Viewing Business Problems in New and Novel Ways

Independent thought and rate of change

My marketing colleague Stephen Denny, together with Dr. Paul Leinberger at Denny Leinberger Strategy, just published a global survey to help us understand the impact of technology on culture, from the mindset generated by device dependence, to “social dislocation” to the plummeting trust in the institutions around us. Taking a pulse of the reactions to what is going on is useful to creating policy and to running businesses.

HiringSome questions were polarizing. For example, it is not shocking to learn that a good percentage of senior U.S. managers find it difficult to hire someone with a strong personal brand. The fear, justified or not, is still that it could overshadow the company brand.

We should learn to argue the case for and against it to understand the issue properly. Maybe there is more than meets the surface.

As senior managers and executives, hiring someone with a personal following could be a problem. Issues like collaborating with the team, ability and willingness to mentor and coach others come to mind. But also flexibility in falling in line with management. All valid concerns.

On the other hand, someone who has a powerful personal brand might have gotten there on the strength of good reasoning and ability to tap into the contemporary currents of thought. All of which could be very valuable to a brand and business that seeks to not just keep up but leap forward in product and service innovation.

Environmental complexity also plays a role in shaping as well as voicing our concerns. We know from research that when the rate of cultural change is maximum, as we are undergoing now, individual thinking is not prized. As a consequence, we tend to want to go with the flow.

The more things change, the more we stay the same. There is a reason for that, and it involves technology. While technology changes exponentially, organizations change logarithmically, thus management must choose carefully the changes to adopt. This is a challenge that grows harder over time.

Take for example the trend accelerated by startups, many in the tech sector, that increased the number of remote workers. It started with functions like programming or engineering as a way to outsource the function temporarily, then permanently and also to find the most specific and/or skilled individuals, no matter where they lived.

Remote or virtual workers are real people with skills who do not show up at a central office or location every day. The fear is with a loose workforce we lose the common culture. Does it outweigh the benefit of gaining access to a much wider pool of talent? 37Signals, now Bootcamp and Campfire and Highrise is a known example of working as a distributed team successfully. The team's understanding of the challenge helped them design a better product for companies that operate through collaboration.

From the Killing Giants Mindset survey, “understand the power that technology can bring our organizations – and yet, our corporate cultures are unable to take full advantage of it.” Which is why companies continue to hire locally, with its inherent challenges.

On the operational side, according to respondents, productivity relies most heavily on focus, then collaboration, and a fresh perspective. As many remote or virtual workers will be able to attest, focus is a big gain, providing the business has a proper adoption of collaboration tools like Slack and there is a clear understanding of the percentage of time people should spend on shallow work like answering messages in real time when not truly urgent and/or relevant.

Inconsistencies are information

This brings us to the more interesting data point. Respondents also feel that “viewing business problems in new and novel ways” is important.

Stephen says that, “We’ve reached a transitional point in corporate evolution —what’s possible has outrun what’s comfortable. Technology allows us to work in ways we’ve never imagined before, but our corporate culture balks at this unrestrained freedom. Deep down, most corporate cultures today still want to control people, not necessarily empower them to the fullest.” This is why we know we need to view problems in new and novel ways to solve the issues that will make or break our companies… and yet, we’re reluctant to hire people who work remotely, or have big personal brands, and so on. 

“Viewing business problems in new and novel ways” requires we refocus our thinking on strategizing, which involves choice based on time dependent information whereas strategy involves choices based on assumptions.

It also implies change. But before we can change something, we need to understand its nature and impact. For example, rather than trying to change the game, as many organizations say, we should work on understanding the game we're in, then shape direction from there by creating better habits.

We do seek control over an out of control world. From the Killing Giants Mindset survey:

In a major shift in attitudes, we now believe that the real trappings of success are inward – from health to control over our time, living self-sufficient lives, and even working for ourselves – and not the usual set of outwardly focused trappings of material success.

The viewing depends on who is doing it. We can learn to think better, understand the role of beliefs and behavioral biases in decision making, and become more confident, independent, and wise decision-makers.


The Killing Giants Mindset 2020 Global Survey summary findings and insights are available here.