If there’s one rule in today’s business world, it’s that there’s no such rule as business as usual. Change is coming at dizzying speed, and once-successful companies are finding that their sure-hit formulas no longer work. The rules of the past – even those of only a few decades ago –no longer seem relevant in a universe where a company as amorphous and unlikely as Google is a global force.
In a climate of unprecedented insecurity and rapid change, successful leaders must be eager to embrace chaos, and confident that their well-honed adaptability skills will allow them to turn customers’ problems into opportunities. Most CEOs have been trained in a corporate culture that rewards the type of incremental year-over-year gains that come from a focus on efficiency. However, it’s no longer enough to just be efficient. In fact, it’s quite possible to efficiently run a business into oblivion by proficiently doing the same things better and better, or worse, doing the wrong things consistently. There’s really no value in becoming incrementally better at making widgets no one wants any longer. Today’s CEO must be a master at processing change, anticipating problems and developing on-time solutions.
Yesterday’s companies could afford to focus on safe initiatives and sure bets. But in an increasingly turbulent world, there’s no longer safety in relying on the virtues of predictability and reliability. Success in today’s business world demands the type of adaptability that includes knowing your customers’ problems, needs and wants before they do. It requires a perspective shift that turns yesterday’s problems into today’s opportunities and tomorrow’s products. Today’s CEOs must be problem finders before they become problem solvers. Finding the opportunities in the chaos demands an entirely new way of thinking and risk-taking. It’s an acquired new skill, and one that has to be mastered as an everyday mentality, from the executive suites to the shop floor.
Problem finding isn’t simply addressing things that are going wrong, but also seeking and anticipating future challenges, trends and changes. It begins with a positive mindset toward change. Adaptable organizations continually and intentionally scan the environment to anticipate new opportunities and problems, and to proactively find new products, services and procedures to implement, thus leapfrogging over their competitors. A dynamic and continuous process, problem finding leads to implemented solutions, and each implemented solution leads to new problems to be discovered.
Adaptability is often embraced in theory, but few CEOs or organizations truly seek the tumult it can create within their organizations. Problem finding behavior can be disruptive. It challenges the typical “Steady as She Goes” corporate culture. But the ability to generate ideas that solve problems and lead the pack, rather than following it, are essential to success on today’s global business stage.
While leaders must develop their own adaptability skills, attitudes and behaviors, it’s equally important that they champion the development of those same skills, attitudes and behaviors for others throughout their organizations. Today’s corporate environment must welcome and incubate new and different ideas. It must nurture employees who challenge the status quo, perceive a different possibility, or simply look at things that aren’t and ask, “why not? The new business rule: the discomfort of disruptive creativity must be embraced.