Google comes up with approximately 14 million results for the term “crisis”. The term “opportunity” only generates a few hundred thousand. These disproportionate results are a clear indication of the deep-rooted, fear-based behavior pattern in our society, which is present in almost all facets of life. When something new happens in our working environment, the vast majority of staff and managers resort to old patterns of rejection, resistance and denial.
It’s known that in this state of mind, the ability to solve problems and to think creatively drops significantly, worsening the situation. The downward spiral has us firmly under control. Because the “familiar” denotes greater security in the short term, stressed people keep doing “more of the same,” – they try even harder and waste important time. However, what worked well in the past is no longer adequate for major changes, such as those currently being experienced exponentially.
Cultural change requires a change of the rules, with old ones sacrificed for the development of new ones. In a precarious situation, only something “different” will help to begin with, not the “old”. Letting go of a successful past can be a painful process requiring time, a luxury often lacking in a competitive environment. Unfortunately, the “other” and the “new” are by definition still unknown, which in turn enhances fear and worry, and depletes energy from the change projects.
It’s not just individual companies currently affected by this, but entire industries are noticing that they have reached the end of their options for linear growth. Unfortunately, just knowing about this vicious circle is not enough to escape the crisis. Just as knowing about China doesn’t make Europeans automatically Chinese, this situation requires new approaches, practices and skills. Dealing with uncertainty depends to a great extent on culture. The renewal of our corporate cultures is therefore the greatest current challenge.
In many companies, culture is either accepted as a hereditary disease, or one attempts to whip the company into shape with interchangeable guiding principles and values displayed on colorful posters. It’s obvious that only a negligible fraction of potential is being used. At times of change, it’s up to management to question a company’s habits and corporate culture.
If we imagine culture as water in a river, it’s clear that the repetitive nature of the flow automatically creates grooves at the same point in the river bed. The river bed deepens with each repetition. Over the course of their existence, some rivers have carved deep valleys and even canyons into the landscape. The repetition of routines, processes and procedures will only provide benefits and security until the game is reversed. Immediately, the river bed forces the water into its hollow track.
The possibility of changing the behavior of the Colorado River is therefore merely theoretical. It’s forced to follow the course of the Grand Canyon and, figuratively speaking, to do “more of the same”! Successful companies inexorably dig their own Grand Canyon, in the same way as the Colorado River, with their characteristic behavior. Once the canyon reaches a certain depth, managers and employees are no longer in a position to scale the gorges, to instigate change, to explore a new direction. This is the point at which culture descends into decadence.
The greatest civilizations and most successful companies have faded away, at the lowest point of the “Cultural Grand Canyon”, largely unnoticed by those who took the risk to do something different and new, at just the right time.
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