Back in the halcyon days of the 1980s, an organization could secure a seat at the top of the S&P 500 and remain there for upwards of 25 to 30 years. Rewind the tape even further to 1958, and the average tenure was a whopping 61 years. Unsurprisingly, it’s been on a steady decline ever since, with the current average hovering around the 14-year mark.
While several variables are at play here, including industry, market conditions, and company performance, one fact cannot be ignored: Innovation, disruption, and the pace of change are accelerating. Whether you’re looking specifically at stock performance or the economic landscape at large, this constant churn isn’t expected to subside anytime soon.
As we’ve recently opined, organizations no longer have the luxury of time. Without meaning to, and with the best of intentions, many companies waste precious time, money, and resources on processes and activities that don’t create value and no longer make sense. Businesses that once dominated the S&P have been outpaced by startups, digital innovators, and other nimble companies with agile business models. Regardless of whether they’ve been around for 100 years or two, the organizations that embrace experimentation and the rapid piloting of new ideas are the ones that will be poised to take—and score—more shots on goal.
Blowing Up Business Orthodoxies
While “blowing up business orthodoxies” might sound like an extreme call to action, it accurately captures the urgency with which organizations must approach the next economic era. For too long, businesses have clung to outdated practices, investing the bulk of their resources in optimizing existing products and services for existing customers vs. entering adjacent markets—or even creating entirely new ones that cater to emergent customer needs.
To succeed in this new climate, companies must be willing to challenge their assumptions and rethink their approaches to everything from customer and brand strategy to organization and talent. One shining example comes from none other than The New York Times, a mainstay in an industry rocked by one disruptive event after another.
Since its inception, the newspaper’s top editors convened daily to discuss which stories would appear on the front page of the paper. In 2019, Executive Editor Dean Baquet made the controversial move to eliminate these meetings, as he believed they were too hierarchical and slow-moving, and that they stifled the creativity and innovation of individual journalists and sections.
Under the new system, individual sections of the paper have been given more autonomy to determine which stories they want to cover and how they want to cover them. The decision-making process is still collaborative, but it is now more decentralized and allows for greater input from a wider range of team members. Baquet’s decision to eliminate the daily front-page meetings was seen as a significant cultural shift at The New York Times and was applauded by many journalists and media experts as a bold move that would help the paper stay relevant in a rapidly changing media landscape.
Does that mean you need to reinvent the wheel and upend every current process and practice in your organization? Not necessarily—in fact, most companies cannot afford to make drastic course corrections in response to every competitive or technological challenge. Instead, focus on experimenting with new ideas and acquiring enough information to progress to the next stage or iteration. The objective isn’t to launch a radical, high-risk product or service, but to continually innovate and improve your offering at an incremental rate.
To effectively take more shots on goal—which can mean anything from pursuing more sales leads or expanding into new markets—business leaders must embrace a whole new way of thinking, working, and importantly, acting. Keep these principles in mind as you begin the work of shifting to a mindset that’s more conducive to the unrelenting pace of change:
- Focus on human behavior: Technologies such as AI and machine learning are taking the world by storm, but despite this wave of digital innovation, people must be at the front and center of every decision, process, and team. Because whether it’s customer activity or employee participation, the underlying goal is to influence people to change how they act, as this is the most basic element of business.
- Bring a beginner’s mind: The fluid nature of today’s marketplace defies any form of rigidity. Even if accepted modes of operating have served a business well in the past, strictly adhering to these principles ends up limiting options. Following Dean Baquet’s example, leaders should question why things are done a certain way and consider alternative approaches.
- Embrace impermanence: Amid the volatility that gives rise to disruption, executives need to accept that advantages are increasingly fleeting and organizations would do better to embrace impermanence. For leadership specifically, this means continuously reassessing the validity of the company’s strategy for generating value.
By prioritizing the underlying factors that drive business, remaining adaptable in the face of change, and taking small, strategic steps toward innovation, businesses can create sustainable success. Although small, nimble teams often get to take lots of shots on goal (which is how startups become unicorns), you don’t need to be a nascent company or extra lean team to create the next breakthrough product or service. You do, however, need to adopt an agile mindset, let go of what no longer serves your organization, and experiment your way through change.