Turning back in time
The geocentric model put the earth at the center of the universe. Our planet was displayed as a disk and played a central role in the interaction of all the planets.
Copernicus was the first to refute this theory and created the heliocentric model wherein the earth revolved around the sun. Galileo Galilei provided empirical evidence for these findings. However, resistance against this new model was so strong that Galilei had to renounce his doctrine in 1633. According to a legend that was born later, he supposedly renounced and called out: “And yet it moves.”
Today, the notion of the earth being a disk seems absurd. Everyone knows that the earth moves. So why do we find it so difficult to change our understanding of companies? Why are we holding on to the old geocentric model? It seems that we are cemented in old doctrines. Both in theory and practice, there seems little or no room for new approaches. Different views are dismissed or even opposed. This seems to be especially true for companies with a long record of success.
The ‘geocentric’ company model
At a company level, a geocentric model is reflected by an inward perspective. I’d like to list 10 variations of such a perspective. Use this list as a form of self-assessment. The more variations apply to your company, the more likely you are using a geocentric model.
- Everything revolves around (top) management. Most actions and decisions in your company focus on satisfying management.
- Many employees have been with your company for years. They have little experience of working in other organizations.Most employees are industry experts. Your company rarely recruits from other industries.
- Most employees are industry experts. Your company rarely recruits from other industries.
- The mindset of new employees doesn’t play a significant role. As soon as they are in your company, they need to adapt. Generally, there is more talk about what’s happening in rather than outside your company.
- Statements like: “We’ve always done it that way.” can frequently be heard in your company.
- New products and services are developed internally rather than co-created with potential clients.
- New competitors in the market operating in a (digital) niche are regarded as insignificant. Developments in other industries are rarely considered relevant for your own business.
- There’s a basic belief that everything can be planned and controlled. Alternative problem-solving approaches such as agile methods are viewed rather skeptically.
- How your company culture is perceived cannot be discussed openly. Questioning the current state is considered a sign of disloyalty.
Having an inward perspective and a strategy based on previous successes isn’t necessarily wrong. In fact, this has successfully spurred the growth of many companies for years. ‘More of the same’ and ‘keep improving’ served as the guiding principles in a relatively stable environment with slow market dynamics.
But will these paradigms still be viable a few years down the road? Or will companies have to nurture a sense of curiosity and exploration to obtain new perspectives and foster innovation?
5 tips for a paradigm shift
Use the following 5 tips to promote a paradigm shift in your company.
- Use telescopes
Galileo Galilei first developed the telescope, which he used for his observations that lead to his groundbreaking findings. Use your ‘telescopes’ to obtain new perspectives. Your ‘telescopes’ may be employees, customers, colleagues from other industries, a learning journey or a sparring partner that helps you question your current state.
- Observe without judging.
Looking through these ‘telescopes’ may provide unusual insights that might initially be irritating. Resist the desire to judge or launch into defense mode. This would only cement your existing perspectives. Stay open. It’s premature for assessments or action plans. In Galilei’s words: “Curiosity is the key to problem solving.”
- "Don’t shoot the messenger"
Here’s another reference to history: In the ancient world, envoys delivering bad news were ostracized or even had to fear for their lives. In today’s terms, this means: Make sure you don’t sanction anyone for distorting your perspective. You might end up being surrounded by ‘yes’ people who just repeat what you say. Listen to your critics. Their statements may contain important messages. As Galilei put it: “Doubt is the father of invention.”
- Time for reflection
In our busy workdays, we hardly have time to let the eye wander and look into the distance. Rushing from one appointment to the next, we find it impossible to develop strategic farsightedness. Think about how you can create room for new perspectives. Fresh impressions require time to process. Reflection is not a waste of time. It is a core responsibility of any manager. Let me quote Galilei again: “We cannot teach people anything. We can only help them discover it within themselves.”
- Let’s do it!
Would you like to open up your company’s perspective and actions to the outside? You will need to offer your people an attractive vision. Where will this journey take us? What will await us there? And why are we doing this anyway? By answering these questions, you will turn many people into discoverers joining you on your journey. But be careful. You might be tempted to develop a detailed, elaborate plan
(see point 9 above). Don’t. Start with small steps instead. This will allow you to navigate flexibly. If you’re hearing loud voices calling out: “We’re moving!” rather than a constant “And yet she moves” mumble, you’ll know you’re on the right track. Your company is ready for an expedition into the future.