Be a Leader of Change

There is one thing that is consistent and constant in all businesses. It does not matter how small or big the business. It does not matter what type of industry or what type of business you are in. The one thing that is constant is change. There are tons of examples throughout history, both long ago and recent, of businesses that have mis-stepped, faltered, and even failed completely because they chose not to change. Here are a few examples.

Eastman Kodak was started over 120 years ago. They had the corner on the market of personal, handheld cameras and film photography. They had a market share of close to 90%. Back in the 1970’s their own research and development department came up with the very first prototype of a digital camera and digital photography. The Kodak executives were briefed on the details of this innovation, yet they sat on it for over 20 years and did nothing with the idea. Why? Because they were afraid this change would impact the lifeblood of their sales and revenue which was film photography.

Another example – traditional booksellers. There were once thousands of locations of bookstores across the US. National chains like Barnes & Noble, Borders, B.Dalton, and Waldenbooks were big disrupters in the bookselling industry, making it challenging for many of the small, local bookstores. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the big national chains were booming. It was no secret that there was a little funky startup,  named after a river in South America, that had big intentions and plans to change the way people bought books and how they read books. This little startup planned to be the biggest seller of books, ever. Everybody knew the startup’s intentions and yet most of the national bookstore chains failed to take any action. They failed to look at their own business processes and failed to do research as to what their customers might want in the future. Because of that failure to change, Borders, Waldenbooks, and B.Dalton no longer even exist today. When Barnes & Noble finally decided they needed to do something to change their business model, they had already lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and market share to that funky little startup: Amazon.

Why was it that the business leaders of these big businesses chose not to make any changes to their business models, even though they knew of this threats coming? Because sales were great! Their sales and profits were phenomenal! Employees were happy, the customers were happy. Why rock the boat? In order to maintain success and growth a business must innovate to stay relevant. Innovation means not just paying attention to what is happening in your community in which you do business, and also not just paying attention to what is happening in your industry. To be most effective, you have to pay attention to what is happening in other industries because your customers are impacted by those other industries and how they are innovating and changing. Your customers’ wants, needs, and expectations of your business will be impacted by those innovations in other industries.

Let’s take this idea of change that happens in other industries one step further. Think about two instruments: a thermometer and a thermostat. At first glance, people might mistakenly confuse these two instruments. They both measure temperature in a room and they both report back on what the temperature is, but that’s where the similarity between the two instruments ends. A thermometer is passive. It reads the temperature and reports back, and that is all it can do. The thermostat on the other hand is an active instrument. The thermostat determines what the temperature will be. It effects change.  

An effective leader must be aware. An effective leader must constantly be seeking information, ask questions, and learn as much as possible from every person on their team. An effective leader does not fear change, but rather embraces new ideas and asks questions like “how can this benefit our company and how can it add value to our customers?”

Change is hard. We all enjoy the comforts of what we have come to know, understand, and expect. Most of us have a tendency to resist change. But to be the best we can be, we must embrace change. We must constantly be open to learning new things, and to welcome the growth that comes from that learning process.

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