Quite often when organizations are undergoing change, there is a tendency to solicit the ideas and opinions of those with the most experience. There is a confidence and a comfort we feel in gaining insight and direction from those who have spent years or even decades in a given industry, company or organization. On the surface this makes a great deal of sense. However, is it possible that relying too heavily on those with "experience" can actually hinder or derail your transformation efforts?
The truth about experience is, it is most effective if the environment in which you operate hasn't substantially changed! However, if new technologies are introduced, new distribution channels developed, or non-traditional competitors enter the marketplace, the value of previous experience is diminished. In fact, in the book, "Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions" (Harvard Business Press) the authors argue that one of the leading factors as to why smart leaders make bad decisions is relying on "Misleading Experiences." Misleading experiences are those memories of past actions that seem to be comparable and/or relevant to the current situation, but which can subconsciously cause us to overlook and/or undervalue differentiating factors.
When leading change and transformation it is essential to have those with "relevant" experience at the table. However, it is equally necessary to have others with diverse ideas and insights involved. Histories is littered with companies that in the face of changing trends and challenging headwinds relied too heavily on those with experience, and are no longer in business. Did Blockbuster benefit from its video distribution experience? Did Border's Books benefit from it experience in selling books? How did Circuit City's experience in selling electronics help it from avoiding bankruptcy? Arguably, it was important that each organization have individuals with industry expertise involved in leading change. However, they could have benefited more by understanding:
- What are the "differentiating factors" that we need to better understand?
- How has, or can technological innovation help us to create sustainable value?
- How has customer behavior and buying habits changed?
- Who are the successful new entrants, and what can we learn from them?
Today, there are several industries and organizations that are faced with major decisions regarding their future:
- Will our customers continue to purchase our products and services in the same manner, or will they want new, customer-friendly delivery models?
- Will changes in technology make our platform and go-to-market strategy non-competitive or obsolete?
- Are there two kids in a garage somewhere building a new software application with features and functions that we've not even imagined?
While none of these industries or organizations have a crystal ball to help create and implement an effective transformation plan, if they are smart, in the addition of asking the four questions listed above, they will:
- Conduct an analytical review of the facts from multiple data points.
- Encourage healthy debate of the facts and the implications.
- Identify how past experiences can both help and hinder success.
- Don't be afraid to engage others who may lack "industry" knowledge, but who can provide unique insights and perspectives, based on their diverse background.
Yes, experience matters in leading change and transformation, but it’s wise not to rely on past experience alone. It needs to be viewed through the lenses of both the reality of the present, and the promise and opportunity of the future.