Awhile back I was reading an article about depression. The first half of the article looked at what causes a person to be chronically depressed. It said that based on research, the major difference between the chronically depressed and other people is that the chronically depressed cannot envision a scenario where their situation improves. By contrast, other people can envision the possibility of better times ahead.
That made sense to me, so I decided to read the second half of the article, where they were going to suggest a way to eliminate chronic depression. I expected the article to explain ways for the depressed individual to change their situation so that a better future was more possible. For example, I was expecting suggestions like:
· Get an education.
· Get out of unhealthy relationships.
· Take some risks.
Instead, the article took an entirely different approach. It talked about mental trickery—ways to trick yourself into believing in a better future, even if a better future is not a realistic probability. That might work for a short period, but is that really a long term solution? Suddenly, I was no longer impressed with the article.
Businesses have their own form of depression: depressed sales, depressed earnings, etc. When these types of depressions become chronic, the business is in serious trouble.
I think the cause of chronic depression in business can be similar to what was stated in the article mentioned above: the businesses cannot envision a scenario where the company, in its current state, can improve. After all, if they could imagine a way to improve the current state, they probably would embark on a strategy to do just that.
The remedy, in my opinion, is to change the current state, so that you can find a new path where prosperity is more likely. That could include tasks such as:
· Changing one’s Position in the marketplace
· Adding new Capacity or new Competencies
· Reformulating the Business Model
But instead of this, many companies use an approach more like the one prescribed in the article. They use mental trickery to get themselves to falsely believe that if they just stay the course things will get better. Consequently, they don’t make the changes necessary to reach prosperity. The end result is a failed business.
The principle here is that you cannot wish yourself into prosperity. Or, as stated in the title of a book by Sullivan and Harper, “Hope is Not a Method.”
When stated that way, it does sound silly to expect mere wishing or hoping to solve all your problems. But those aren’t the words used by the proponents of this approach. They use trickery and cloak it in terms like “Principles of Leadership.”
I’ve read it in many forms, and it usually goes something like this:
- When times are tough, leaders are not allowed to show any signs of pessimism. They need to put on a smiley, optimistic face and deceive their underlings into believing that things are really much better than they appear.
- Then the leaders are to tell their people that all they need to do is work a little harder, a little better and the future will become bright again.
- Next, the leaders are supposed to set high targets for their people to achieve—a way of showing that the leader believes good results are still possible.
The optimistic pep talk and the high goals are supposed to motivate the team to achieve the impossible and get the business out of its economic depression.
Unfortunately, what we call “the impossible” usually is impossible, and a smiley pep talk full of hope and wishes won’t get the job done.
If your situation is bad, don’t trick your mind (or the minds of your team) into believing the situation is good. The solution is to get out of the bad situation. Find a new situation where the prospects for prosperity are significantly better.
Doing a better job of executing an obsolete strategy does not change the fact that the strategy is still obsolete. For example, no matter how well Kodak executed an analog film business model, it would not win in a world of digital imaging. Rather than work harder on executing a bad strategy, change paths and work on a executing a better strategy.
The solution requires change, and a lot of people are afraid of change. But we shouldn’t let that fear cause us to continue down the current course towards destruction.
Instead of following the prescription above, called “Principles of Leadership”, we should do the following:
· Be honest with our people and let them know that the current strategy is not valid anymore. Show how a continuation on that path leads to failure.
· Then, either:
o Present to the team a valid case for adopting your newer, better strategy; or
o Get the team involved in building that newer, better strategy itself.
· Next, get the team to rally behind specific change initiatives needed to get from the current situation to the newer, better scenario.
Bad times are typically not improved by getting better at doing the same things that got us into the bad situation in the first place. If your strategy is no longer valid, change the strategy. Replace hopes and wishes in the status quo with a serious re-evaluation of how to win in the marketplace and specific change initiatives designed to make the improved strategy a reality.
Denial is never a good approach. As long as we deny the fact that our current strategy is broken, we will never fix it. As they say, the first step in curing alcoholism is to admit that you have a problem. We need to have the courage to say our current strategy has a problem.