To understand anything, one must first divide the subject into a minimum of two.  Without a minimum of two there is no distinction.  Change is no exception.

There are two criterion that make something interesting to the reader:

  1. It has to be practical. An example, turn a specific switch and the light will come on.
  2. It has to make at least one prediction.  Any statement devoid of a prediction conveys no knowledge.  It may be important information yet it does not demonstrate knowledge. You may say “this flag is red”. This is not a prediction, it’s information. When you say “If you wave a red cloth in front of a bull, it will run at you”. This is a prediction and it demonstrates knowledge.

When predictions are made and then demonstrated later to be true trust is built. Trust is a fundamental aspect of being an authority.

So, how do you make accurate predictions about the future.  You must base your predictive statement on theory. An example of a theory is gravity. No one has ever seen gravity. Yet we use the theory of gravity everyday. Before we let go of something, we can predict where it will land.

Most people think theories are airy-fairy, instead they want strategies, methods, tools and tactics to be successful. Yet it’s theories that allow one to predict future performance.

To be successful in anything, it has to be based on the most predicable theory. Consciously or unconsciously (most people don’t think about gravity when they drop something) every prediction is based on theory.  How good is the theory? It is directly related to how predictable the outcome is.

There are two types of change (thus creating a distinction).  One is cyclical.  All supply and demand experiences are cyclical.  Take interest rates, they increase and, eventually, decrease.  The main focus here is timing of the change.  Contrarians attempt to predict a reversal in the cycle.

The second type of change is structural.  When was the last time you rode a horse to do any significant commerce?  Very few can remember when or have ever had this experience.  This is because the change from the horse to the automobile was a structural change.

When change is structural you have no vote, you have to embrace it.  It doesn’t matter how much you love your horse (or anything else that is being replaced by a structural change) you have to embrace the new.  The quicker you embrace a structural change the success probability increases.

Structural change is only replaced by other structural changes.  Vinyl records went from 78 rpm (recordings per minute) to 45 and then to digital.  They then migrated to another structural change the Internet where they have been further transformed into downloads.   In each iteration the price usually drops and the convenience or quality increases.

When a change happens, first ask yourself this question: “Is it a cyclical or is it structural?”  Sometimes, in the early stages of the change, it is difficult to tell which it is. 

Take stem-cells.  Is this a structural or cyclical change?  Is society ever going back to the pre-stem cell era?  Probably not.  Remember with a structural change you have no vote.  You have to embrace the change.

If you don’t like the particular structural change, embrace it early and take a leadership role in directing how it is best used. As a student studying physics theory was critical. At that time the awareness of its importance was not there.  It didn’t seem practical.The similar reaction resurfaced when theory was addressed in Marshall Thurber’s Future of Business learning experience.

The dictionary says theory is:

  • a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained. OR
  • an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action.

The best theories are critical to prediction. It is this prediction that conveys your knowledge. The methods, tools and tactics come after the theory.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein.

Nokia was once the most highly admired company, it defined the mobile phone industry. For many years Nokia was the number one mobile phone retailer in the world. Yet, surprisingly, it failed in an expanding market. Farewell Nokia: The Rise and Fall of a Mobile Pioneer.

Today’s business environment is rapidly changing. It now requires navigating on Liquid Turf. (An observation coined by Marshall Thurber). For example, the average software program lasts less than two weeks before it is upgraded. This means almost everyone is going to trip or fall attempting to traverse this. You do not control liquid turf. Thus, the probability is very high errors will happen.

Nokia operated on their own theory. They were so big (at one point they had over 40% of the market) they felt they were in control of this domain. The acceleration of accelerating change was not appreciated. This change blindness stopped Nokia from appreciating the added value offered by smartphones.

Torben Rick in his blog Disruptive Change is Inevitable – Change is Constant astutely wrote “Companies most likely to be successful in making change work to their advantage are the ones that no longer view change as a discrete event to be managed, but as a constant opportunity to evolve the business”.  

Another recent example is Toys R Us. This iconic US retailer with 800 stores is now liquidating. One headline: Store margins were being crushed by the Internet (a structural change not embraced). Haven’t we read this before?

The internet is a structural change; we are never going back to the pre-Internet time. It must be embraced; the turf has permanently altered. Failure to embrace this structural change creates a “deer in the headlights” response. Using liquid turf as the context forces constant questioning of what you know. What you know may no longer be so.

Steve Glaveski: The Executive’s Recipe To Overcoming Challenges To Innovation, states companies “can’t rely on set processes and the way things have been done … to deliver successful outcomes”.

To find out you must be willing to collaborate.

“You don’t have to hold yourself hostage to who you used to be” – Oprah Winfrey

There is danger in hanging on to old business models and the way things have always been done. Add collaboration to dance with your existing hierarchy. Many owners fear collaboration. It is seen as a dilution of their identity. Yet the reality is that if you allow collaboration to interact with your hierarchy you will be more effective.

There are inspiring local Singapore companies, who reinvented themselves. Not because they want to; they had to transform to survive. This is now liquid-turf age of business. It is a structural change.

Companies that seem archaic, like a book binding company is doing it. seventy-five (75) year old company, Grandluxe has to re-invent itself. It started focusing on customers’ experience not the book binding process. Management started to collaborate, not only with their staff but also with their clients.

It launched custom made notebooks and personalised leather products. The clients interact with their craftsmen; they are part of the creative process of building the customised product. Revenues, profits and salaries have risen dramatically.

Not sure why to collaborate? Alyssa Gregory shares in (5) Reasons Collaboration Can Help You Grow Your Business.

Liquid turf is now the new normal. This theory creates the new context. It is key, not to finishing strong but to remaining strong. How are you going to embrace this “new normal”?

Hint: you must dramatically upgrade your learning skills. How to Learn The Most Out Of Every Situation by Marshall Thurber.


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