Last week, I opened my previous post with a quote by Yuval Noah Harari, who never fails to get me thinking. And future thinking is always somewhere on my mind. The name of my blog is not a coincidence. Looking forward is somewhat of a calling card of my consultancy as I have always enjoyed looking out for and sharing what could be relevant, to friends, colleagues, clients. And you!
So I have a natural tendency to look towards emerging trends, whether in communication or consumer behaviours, and the trait was confirmed when I took the Fascinate Test (as recommended by communications coach Dr Andrea Wojnicki). My archetype is the Catalyst - an agent of change. Surprise! According to the test, it’s the combination of Passion (leading style and also one of my driving values) and Innovation (secondary) that drive my style. I’m letting this sink in.
Harari says: “In order to keep up with the world of 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products – you will above all need to reinvent yourself again and again.”
This idea of reinvention is true for ourselves, and true for our businesses.
For many of my clients, mainly small to midsize luxury fashion or design retail businesses, with a high-quality product, and a commitment to making a difference, innovation is challenging.
The worlds of luxury and craftsmanship, especially when united, tend to have a reactionary approach to the concept of innovation itself. The industry prizes continuity and age-old traditions, which is both understandable and also surprising when you consider the creative hands at the helm.
When it comes to digital everything (sales, marketing, communication) I’ve witnessed many designers recoil in their chair when digital teams and other more forward-minded tactical partners present their ideas. Caveat: most of the designers I know are Gen X and older. Some of the younger generations of independent designers may be less wary, but I haven’t seen that much forward-thinking come through. Our world has been formatted anew, and we are all very attached to what is seen as effective (such as IG, Facebook & co).
While I enjoy exploring innovative design and creative thinking in multiple fields, from fashion and tech to thought leadership, the idea of adaptability as a trait to develop hadn't been front of mind for me until recently. In our personal life, we associate it with resilience, a word that has become ubiquitous recently. And I have come to think of it as a form of self-care, one that has perhaps not been discussed often enough.
In the business realm, adapting is generally called pivoting. Because the nature of adapting is not to create radical overhaul, but to work on incremental changes, observe and learn from what doesn’t work, and try something new. However, trying new things isn’t always easy, especially when we seek to support sales.
So I wonder, for those who are averse to change, does innovation or exploring new territory need to be off-putting? Not if we bake it into the culture of our companies and explain not just its benefits but how it works.
Mild discomfort is to be expected when we start testing new things but this is where it’s magic: that’s where the learning happens. And what can result from this phase is adaptation, evolution and possibly, growth.
ADAPTING MEANS PREPARING
Prepare. Shift perspective. And work on your attitude.
Today, everyone around me tends to have the same problem: in a very uncertain market, how to communicate with clients in order to continue to generate sales, so business doesn't slow down or worse, grind to a halt?
I consciously chose the word communicate rather than market, since most of my clients aren't focused on a pay-to-play strategy, though it's often a small part of their comms mix.
It's obvious that most businesses have their work cut out for them. As many people have expressed, the pandemic has been a trend accelerator and for those not previously committed to innovation, regardless of their industries, there was a steep learning curve, which not everyone was able to even work towards. They were in what I call “the panic zone”.
For the less agile companies, it may feel like Sisyphus's curse, as the trends continue to accelerate and strategies need to be revised over and over again.
So, what’s the answer? I decided to do some more research. After reading, listening and poking around on the internet for a few days, the first thing that surprised me is that there is one example that all writers and specialists of “adaptability” seem to bring up and that example is the battle between Blockbuster and Netflix.
Those of us keenly using the internet in the late noughties were already enjoying the pre-streaming pastime that was illegally downloading TV series from dodgy websites. The TV series binge trend was emerging. Netflix understood that, better than anyone, and the rest is history. Overall, my personal take away to explain the missed opportunity for Blockbuster is that they didn’t consider the friction points for their consumers.
As someone who proudly started her retail career in a DVD store in Geneva, Switzerland, the friction points were pretty visible:
Availability of the titles (the new stuff was out as soon as it came in, so hard to get your hands on them for the first few weeks of release).
Picking up in bad weather conditions.
Cost (particularly for those who consumed a lot).
Rarity of certain titles.
The online options immediately solved all these pain points, one after the other, leaving us primed to become streaming addicts. Bricks and mortar owners had no option but to close shop.
Streaming is probably not going anywhere soon but Netflix’s next issue (aside from the growing competition) is analysis paralysis. That’s according to me of course. Well, me and probably Malcolm Gladwell. I’ve spent much time curating a watch list that actually doesn’t attract me by the time I’m ready to watch something. With too much choice, many of us have started to turn off our TVs, in favour of a book. Or, is it just me?
One of the sources I came across stated that adapting means accepting failure. I’d argue that the first step of adapting is more similar to the Buddhist idea of “right view”. It’s the first step in what is called the Eightfold Path, essentially meaning seeing what is. This concept can be hard to accept, especially when we are deeply involved in our projects, businesses or industries. Seeing what is, not burying ourselves in denial.
Natalie Fratto, in her 2019 TED Talk talked about this specific topic of adaptability and how in her business, as a tech investor, she looks for startup founders with adaptive leadership traits, one of which she calls unlearning. She goes on to explain:
“The second trick that I use to assess adaptability in founders is to look for signs of unlearning. Active unlearners seek to challenge what they presume to already know, and instead, override that data with new information. Kind of like a computer running a disk cleanup.”
Think of the Zen concept of beginner’s mind, which means looking at something with fresh eyes. Shifting perspective, unlearning, is in my eyes certainly the best, fastest and most effective way to deeply see what is and then give yourself the opportunity to make changes, whether that’s in your teams, your business performance or your future strategy.
So to sum up, leaders and companies that know how to adapt tend to be successful and to emulate them, here is what you can do.
First, prepare. Look to see what is.
Shift perspective - or unlearn - so you can have a fresh point of view, test, and pivot when needed.
Work on your attitude: foster future-thinking so you always work within the learning zone and never land in the panic zone. Build this into the culture of the company.
Or fast track: turn to someone outside your team or organisation, who will have a less biassed view of the situation.
Finally, check in with your clients. Find out whether you are serving their needs. But more on that next week.