What’s Your Perspective?
Risk looks differently depending on perspective.
To move your company to a better place, it matters more where you are than where you want to go. And before you can see clearly where you are, you must clarify your perspective.
For example, depending on your perspective, a cylinder looks differently. From the side its projection looks like a rectangle, from the top a circle, and from an off-angle a cylinder. Three different perspectives create three fundamentally different shapes. The shapes don’t just look differently, they are different. Which one’s right? Strangely, all three are. Perspective is that powerful.
With different perspectives there can be no consensus on the starting point never mind the destination. Imagine the chaotic meeting to define the destination where there’s fundamental disagreement on the starting point. The from-the-side contingent is adamant the starting point is a rectangle; the from-the-top disciples swear it’s a circle; and the off-axis zealot says it’s a cylinder. Three groups in viscous disagreement, all camps right. It’s difficult to get to the right destination with disagreement on the starting point.
Enough about geometry. Here are some real life examples:
Success looks differently depending on perspective. Perspective 1: Everything is good. We’re making lots of money, and we’re growing. Our products are good and our jobs are secure. Let’s do what we did last time because it worked. Let’s protect what we have. Perspective 2: Things are good, for now. Our products are good, but competitors are developing better ones. Let’s do the tough work to obsolete our best stuff. Someone’s going to do it, and it should be us.
Both perspectives are valid. If you want to grind it out, the first one is the way to go, and if you want to innovate, the second is better. But problems arise when a grind-it-out company tries to innovate and an innovation-driven company wants to grind it out. (Think transition from start-up to grown-up.)
Risk looks differently depending on perspective. Manufacturing’s perspective is this: We make the same thing every day. We’ve got known inputs, known processes, and known outputs. We’re concerned about disruptions in our daily routine. We’re concerned about things that get in the way of doing what we do. Product development’s perspective is this: We must change our product to improve performance and reduce cost, but the solution is unknown. Anything we change creates technical risk and schedule risk, so we’ve got to meet the new specifications and take the least risk doing it. The innovator’s perspective is this: We must invent things that don’t exist, solve problems no one recognizes, and commercialize them. To truly innovate, we must force ourselves out of our comfort zone. We must forcibly inject more risk than we can tolerate.
All three perspectives are valid, and thankfully we have all three. Within each group, there are likely shared perspectives, but not across the groups. To move the whole organization, before talk of a new destination, the right first step is a campaign to shift and align perspectives.
To start, senior leaders take the show on the road to educate on the new realities. Whether it’s increased competition, importance of emerging markets, or disruptive new technologies, the goal is to paint a new picture so everyone understands why it’s time for a new perspective. The biggest failure mode is to jump right into the grand new perspective without explaining why existing perspectives must change. The second biggest failure mode is to assume that a single presentation from the CEO will immediately shift perspectives.
Perspective is more important and more powerful than our behavior suggests. We should change our behavior.