What do you do if you are a business leader who needs to drive significant growth in your business but realizes that sticking close to your core, despite its current success, is not going to be sufficient? How do you break the bonds of company orthodoxy that are, quite frankly, one of the reasons for your current success? This is a serious challenge in an established, well-run company whose business is currently successful but whose leaders see a future where that will not be the case.

A privately-held, 75-year-old business which had more than 80% market share in its segment faced some serious existential threats as its industry became automated, its patents expired, and its products became commoditized. The leaders of the company recognized the need to change, but not everyone else in the business did and the leaders faced a difficult time translating their desire into action.

For their effort to be successful, the business leaders recognized that one of the most important factors in a company’s strategic transformation was to establish a new mindset that made it possible for change to be accepted. Although they didn’t realize it at the time, the new mindset the business leaders worked to foster turned out to be an interesting combination of two factors:

  • Existential mindset: “Whatever we do must affect our existence in a big way. We will either transform ourselves or cease to exist.”
  • Permissive mindset: “We have the permission to reinvent ourselves, to look at and consider things that will require us to change as a company.”

Leadership at the company backed up their words with action, intentionally designing the organization and the innovation team with the people, governance, processes, and structure to identify and pursue transformational opportunities and make them stick. And after that it was easy!

Ok, not really – the company still had a lot of work to do. They worked to identify over 75 potential opportunities, and one emerged that generated both excitement and concern. It was transformational, boundary-pushing, big, and uncertain, and success would result in a radically different company. But without the right mindset for transformation, this potential new path wouldn’t even have been visible.

For a more in-depth look at the permissive and existential mindset and how it can be instilled within an organization, please click below.

Selected Readings

Innovation Isn’t Slowing Down.

This is a response to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal that makes the claim that we’re out of big ideas. To innovators, this is clearly untrue – but why is this idea gaining currency?

Original article | Read our short take

The Innovation Illusion

This is a review of a new book that accepts the fact that innovation is occurring, but claims that it is not having the effects it should have. The reasons listed miss some key points.

Original article | Read our short take

The Rise of Emergent Organizations

In this article, Beth Comstock of GE discusses how organizations are evolving to be less hierarchical and bureaucratic and more focused on information flow, feedback, and adaptability.

Original article | Read our short take