changes it. It takes a different mindset. You can’t just call someone to come fix it. You can’t call a plumber or electrician to come fix it for you. You have to understand the plumbing and wiring of the business yourself. You have to get back to the mindset of changing your own oil and fixing your own flat tires.
Sorry for the poor metaphors, but I think you get my point.
Part of the solution may be to get a good plumber or electrician on your team, and to listen to them when they give you their recommendations and opinions.
I think this is the essence of learning to change the way you think. Sometimes you are the proper hammer for the current nail. Sometimes someone else is the proper hammer. The key is not being locked into a specific method or process of solving problems, and being able to recognize when things have changed and some different thinking is required.
A broken business is made up of many “working” people. I think that despite the trends to the contrary, they are not disposable. If they are performing poorly it is usually not because they want to perform poorly but rather they have been given poor leadership and are focusing on the wrong issues (re: nails). Disposing of them and getting new people will not fix that problem.
Remember, the thinking of those that got the business into its current state will usually not be sufficient to get it out of that state. The way the business is being managed, or those that are managing have to change. It is difficult for a leader to recognize that they must change. I think it is almost impossible for a manager to recognize that they must change.
I think our disposable product culture has taken its toll on our ability to repair broken businesses. At the risk of sounding too trite we seem to be predisposed toward disposable businesses. We seem to have evolved a mindset that if the current compliment of people cannot achieve the desired goals that we should dispose of them and replace them (like our products) with newer models.
The problem with that thinking is that it seems to be some of the thinking that may have been responsible for getting the business into its current state, and as Einstein noted, that probably won’t be sufficient for getting it out of that state.