Progress – A quiet rebellion

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Well, here we are. Sandwiched between a pandemic, political upheaval, climate armageddon and the robots taking all our jobs.

Enough has been written about the ability of unicorns to harness the internet and destabilise whole markets in moments. We’ve all read about VUCA, and had prophets tell us how we won’t survive unless we change, so we won’t tell you more of what you already know. 

We’re here to help navigate all that change with an idea that we believe is quietly revolutionary, and if you embrace it, will set you, your teams and your organisation up for a fascinating and fruitful future. 

A future that utilises frustration and transforms it into opportunity. A future where threat is felt as learning, and change isn’t something painful to be achieved or something that breaks you, but instead it’s something we embrace,  pursue and ultimately value. 

The idea is simple, yet profound. Let’s Make Progress

There’s no organisation out there that wouldn’t want to make progress. “Let’s stay stuck”, said no one at any organisation ever. 

AND YET. 

Why is it that we’re all stuck in back-to-back, unproductive meetings? Why is it that we do the majority of the hard thinking about work outside our official hours? That we’re all frustrated by ‘essential’ processes and policies that get in the way? That we have to plan and re-plan and prove the value of the plan before we’re allowed to get going on the plan? That we prioritise efficiency over impact? That strategy is a calendar event, not an everyday action? That leaders are taught to say no as a first response?  That employee engagement stats are sliding south when engagement budgets are going up?

The unfortunate truth is our organisations are structured – even incentivised – to react badly to uncertainty. Expertise, stability,  risk-aversion,  concrete hierarchies and processes make us brittle, even though they were the reason for our success in the past. Now these same markers lead to procrastination, perfectionism, politics, and more process. They lead to inaction (or at least slow action) when what we really need to adapt and thrive is pace. 

On the face of it, Let’s make progress looks simple, naive even

But confronted with the everyday reality of working in the 21st Century, it’s not just an idea, it’s a battle cry. 

Progress is made, both figuratively and literally. People create things that create progress.  For &us, making an agile organisation is about building a place where people have the freedom to easily create things, together. 

Innovation projects are the trojan horses to test this organisational ability. We do innovation not just to create something new at the edge of a business, not just to elegantly crack a challenge, but to understand and grow the capabilities, structures and culture that are needed for an organisation to keep making progress. 

Innovation creates new revenue streams and accelerates growth. It should be a magnet for talent, and should mitigate commercial risk. But the very core of innovation is about stress testing an organisation’s ability to avoid slowly fading into irrelevance. 

When you do innovation well, it’s about fostering the muscles of creativity, sense-making, flexibility, collaboration, and bravery. Innovation is about harnessing a resilient and frustrated spirit, and making something happen that gets us further towards our shared purpose, despite the hurdles that stop us in our tracks. It’s about giving people a reason to believe another experience of work is possible, and about arming them with the tools, capabilities and renewed passion to make ideas real. 

Progress is addictive. It’s generative. The more progress you have, the more you want, and the more confident you can be in going out of your way to get it. Progress isn’t about big moments at the end of the project, it’s the dopamine hits from a new small learning, cracking through a well-organised backlog, about every day better. It’s hard-won and hard felt. It’s about not letting ambiguity freeze you, but instead puts you in the driving seat to create the future you know is possible.   

And it’s the only strategy that will succeed in a turbulent world

Faced with turbulence, most organisations are choosing one of two problematic routes. 

You can stay still, thinking about the explosion of all the imminent threats facing you, slowly planning and risk-mitigating for each one whilst actually doing very little  to make progress for your customers or your business. And by the time you have all the right alignment, information and agreement to move, the situation has changed again so you just ‘run the business’ the way you’ve always done it. And every time this happens, you’re further and further behind the disruptors who changed things in the first place. 

This is Clayton’s Innovator’s Dilemma. This is acceptance of entropy. It’s giving up by carrying on.

Or you can restructure, yet again. Re-engineer everything. Hack away at the P&L, focus on efficiency, make people do more with less, launch a hundred internal culture and capability initiatives, make everyone do more L&D, get leaders in a room and get them to make decisions fast, talk about innovation and launch a handful of complicated projects to roll out big solutions, ask everyone to submit their numbers again…

… all at the same time. In other words, introduce so much change at once that people  get confused about the strategy, lose focus on customers, take on so much that they burn out, and you’re still no better off than you were before you started. This is the equivalent of hitting the  panic button. 

We see a third way

You can act with stealth. You can explore new customer-facing solutions  in multiple directions at once  with discipline and customer focus to find the right path.  You can turn leaders into guardians of the endeavour, trend spotters, networkers, problem-solvers. You can turn your customer-facing people into insight engines and shorten the feedback loop. You can break your hierarchies, and introduce ways of working that increase autonomy, focuses people solely on the things that really matter and gets information flowing freely in real time. . 

This is about turning your organisation into a discovery machine, restless for better, curiosity on steroids, pragmatism on tap. But it’s  counter intuitive in our finely-tuned organisations. 

We need to be able  to experiment, to forge new paths and fail, to explore the weird and wonderful, and to learn through Real World Evidence, not through focus groups. We need to make things – to progress new ideas,  products, new systems, new cultures – and, by doing it, avoid the shocks and strains of a changing world, but instead be the agents of progression itself. 

This is not the unstructured chaos that often occurs when you introduce innovation. It’s about a new, highly disciplined approach to progress that embraces the light side of chaos and learns to dance around the dark side. It’s about a systematised, dynamic balance that becomes your organisational strength because your people can move without fear or resistance: just dangerous enough to promote hunger, not dangerous enough to de-rail pragmatism. 

And this is the quiet rebellion that changes the way individuals turn up to work, that changes the way we get things done, which redesigns systems and which launches things that really matter to real people. 

It may sound simple, but it’s hard.  

And we are here for the journey. We’re here to make progress too. 

Find out all the different ways we can help you make progress here.