This is the third in a five-part series about demonstrating BOLD leadership during a pandemic transformation from our colleagues at Aveus. Each entry in the series focuses on the characteristics of BOLD leadership that can help move organizations from reacting to COVID-19 to proactively anticipating and preparing for the opportunities that lie ahead.
Authored by Tony Glebe
“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” — George Bernard Shaw
It is no exaggeration that COVID-19 has upended nearly all aspects of our lives as individuals, families, organizations and nations. Within a matter of weeks, we’ve been forced to reconsider how we work, teach our children, socialize, exercise, shop for groceries, visit the doctor, and plan for our financial futures.
Human nature dictates that we experience various levels of difficulty dealing with change and uncertainty. This difficulty is dramatically magnified in periods of upheaval. At a visceral level, we look for sources of security, safety, and sanity in a world that seems to offer unreliability and unpredictability.
At our worst as individuals, we respond to fear and uncertainty by shutting down. We turn toward denial and fantasy, which provide momentary comfort but keep us stuck in place while the world changes without care for how we react.
As organizations, which are, of course, groups of individual people, we can collectively respond in the same way. Infamously, Kodak created the first handheld digital camera in 1975 but terminated investment out of fear it would sabotage Kodak’s photographic film business. Kodak denied that film technology was quickly dying and fantasized that sticking to the status quo would continue to drive their success. Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2011. The world changed without care for how Kodak reacted.
BOLD Leaders Stay Open
While we can find many cautionary tales of individuals and companies who failed to respond to the changing world around them, we can also find many examples of individuals and companies who not only survived change but transformed themselves and accomplished tremendous things because they stayed open to the change happening around them and responded accordingly. Steve Jobs stayed open and took Apple from a struggling desktop company to the success of the iPod and the iPhone.
What separates companies like Apple from those like Kodak is that Apple had leaders who repelled from the gravitational allure of the status quo, refused to allow for denial and fantasy in themselves and their companies, and sought honest insight about customers, ecosystems, and the changing world around them. The successful companies always have BOLD leaders.
For BOLD leaders, being open is about self-mastery. It is about having the wisdom, courage and confidence to accept and not personalize when the world signals that your ideas, products, and business are unappealing, irrelevant, or no longer valuable. BOLD leaders stay open to and grateful for these signals and respond by asking themselves and those they lead, “What now?”
Openness as a Strategy for Success Through COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis is rapidly changing the world around us. It is particularly important in this moment that BOLD leaders stay open, not only as a matter of survival, but in order to drive success for themselves, their companies, and society.
A simple but powerful tool that BOLD leaders can use to help themselves and their organizations remain open is the Three Lenses of Innovation by IDEO which points out three key areas that require assessment and action for any organization.
- Desirability – Do customers want it? Do they value it over alternatives? Will they pay for it?
- Feasibility – Can we create it? Can we operationalize it?
- Viability – Can it be something that we could and would want to sustain over the longer course of time? Does it align with where we think we want to take our business?
This model points to the highest value opportunities being at the intersection of viability, feasibility and desirability. Unfortunately, most organizations are focused on and very adept at assessing viability and feasibility, but desirability is where people either avoid asking the questions or refuse to accept the answers. How many of us have been in meetings where we convincingly shared with each other that what we have or what we want to create really is valuable, that customers just don’t get it yet, and that our friends and families would die to have this? Those conversations are red flags that cause BOLD leaders to push themselves and their teams to stay open and honest about desirability and challenge themselves to take negative signals and ask, “What Now?” This Venn diagram can be used as a simple mental model to help interpret conversations and decisions on the fly, or it can serve as a tool to organize more formal assessments of each of these dimensions that can inform decision-making. Used correctly, it can quickly transform denial and fantasy thinking into pivots that drive mediocre ideas and businesses to transformational impact and growth.
COVID Transformation – LNKBOX
The COVID-19 crisis has already given us numerous examples of companies that have stayed open and transformed themselves. Take LNKBOX, for example. LNKBOX is an event company that has always focused on major entertainment events from Coachella to the NFL’s Denver Broncos. As COVID hit and those events immediately halted, Matt Hyman, LNKBOX founder, realized that his company had tremendous talent in traveling around the country, building things, running them, taking them down, and moving to the next place. To help his business, and to help the world respond to the pandemic, he launched Production 4 Health to connect his talented workforce with opportunities to build healthcare-related PPE and structures, including temporary hospitals.
Staying Open in Order to Transform – Shatterproof
We can also look to BOLD leaders like Gary Mendell, who founded Shatterproof, whose initial mission was to create an “American Cancer Society for drug addiction.” His focus was on preventing drug addiction before it occurred.
Once Shatterproof launched, they were overwhelmed with parents reaching out, urging them to help with their child’s issue – not prevention, but treatment. Treatment for those already suffering was the urgent need.
“My first plan was wrong!” Gary shared in a recent interview with Aveus. Gary had put his whole personal life on the line, stepped away from his previous business, built a solid and funded business plan – and had to admit that it was wrong. Too often you see leaders locked into their position, refusing to listen, learn and open themselves up to a new idea. Instead, Gary listened to the clear signal from the marketplace that treatment was equally important to prevention, and so he broadened his plan to include both. Shatterproof has been a leading advocate in policy changes related to the safer prescribing of opioids and is now leading a six-point plan to transform the treatment system.
Open as Leaders to Drive Success
The world is sending many new signals. Telehealth is tantamount. Digital health tools are critical. Coverage is shifting dramatically. Reimbursement policies are in flux. Though there is continued uncertainty and new signals will surely arise and some may fade, BOLD leaders will make their openness, and that of their teams, a fundamental mindset and practice they implement to ensure that they can successfully adapt to the changing world around them and drive tremendous growth for themselves, their teams, and our world at a time when we are all in desperate need for it.