Tradition is a very powerful and important thing. It is a glue that helps hold nations, societies, families and organizations together. Traditions are a source of pride, we celebrate them, we defend them, and we hold on to them because they make us feel grounded, safe, stable and secure. Traditions anchor many of us in ways few other things can.
But traditions, combined with the comfort many feel holding on to the status quo, can also blind us to changes in the larger world around us that demand our attention and some adaptive effort. Traditions and the familiar clung to at all costs can produce an individual and organizational paralysis producing only the illusion all is well and we are still performing at our best.
Recognizing that standing pat in a rapidly changing environment is often actually falling behind, thinking only in the present or worse backward is dangerous for organizational health. Dynamic organizations need a cadre of effective thought leaders capable of thinking and acting forward. They need men and women not disdainful of tradition and the past but able to cast new forward-thinking ideas in the same successful way the authors of current traditions did in the past.
So how do you start thinking forward without coming across as disdainful of what has gone before? How do you express forward thinking ideas without appearing to disparage those still wed to the here and now or the past?
A good place to start is being clear in your own mind regarding what you think needs to be done and why. This will allow you to articulate your case for an adaptive change in terms of what it can do for your organization the current or old ways cannot. To help clarify your thoughts consider unleashing the power of questions similar to those I list below.
♦What traditions in your organization do you now believe need to be changed for some logical and understandable reason and what ideas for change do you have?
♦ Close your eyes and imagine your organization still being relevant and at its best in five years. Does it look the same as it does now? If not, what needs changed? Or try this variation of the same idea, if you could start from scratch today would you create the organization you now have? If not, what would you create and can you get there from where you are?
♦ What changes in the larger socio-cultural milieu in which you organization operates suggest some adaptive work for your own organization? What is that work?
♦ What technological shifts and examples of innovation outside your organization offer suggestions for adaptive change for your organization and potential danger for you if they are ignored?
♦ What intriguing ideas have you seen in enterprises and activities far different from your own that with a little creative thinking and adaptation could really help your organization move forward? Get busy connecting the dots.
♦ Within your organizational culture, what arguments seem to work best in convincing skeptics that it is better to be out in front in adopting and incorporating a new idea, rather than lagging behind?
♦ What ideas do you have about actually demonstrating the advantages of a new idea rather than simply talking about it? Seeing something in action is often far more compelling than simply hearing about it.
♦ Can you develop a compelling argument that tightly connects an adaptive change you favor to the purpose or mission of your organization? That is, “we will clearly be better at what we do by changing how we do it”.
♦ Can you engage a customer as added support for a forward thinking idea? Customers often carry far more weight than an insider change advocate.
♦ Finally, do you have the courage to be a “mold breaker” even if doing so makes you unpopular or may stall or delay your next career move? Being a forward thinker and organizational leader is not without its risks.
These questions are by no means an exhaustive list nor necessarily the best. So add your own. But you get the idea. Thinking and acting forward is behavior; mental and physical. And it is one of the hallmarks of organizations and their managers that remain relevant and competitive in today’s rapid paced world.