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The other day, while chatting with my colleague Diego Mosquera, we were talking about how much we both like change. And leading digital companies are characterised by their acceptance of change as something natural in the pursuit to improve, incorporating it into their organisational structure and day-to-day operations.
When there are changes in a traditional company’s organisation or strategy, all the alarm bells ring, people fear for their jobs and water-cooler chat about Game of Thrones-style conspiracies abound.
Why does this happen? Because change is usually seen as a reaction to a mistake. It is assumed, somewhat arrogantly, that something went wrong with the company and that the change is an amendment of sorts to the plan.
But in today’s world, thinking this way does not make sense. In this new digital age, companies must accept change as a natural evolution process. A change means evolution, improvement, and the opposite should be a concern.
That months go by without changing anything and that you get comfortable, like the taxi industry before Uber arrived, like the banks, ignoring Internet payments until PayPal arrived, like mobile phone operators until WhatsApp arrived, or like traditional televisions until Netflix arrived.
In this digital environment, mistakes should no longer be punished, but should also be accepted as something natural. A mistake means that you have tried, that you have bet on something and that it has not worked.
The real problem is when one sticks with a decision simply because of stubbornness, for fear of seeming weak or hesitant. The real problem is not learning from one’s mistakes, not reflecting, so that every mistake counts as a lesson for the future, a lesson on what should not be done.
In fact, if we look at the history of digital leaders, we cannot help but notice that it is full of small failures. Google, for example, has unceremoniously abandoned hundreds of projects, such as Google Reader, iGoogle, Google Wave… But this does not mean that Google has failed. These failed projects are an essential part of the road to building products as brilliant as Gmail or Maps.
This new way of working requires a way of thinking for which not everyone is ready. It requires humility to understand that nobody has the absolute truth, to understand that it is the client that gives the orders and decides if something works in the market or not.
It also requires humility to understand that the label ‘expert’ is only temporary and that one must constantly learn new things to adapt to new market demands. Today, it is not worth much to be an expert in MS-DOS, Flash, Fortran or Struts.
This new environment also requires the adoption of work methods such as scrum, that accept changes as something natural and are ready to respond when they occur. It requires new contractual models between clients and providers, models designed to get the most value out of the available budget, even if this ends up not strictly following the initial plan.
In the face of so much change, the culture, principles and motives behind each company that make them do what they do carry more and more weight in these constantly evolving companies, and that is what must not change.
Let us remember that not all digital leaders were born directly into this new environment. Some of them are already quite old, but they have reinvented themselves from traditional businesses, maintaining an exceptional culture that allows them to adapt to new times, without losing focus of what their clients want at every moment.
Purpose and culture are like the foundation beneath every company. They are what have allowed Netflix, for example, to go from sending DVDs via the post to becoming the leader in video streaming. Because their purpose has remained the same: entertain the client with audio-visual content.
Another example of successful reinvention is Lego, whose culture has allowed it to adapt to new channels of game consumption by the juvenile market, transforming itself from a company that sells little plastic bricks into a leader in the world of videogames (that we highly recommend) and even in animation films.
In short, to be competitive in this new digital environment, we need three fundamental things: people that accept that they must always be learning, companies that accept change as something natural in the pursuit to improve and a solid company culture that allows you to accept change while maintaining solid basic principles.
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