Life in the 21st century has been characterised by transformation. Everything about being a customer and being an employee has been transformed since this start of this century. The one constant message we are hearing, almost daily, is that technology is moving rapidly, the way we do business is shifting before our eyes. Yet at the same time we hear how business is slow to wake up to digital transformation or complaints that brands are behind the times. We laugh at stories of someone asking us to send a fax or wanting to use the postal system.
So we have a reality that change at a personal and business level can be hard. Why is this? To strive for change is ingrained in us, but so is resistance to change. It’s a marvelous paradox.
Let’s try and break it down:
For 20 years or more gurus in one shape or another having been extolling business to think outside the box, to think differently. The very idea of what is considered different also changes so what was different last week is same-same this week. We also seem to confuse “different” with small incremental evolution. I’ve seen a business make a PDF of their catalogue who believe they have innovated.
The need today to think and do different has never been greater but perhaps we need to better understand what “think different” means. We need a way to step out of narrow channel thinking to see the wood from the trees. It’s almost impossible to create a new future when we are firmly rooted in the present, or worse, past glories.
“Think different” needs some definition given the fact that the world is changing far quicker than most business are able to. Jack Walsh formerly of General Electric said something along the lines that if the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside the end is near. We don’t need to beat this over anyone’s head anymore. We know this.
Let’s take a step back for a moment and understand why we are where we are:
If we were able to distill the impact of technology on our lives down to one word, that word would be FRICTION. There are a number of definitions for this word but the one I thinks works well in the context of this discussion is this: “conflict or animosity caused by a clash of wills, temperaments, or opinions.” Everyone deals with some form of friction every day. When your cell phone provider over bills you and you spend an entire morning being shoved from one call centre to the next: FRICTION. When you need approval for a project and it needs to go through the CEO’s PA who doesn’t seem to like you: FRICTION. Sitting in “rush hour” traffic: FRICTION
In every aspect of our lives as individuals friction is evaporating through the impact of technology, mobile phones, the internet, in short, Digital. It used to be really difficult to get what you wanted. Think of the process of owning music: 20 years ago if you wanted to own one song it involved taking the time to go to a physical music store, browsing, standing in line, all to purchase a CD of 18 songs containing the one song you actually wanted. That is FRICTION – the barriers that exist between you and what you want. That FRICTION today has all but disappeared. From the decision to have music to owning it is now measured in minutes. And so it is across the millions of apps we have access to.
Every piece of technology you use today has, in some way, removed FRICTION from your life. You have come to demand this as customers. Employers are seeing this same demand from their teams.
Because of technology global travel is far easier than it used to be. Using online booking, AirBnB, Trip Advisor, Uber you can almost spontaneously get a on a plan and travel.
We get frustrated today when brands slow us down. That creates new friction because we know technology had made life easy so why can’t I order and get what I need now? When this idea is poorly understood and implemented by brands you piss of your customer because you’ve created FRICTION in the smooth running of their lives.
Ask yourself this question:
What FRICTION exists between you and your customer?
Your customer understands they can get what they need with a click, a tap or a swipe. Is it just as easy for them to get what they need from you?
Now think of your teams. They want to work smarter and faster. They know technology exists for them to do so but IT insists they cannot use Dropbox or Google services for procedural or security reasons. Work forces are growing increasingly frustrated with outmoded ways of doing business. What gets in the way of your teams being smarter & faster?
Friction manifests in countless ways and when you think about it in these terms you will see it in your own businesses: Websites that are built to be convenient for the business but not for the customer; silo’d communications systems that inhibit cross functional communication; complicated internal process that delay delivery to customers.
In Today’s fast past, digital economy when you are asked to think differently you are being asked to identify and eliminate friction. “Think Different” means finding FRICTION. “Doing Different” means eliminating Friction.
I have been reading and researching this idea for the last year or so and it seems there is a relatively simple way to address this with yourself and within your businesses. When we resist change we do so because of FEAR. Fear creates FRICTION and Friction is a barrier to moving in to the future.
Therefore, thinking differently requires just 3 honest conversations:
Where is the friction?
What do you fear?
Where does the future look like?
You’re going to want to create a space where these conversations can happen openly and honestly. This is the perfect thing to do on your next team breakaway. Skip the team building and tackle this.
Where is the Friction?
In the first conversation you want to identify what friction exists within your teams and your relationship with your customer. Although simple this is not a short conversation and requires honesty in yourself and among your teams. Conflict, complexity & confusion are the consequence of friction so look for those and you’ll see the friction. Already you will get the first peek of solutions on the horizon.
Everyone in the team should express what gets in their way of them being smarter, faster and efficient in their jobs. This is a process and it takes a lot more than a quick whip around the room. People are not stupid and they’ve learned hard lessons of what comes from honest communication. They have to be reassured that this is encouraged, allowed and has no negative consequences. This is going to challenge your leadership so don’t cock it up.
As you go through this process teams will become emotional, get angry or even apathetic. Just keep pressing on. Soon ideas will begin to spark and there will be some excitement about the possibilities if this issues were resolved.
What do you Fear?
However, before you can move toward those solutions you have to address the underlying cause of FRICTION. Remember, friction is the manifestation of FEAR. Fear of consequences, fear of change, fear of failure, fear of getting it wrong. In this conversation you are addressing the underlying cause of friction. Fears may be organisational – issues of compliance or risk; finances; loss of personnel or, FEAR is personal to youand your individual team members: Fear of getting in trouble; of being exposed; of being picked on. When you put a name to fear, it’s power over you diminishes. FEAR is the reason strategic ideas are not implemented and which prevents real change and progress. Fear breads a mindset of “stop”; “can’t be done” “be careful” ; hostility; anger and apathy. In this mindset how can you possibly think outside the box; how can you possible dare to think and do differently?
What are the personal fears of your team? What are the organisational fears? This requires a level of vulnerability and as a leader you would do wonders for the cause by being first to put yourself out there. Tell your teams what you fear.
With the conversation on FRICTION solutions began to present themselves; with the conversation about FEAR the desire to Act is ignited and you are ready for the final conversation.
What does the future look like?
The FUTURE! What is possible without the fear and friction? What if these were not in the away. Through this conversation we move from the mindset of “stop” to “create”. Creativity breeds enthusiasm, action, interest and will allow you break through the barrier of FRICTION to the future.
When you are focused on the future being is business is exciting. Where you saw only barriers and problems before you now see solutions. Where the tendency before was to slow things down there is now a desire to act quickly to move forward, to embrace the future.
Think different by finding the friction in your business. Do different by eliminating that Friction.
We are not Robots. We are human being living through the first decade of the most important 50 year period in the history of our species.
Have these conversations and win!