The heavily politicized, emotional, and bi-partisan rancor and fighting that the nation has witnessed over the past two weeks in the Senate Judiciary Committee over the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh strikes a sharp contrast to the staid, mostly collegial, and thoughtful demeanor that Justices are known for in their everyday decision making. This has been ugly, uncomfortable, and messy but by my estimation reaffirms the intent of the founders of our country to have a Democracy that truly represents the voice of the people. Much of what we have seen has been unnecessary and there is plenty of blame to go around – but it sure beats the alternative.
Why is this nomination so highly volatile? What is at stake? Both parties recognize an opportunity for a shift in decision making and a generational opportunity to change or reaffirm the course of judicial jurisprudence and Constitutional interpretation. They see the outcome as a ‘Sea Change’ – an inflection point – that will slowly, decision by decision, change this country into something better or worse.
Sea Change is an interesting term that was first brought into common parlance by William Shakespeare in his comedic play The Tempest. As the story goes, the father of one of the actors, Ferdinand, had fallen over board from their ship, was dead at the bottom of the ocean and was slowly trans-morphing into the sea around him as coral took over his bones, pearls his eyes, all under the watchful eye of sea-nymphs. It is great imagery and portends the type of tipping point morphing that political followers may be envisioning with changes in the Supreme Court.
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.
— William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act I, Sc. II
What is important here is the fact that infrequent Sea Changes in your business can have meaningful and very long lasting (or permanent if they cause you to go out of business) impact on you the lives of your company employees and the business as a whole. It is important to seek the opportunity for high leverage inflection points in everyday business activities. But where do you look? How should you act?
In one’s personal life, these decisions are relatively easy to identify – in the rear view mirror.
The first sporting activity that you chose and that you fell in love with; it helped define who you were and would become. The decision to go (or not to go) to the library rather than do something wasteful with your time; the college that you did or didn’t choose to attend; the friends you decided were important to your life or better yet those who would NOT make your life better; the partner you chose. The job you sought and took; the neighborhood you chose to live in; the house of worship you did or did not choose to attend; the list goes on.
We see many similar inflection decisions in business life. Perhaps most prominent at Professional Sports draft season is the idea of finding a ‘franchise player’ – the one player that will accelerate the direction and trajectory of an entire organization. We see other moves that are intended to change the way organizations work. Locally, the move by Reebok to relocate its headquarters to Boston from the suburbs or of General Electric to uproot its Headquarters after 100 years from a bucolic setting in Fairfield County Connecticut to the bustling innovation zone in Boston that has the hope (not promise yet) of reinvigorating the business and the way it operates to make it more innovative and forward thinking. In the often quoted words of its former Chairman Jack Welch “If the rate of change outside your organization is faster than that on the inside, you are doomed.” Change of trajectory (Sea Change) opportunities can be found in capital investment, in marketing strategy, in key employee recruiting, in product development, and in so many other areas.
Organizations that aren’t seeking clues and experimenting with their business model are at risk! We have found that most of the opportunities are to be found in affirmative decisions you make in your own future. As they say, change is inevitable, growth is optional.
A pretty straight forward starting point in the journey can result from excluding what you don’t want and don’t want to be. This means, employees, customers, facilities, processes, and procedures. Simon Sinek, in his best seller, ‘Start with Why’ offers a somewhat controversial idea:
“The goal of business should not be to do business with anyone who simply wants what you have. It should be to focus on the people who believe what you believe. When we are selective about doing business only with those who believe in our WHY, trust emerges”.
Many perennially successful organizations are built on this principle. Harvard College is one of the most selective schools in the country and is considered one of the best. The same goes for the London Symphony Orchestra, The Navy SEALS, Goldman Sachs, Johns Hopkins, or IBM. Being selective is a good place to start. It allows you not to focus on ‘what you want to be when you grow up’ but rather on what you ‘don’t want to be’. This leaves more room for growth and opportunity.
A few defining questions can help this process:
How do you describe the culture and personality of your business?
Are you hiring and training employees to strengthen the culture and to enrich the business personality?
Are you selectively changing those who don’t?
How do you describe your customers and their loyalty?
Are you actively paring customers who don’t fit your model?
Are you creating products and services that help you build loyalty with those who are most loyal?
This is a simple but effective approach that we use with our clients. In the exploration and in answering the same questions you are likely to find a set of course corrections that when you look back will have proved to put you and your organization in a better place.
Whatever happens with this nomination, have faith in our Democracy. Move forward. Remember what Christopher Columbus is said to have said: “Following the light of the sun, we left the old world.” Just don’t fall overboard.
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