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How to succeed in times of great change

I don’t have to tell you we are living in a time of great change. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find an area of our world that is not dealing with some sort of major, life changing disruption. Talk to any taxi driver about Uber, or retail worker about Amazon, or real estate agent about Redfin and you know what I mean.

There can be no more naiveté about the impact and speed of change.

Please understand, these are extremely opportunistic times, but not everyone will take advantage of them and get ahead. Many as a matter of fact won’t. It’s equal opportunity, unequal reward, so, how do you ensure you get and stay ahead?

Increase collaboration

Benjamin Jones, a strategy professor, and Brian Uzzi a professor of management and organizations both at the Kellogg School, demonstrated in their research that increased specialization of skills (also a characteristic of this time) means you need bigger and bigger groups, with more and more specialists to be successful. In other words, we need collaboration to have the perspective necessary to advance.

“There’s more and more to know in the world, and you can only have so much in your head,” Jones says. “So, the share of stuff you know as an individual is declining in any field.” He goes on to say, “Over time, this is an ongoing, never-ending phenomenon of increased specialization, which is ever increasing the demand for collaboration.”

His research focused on the world of academic publishing though is applicable to business. We all hold unique and specialized perspectives, either by purposeful training, or simply by going about our everyday, and we must bring more of those perspectives together to elevate the chance of success in a time of great change.

Speed matters and to decide, you need less information than you think

In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell explains why rapid decision-making under uncertainty can be so effective. Gladwell disagrees with the common understanding that more information leads to better decisions, and says, “In fact, you need to know very little to find the underlying signature of a complex phenomenon.”

Gladwell sites the example of a man arriving at a hospital with intermittent chest pains. His vital signs show no risk factors, yet his lifestyle does, and he had heart surgery two years earlier. If a doctor looks at all the available information, it may seem that the man needs admitting to the hospital. But the additional factors, beyond the vital signs, are not important in the short term. In the long run, he is at serious risk of developing heart disease.

“…the role of those other factors is so small in determining what is happening to the man right now that an accurate diagnosis can be made without them. In fact, that extra information is more than useless. It’s harmful. It confuses the issues. What screws up doctors when they are trying to predict heart attacks is that they take too much information into account.”

In medicine, as in business, more information does not necessarily ensure a better decision and in a rapidly changing world, speed to decision, often with less information than you’d like to have is critical, or your business could die on the table while you debate.

Stop romanticizing the past

In 2007 Apple launched the iPhone, effectively destroying the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle. Imagine if Steve Jobs had been romantic about the iPod, at the expense of or delay of the iPhone. The world would look much different now. Innovation killed the previous innovation, and the cycle continued. Market innovation has no emotional attachment to the past. Not every innovation takes off like the iPhone of course, though all innovation takes us forward to some degree. It is our job as leaders to see around corners, take risks, and place bets, and lead our people through to the next chapter of growth. We cannot do that effectively if we use all our resources to argue for the status quo in the face of inevitable innovation and change.

And finally

How you see your options and opportunities is the most critical of everything here. If you see now as a time of great hardship and fear, it will be so for you. If you see it as an opportunity for great abundance and prosperity, it will be that as well. Both realities exist at the same time it’s up to you to choose which one to see.

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