Why We Should Not All Get Along

June 18, 2014

Allow Diverse Teams to ThinkThe question was asked by the poet years ago, “can’t we all get along?”  Should we make that a goal in business? I am not sure it’s always a good idea.
 
Of course, we won’t have affection for everyone we work with. There will be times when oil and water…bad start. You know where that was going, right? Except oil and water do not ever mix. Why? They are of different densities.
 
That’s a fairly good predictor of how people will interact. Disparity in density such as, intelligence, age, fitness, political views and others; can be a clue to future working relationships. Adaptivity? Well, it takes two. If only one adapts, the common ground is ever lowering toward the flood plain. Both? Too rare to bother discussing.
 
This isn’t about personal qualities. This short little reminder is brought to you by innovation, maker of tomorrow’s products and services. The business cycle happens so fast that many businesses never notice their business losing ground until it’s too, or nearly too, late.
 
I’ve seen this in the solar electric field. There’s an interesting industry. Maybe you can compare it to your own.
 
If you look back about 7 years, you’ll see an industry on the edge of taking off. Driven by tax credits issued to stimulate an industry, solar energy took off strong. Many successful businesses purchased roof-top solar installations in order to reap the tax benefits and save on fast-rising energy costs. Projects got big. I work in that industry and saw the market begin to shift gears. As more businesses adopted solar, and the costs began to come down, the first big change came in the electricity itself.
 
At that time, most American installations were designed as 600 volt systems. (Around 99%!) European systems have been built around 1000 volt components for years. As European companies entered the U.S. market, they educated American buyers on the efficiency benefits of 1000 volt systems. When I noticed my clients getting calls for 1000 volt systems, I did my research and quickly realized that this would soon be a new standard rather than merely an option. I warned clients to adapt. Redesign to the 1000 volt standard or fall behind. Some did, some didn’t some were slow. It happened fast. Within 18 months, 1000 volt became the standard and many manufacturers were stuck in the role of playing catch up. Some did, some didn’t.
 
The new standard carried with it an obvious shift. The higher capacity systems worked well on larger scales. Again I warned clients to prepare for larger sales. That means adjusting economies of scale. You can sell 100 pieces of a product for $100 each. But when the same customer wants to buy 1,000 pieces, you’d better be ready with substantially new capacity to meet that demand without sacrificing quality and do this at far lower cost. Some did, dome didn’t.
 
And then came the panel wars with China. This was during the now notorious Solyndra failure. Again, I saw a trend. A panel price slash would mean even bigger projects. Get ready to sell 10,000 pieces, maintain quality, deliver on time, cut price. Some did, some didn’t.
 
This period, the final stage in this cycle, was called a ‘shake-out’ in whispered conversations at booming conventions. Solar magazines that once were 100 pages each month—full of vibrant advertising of prospering solar companies—shrank to 20 pages of shill articles and 1/4 page ads. Companies failed. The entire industry became solely based on cost. Many companies who did well during the ramp up failed during the shakeout.
 
Why? It didn’t take super powers to see what was happening in the market. It was clear. Many companies simply did not foster diversity of THOUGHT. Many companies operated under the old style of getting everyone on the same page. As the industry tightened up, many companies put their wagons in a circle and prepared to tough it out. Cut back. Stop innovating. Cut. Cut. Cut. Survival? Some did, some didn’t.
 
This whole cycle happened over a very long period of time: 5 years. That’s virtually slow motion in most industries.
 
Still, management at most small to mid-size firms fear the disruption of change. The word change looms like a huge dollar sign. When I whisper change, the management hears me screaming “spend money like a fool!”  They fear the cost. They fear disruption. They fear the intellectually weaker team members who will resist change. They fear making a wrong move. Some fear not being the one with all the ideas.
 
We must all agree. There should be no questions left open. If there is any uncertainty, something is wrong. We must not explore innovation unless we all agree on the direction—even before a concrete idea is put on the table.Consensus is more important than innovation? Isn’t America all about innovation? We have become too fearful.
 
Have you noticed the alarming trend of the past 20 years of big fish taking over entire markets? Walmart owns retail. Amazon owns the world of online shopping. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint own the cell phone market. Samsung and Apple—pick one. Look around. The big players are squeezing the small businesses out of every corner of every market. How? They innovate.
 
These big companies are constantly exploring ways to take more market share. Constantly. They’re buying data from Facebook and Google today to set, not spot, set trends tomorrow.
 
If your business is not innovating, it will struggle. You may be in a good part of the cycle in your industry. That will change. Will you be ready? Some will, some will not.
 
Innovation isn’t necessarily expensive. My philosophy revolves around this: Small, inexpensive improvements aggregate to big results.  That doesn’t necessarily mean making little improvements to the same old stuff. A little improvement might mean developing a new product offering. Even that doesn’t have to be expensive. You just have to know the steps and do them right.
 
The first step? Decide that innovation is not a word to be feared. Decide to do it. Decide to make innovation part of your business.
 
Then decide that your people must learn to adapt. They must learn that change is inevitable. If you can’t do that, go no further.
 
Then? Learn the process. Remember when your business started using computers? People had to learn how to use them. New CRM? People had to learn how to use it. New equipment? People had to learn how to use it.
 
Innovation requires training too. Knowing how to develop and process ideas is arguably the most valuable skill, asset, a business can have from here out.
 
Do you question that? Then tell me, how far can you shrink and stay in business? There’s a limit. If your weapon against change and competition is innovation? There are no limits.
 
Would you rather be lost in the woods with someone who could get by on very little or someone who constantly came up with ideas for food, shelter, navigation?
 
Yes, sure, we can stay safely in agreement. Or we can risk a little disruption and do a lot better. Tell me what you think.
 
Chris Reich, TeachU

Chris Reich

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