With every great leader comes a great analogy. The ability to paint a picture, deliver a message and inspire. This was none the more accurate than with Beth Comstock in her most recent Keynote speech at The Market Research Event in Scottsdale, Arizona. Author to her latest book, ‘Imagine it Forward’, and former Chief Marketer and Vice Chair of GE—Beth has a longstanding resume of chasing innovation and establishing new growth within businesses.
By: Leaders In
Beth opens the morning session by describing a scenario of failed imaginations. Those people out there who believed constants would never change. Constants that were previously thought to never see an evolutionary end. An example being fixed genders—where non-binary lingo now replaces the norm. Where taxi drivers who once assumed a license would protect their business structure—saw the disruptive nature of the Uber and Lyft’s of the world. What Beth was trying to point out here is something that is obvious to some but oblivious to most—that innovation disrupts the status quo.
One truth big companies in industries across the board have shown time and time again is an inherent nature of resistance to change. Where the human has been taken out of work, storytelling taken out of business. Beth sees this as something she likes to call “The Imagination Gap”. A little place where options of the future go to get stuck and die.
How do we close this gap and ensure we aren’t limiting ourselves to what is known?
One of the most significant problems with the age-old legacy systems is that you can’t get rid of them overnight. Though a desire to move towards a future of change may exist, this must be approached thoughtfully. These organizations look for short-term wins, rather than long-term progress. This is the exact reason for its failure. Businesses that refuse to close this gap won’t survive. Yes, organizations need traditional efficiency and optimization, but as per Beth’s vision—they also need a dose of imagination, forward driving innovation, and creative problem-solving.
Whether you are a leader of a company or an employee on the front lines—you need to grant yourself permission to seek out creative ideas. You will no doubt encounter many obstacles along the way that you must learn to overcome. These obstacles are what Beth calls the “Gatekeepers”. Gatekeepers are the ones in your business that say no. They are the traditionalists who fear anything that might drastically change the norm. Their perceived power feels threatened by the potential of whatever idea you may present that could change it all.
When you encounter these “Gatekeepers” you need to remind yourself to be relentless. Change that “No!” into a “Not Yet!” In the world of pushing boundaries in search of innovation—you will find nobody is going to be there on the sidelines telling you to keep going. You must find a resiliency within yourself to keep going.
By this point in Beth’s speech, it starts to click as to why her career has thrived. She has a way of seeing things from a different angle, evidenced by the risks she’s taken to find change early on and champion it to success. During Beth’s time working at NBC, she was one of the early adopters that understood tv’s traditional wisdom saying programs would only be consumed as a schedule on your tv–would no longer hold up. She went on to launch Hulu, an online tv streaming service, that paved the way for other industry disruptors like Netflix to enter the game.
Using Beth as an example of how to anticipate change, don’t be caught by surprise. By paying attention to patterns, you can anticipate, embrace and adapt to change within your businesses. As Beth would say, “Unlock your inner change maker!”
If you listen to nothing else, listen to these few practical tips Beth offers.
1. Grant yourself permission to put an idea out there and test something that is new! Quit waiting for someone else’s permission to act on your imagination.
2. Empower yourself and the colleagues around you to get out there and challenge points of view! Don’t allow the deeply ingrained humanistic resistance to change, to take over the power you have to create change.
3. Be open to discovery! Change should be part of your job. If you follow the 70/20/20 model that challenges you to spend 70% of your resources and time on what’s now, 20% on what’s next, and 10% on what’s new—you will unlock the key to developing habits of discovery in your job.
4. Use the method of agitated inquiry to learn. Ask your teams and colleagues questions that provoke a conversation and open up feedback. Try questions like, “What problem are you trying to solve?” or “Tell me something I don’t want to hear.” Invite criticism and feedback into your process. By doing this, you open up trust in your teams. Think of experimentation as feedback to validate and test ideas.
5. Don’t be afraid to fail! “If failure isn’t an option, neither is success.”
Failure is inevitable when you’re playing the risk game. People fear risk-taking–not knowing the answer to what stands on the other end of that risk. Playing it safe can seem the more comfortable route–one the doesn’t rock the boat when comparing the risk of failure—a feeling that doesn’t sit comfortably with anyone. However, when you risk, you’re willing to act on imagination. This willingness to risk is necessary to open the possibility for success.
6. Take Action. Vision doesn’t just happen, it has to be acted upon.
Almost poetically, Beth finishes off her speech with an empowering message, “Lead differently, for yourself and your team. You’re leading your team to a new future. You have to be the one to lead the way—no one is going to give you the power—you have to grab it yourself!”