02 October 2010

Linchpins see the world as they truly are

In terms of perception, there are 2 extremes of people: the ones who see the world as they truly are and the ones that are so attached to their world view, their reality, that they can’t see anything beyond that, so they fail to adapt to the needed changes around them. A linchpin need to have enough discernment to check reality (don’t confuse with “negativists” that think everything is impossible). Linchpins are indispensable, and discernment is indispensible. How so?

When I was in AIESEC Norway, in my first year, when I was VP Talent Management, no one in our term had enough discernment to understand the situation of the local business units and their volunteer workers. The result was that our super smart strategies were never really prepared to face the cruel reality of the real world. In theory they were great and they would be great in practice if we were dealing with a well oiled and functional organization. We were not. The result was pretty obvious: it failed over and over again, until we were almost bankrupt.

On my 2nd year in AIESEC Norway, this time as president, I was fortunate enough to get a team that had a much better perception of how things really were. In the beginning we struggled again, but when we finally accepted reality, we made the most awesome changes in our own behavior. The result was also obvious: operational growth, getting out of the bankruptcy and building cash reserves, positive balance at the end of the year.

The music industry doesn’t have a linchpin strong enough to understand their business model is going down, so they try to protect their worldview by suing and saying that download is a crime. They are attached to their reality. How come any of the big music shots didn’t invent iTunes (today the biggest music retailer) or Spotify? They had everything: the resources, the industry knowledge, etc. But they were too attached to their reality and didn’t have any discernment to realize the business model was dead.

There are loads of examples of organizations that clearly need linchpins with discernment: Blockbuster didn’t move on to the online rental, now they are filing for bankruptcy; Nokia was the biggest mobile company, it saw the smart phones coming (even developed a touch screen mobile 3 years before the iPhone), but they were too attached to their current cash cow and didn’t see the world evolving, now they are lagging behind and the CEO was thrown out the window. GM lost its edge by losing touch of the reality in the market.

Another example that happened with me: a company was pitching to me an e-learning course. "Quite useful" was my first thought, since I had a deep interest for the subject. After trying it, I couldn't stand the e-learning course for 2 full minutes. I could not skip to the parts I was interested. Only when the narrator would stop speaking, I could pass to the next screen. So if you were not interested in that part or simply wanted to check something else, no, no, you had to wait. I told this feedback (in a very polite way) to the vendor. The answer was more or less that they didn't see it as a problem, but would adapt to customer needs. I asked another colleague, she had the same problem with the not skipping and could not finish the course. He clearly was too much attachment to his own reality (to his own product) and that made it impossible for him to understand customer needs. I predict this will not go well.

Reality is perception, it’s always biased by our own world view, that’s why it is so hard to have discernment, to be a linchpin. That’s also why so many innovations come from people without experience in that industry (like Spotify, Voddler, Hulu, Google ads, Skype…). But failing to see reality means failure in the real world.

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