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Being Agile in Adversity & Rapid Change

We’re living in interesting times. It seems chaos and rapid change are the new normal, and each day brings a unique challenge and a new fire to extinguish. On the one hand, it’s exhilarating being in firefighting mode and experiencing the adrenaline rush of moving from one crisis to the next. On the other hand, it’s exhausting and demoralizing for a team to survey their progress at the end of each day and realize they are in the same place they were at the start of the day. Nothing significant was accomplished, and no new ground was taken. Instead of shaping and creating the future, too many of us are reacting to it.

Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It’s easy to blame bad luck and engage in wishful thinking that tomorrow will be different, only to discover that tomorrow is just the same because we are the same. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have a choice.

Jim Collins, in his book Great by Choice, studied companies that achieved extraordinary results during periods of chaos and rapid change, conditions not unlike today. He called them 10Xers because they delivered more than ten times the market return of their industry peers during particularly turbulent and harsh market conditions.

One of the common myths he debunked about 10Xers was the false belief that their superior performance was the result of good luck. To test this hypothesis, he systematically categorized events as either good luck or bad luck. For example, 9/11 was a bad luck event for airlines, whereas record low prices on crude oil was a good luck event for airlines. He then compared the number of good/bad events for 10Xers versus their peers during the same time frame. Contrary to popular myth, what he discovered was 10Xers had more bad luck (more adverse events) and less good luck (fewer positive events).

What accounts for their success? First, 10Xers were better prepared and more resilient during adversity and rapid change. They anticipated adversity and took ownership to prepare for what might happen. Second, they were more disciplined and effective in capitalizing on good luck (favorable events) when they happened. They were more willing to challenge the status quo and explore possibilities, but they were never impulsive in doing so. This openness combined with a disciplined approach for vetting new opportunities resulted in a higher return on investment for favorable events when they occurred.

In short, 10Xers took 100% Responsibility for their response to future change by keeping their eyes on the horizon and taking ownership to prepare for what was coming their way. It was as if they were spring-loaded to minimize threats and maximize opportunities that arose chaotically from rapidly changing conditions.

When a team takes 100% Responsibility for what is possible, they move from reacting to change to creating it. Even the harshest conditions become fertile soil for producing extraordinary results!

A team made up of people who are quick to blame and make excuses is a team likely to waste a disproportionate amount of time and energy arguing about the problem instead of solving the problem. This is a team who will frequently be surprised by change, unable to see the storm clouds on the horizon because they are consumed with the tyranny of the urgent. They will be distracted by technology, overwhelmed by the constant barrage of communication, and consumed with inefficient meetings, all the while feeling powerless to find time for higher level thinking. As a result, the leaders will be working one to two levels down from where they should be, and their team members will be doing the same. They will be reacting to change and in firefighting mode rather than being agents of change. Trust on the team will be low. Any problem solving that takes place will lack true collaboration. Results will suffer.

A team made up of individuals who are quick to practice 100% Responsibility is an agile team that moves quickly from defining the problem to working collaboratively to conquer the problem. Team members will refuse to be a prisoner to the tyranny of the urgent, instead making time for higher level strategic thinking and planning. This is a team that will excel at anticipating problems and proactively solving problems. As a result, they will be less reactionary and more effective in problem solving. Trust will be high. The fruit is results in the form of improved productivity, operating efficiency, profitability, quality, safety, and customer engagement.

When we see change as inevitable, we are no longer surprised by it. Our thinking shifts from seeing change as the enemy and something that is happening to us, to seeing it as an opportunity to create something new. Instead of wasting time and resources resisting change, we begin to anticipate change and get out ahead of it. 100% Responsibility is the recognition that we are not powerless in the face of change. We move from being passive in change to being an active agent of change. In the process our influence goes up.


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