Richard Shulze will never forget the tornado that forever changed his life. A successful businessman who owned and operated a chain of high-end, very profitable electronics stores in the upper Midwestern United States, life was good for Richard. Actually, it was great. But, in a matter of minutes, his well-ordered world was turned upside down as a fierce storm ripped through his town, severely damaging his largest store and warehouse containing the bulk of his inventory.
In the blink of an eye, a thriving business was reduced to rubble. Ambitious dreams quickly transformed to painful realities. And is often the case when unexpected change descends upon us, Richard was left with a choice. He could fixate on his bad luck and formulate reasons why he should give in to the situation. Or, he could choose to push in a new direction and pursue the opportunities hidden amidst the rubble of his former reality
Richard chose the latter approach and decided to have a tornado sale. Repairing the inventory they could and offering everything at a discount, Richard and his team opened the doors of every undamaged store and warehouse to the public. People were even invited to pick items right off the shelves.
The simplified structure and deep discounts turned out to be a smashing success. Every one of his stores and warehouses reported lines of people eager to find a deal. And when Richard tallied the results at the end of the day, the unexpected tornado sale proved to be the most profitable day in his company’s history.
But the important point is, the money was not the real treasure Richard discovered in the rubble wrought by unexpected change that day. Rather, it was the realization that the status quo, represented by his old business model of offering high price, high end products through standard selling strategies and traditional storefronts, was good but not necessarily great. As the success of his one day tornado sale confirmed, selling quality goods at discount prices to the general public using a simple warehouse approach proved even better. So Richard took the bold step of changing the way he did business permanently. And the rest is history.
Today, Best Buy is the single largest discount electronics retailer in the world, boasting over 1000 stores. Richard Shulze’s willingness to embrace the opportunities created by change demonstrates first-hand it is not change itself that dictates the results you get, but instead, the way you choose to respond to change that makes all the difference.
People in the business community spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how to differentiate their product, prepare themselves to capitalize on emerging markets and compete successfully against tough rivals. But for all the positioning and posturing, little time is spent thinking about how to address the most dangerous threat to opportunity of all: the status quo.
Admittedly, change is a tough adversary. If for no other reason than there are almost always more defenders of the status quo than there are proponents of change. This makes the status quo particularly difficult to beat as we humans are creatures of habit. We like predictability. We like certainty. We like routines. If we have done something a certain way for a long time, it’s difficult to imagine doing something differently in the future. Especially if what we’ve done has contributed to our past success.
So what can we do to help ourselves overcome our bias to play it safe and stay put when facing an opportunity to chart a new path forward? Here are three ideas to get you started:
- Build a case for change: To overcome the fear of change, there has to be a future that’s compelling enough to make it worth the potential pain of changing. You have to provide others with a clear vision of why things will be better by moving from the current “as is” to the desired “to be.”
- Build Trust: If you are going to ask others to join you in your mission to defeat the status quo, you’ll have to first convince them you can be trusted. It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect others to leave the safety of their familiar harbor and sail into the unchartered ocean of change if they don’t trust the one leading them on the journey.
- Build consensus: If there is one area where we routinely fall right into the status quo’s trap it is in failing to build consensus. As leaders, we often march in, present our solution, and move on. This only causes increased angst and proliferates dissatisfaction. By taking the time to build consensus, we guard ourselves from inviting others to revolt against change. Preventing the seeds of dissension and doubt from taking root and blossoming.
The status quo is a dangerous foe. But it is your responsibility as a leader to help others understand why sticking with business as usual is riskier than not changing at all. You have to provide those around you with a clear, coherent and compelling argument of why complacency is even more dangerous than taking a bold leap in a new direction. You have to help others see how the status quo is the assassin of opportunity.