Change is relentless and unforgiving. It isn’t going to stop. There will always be disruptive technology that will make your product obsolete, and you will always be obsessing about the competitor whose sole purpose in life is to steal away your customers with a better product or service, or a lower price.
In her new book, Imagine It Forward: Courage, Creativity and the Power of Change, Beth Comstock, the former vice chair and head of marketing and innovation at General Electric (GE), takes a more pragmatic approach: “The world will never be slower than it is right now.”
In practical terms, that means that we will never see the “good old days” again. Being “change ready” is no longer an advantage; it’s a minimum requirement if your company is to have any hope of surviving over the long term.
Drawing on a 30-year business career, Comstock shares lessons that will help you to become “change ready.” The journey is messy, tense and fraught with uncertainty and failure. If you can overcome your fear and trust the potential of your imagination, the results can be truly transformational.
The author’s basic premise is that change isn’t about lacking the creativity and insight to come up with new ways of doing business. What handicaps most companies is fear, fear of letting the familiar –– the status quo –– go and taking the leap of faith to embrace an uncertain future. Why run the risk of trying something new that might fail spectacularly when you can stay in your comfort zone and make a futile attempt to stop the inevitable?
The Five Challenges of Imagining It Forward
Comstock’s success in transforming GE from an institution steeped in historical success to an organization capable of embracing a digital future and a more innovative culture did not happen overnight. By her own admission, there were some early victories and some projects that took years to play out.
Looking back over those hard-won lessons, the author summarizes her journey to change-readiness in terms of the five biggest obstacles she had to learn to overcome:
- Self-Permission: Change begins with you. Comstock is remarkably frank in outlining her own transformation from an introverted media publicist to GE’s first woman vice chair.
- Discovery: Embracing inquiry and curiosity. The author argues that this is the step “that makes all of the other steps possible.” Once that leap of faith is made, the journey becomes a voyage of discovery and learning rather than a slow decline in market share.
- Agitated Inquiry: Facing the tension head on. Challenging the status quo will inevitably increase tension as accepted practices are questioned. Confrontation can be minimized with civil discourse, but “innovation is the result of seeking out tension, not avoiding it.”
- Storycraft: You must develop a powerful narrative to help the organization understand the new world. If fear of the unknown is the biggest challenge, then a detailed picture of the newly transformed organization will provide some reassurance for those struggling to manage that fear.
- Creating a New Operating System: Develop emergent leaders who will embrace and inspire the vision. Changing an organizational mindset is just like creating a new operating system. Finding change agents who will spread the new ideas from the “bottom-up and outside-in” will be critical to your success.
Comstock’s key message here is that successful change does not come with an easy-to-follow checklist. Nor does it matter how creative or insightful your ideas are. If you cannot give yourself permission to change and embrace the fear of letting go of the status quo, you will never achieve the transformation into a “change-ready” organization.
Imagine It Forward offers straight talk supported by case studies and some hard-earned personal lessons from an experienced business leader.