(Originally published on Medium 1/25/21)
Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be sharing excerpts and stories from my book, The Optimizer, Building and Leading a Team of Serial Innovators, in this article series. The Optimizer launched on December 8, 2020 on Amazon, here is the link to buy it on Amazon here! If you want to connect, you can reach me through my website www.johncsaunders.com or connect with me at www.linkedin.com/in/jcs-optimizer or other social @jcs_optimizer.
Optimization is about consistently solving problems that create value for your customers and business. Far more than thriving for many years, it’s about staying relevant in your field as change is constantly knocking at your door. When change knocks, you must answer. Not everyone is ready for that. This is evidenced by research from Innosight, an innovation consultancy, and the historical turnover in the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) stock index members. If your company was listed on the S&P 500 in 1964, you stayed on that list for an average of 33 years.
In my own career working for a large asset manager, I often found myself frustrated by the apathy many had toward innovation or optimization. My firm spent years trying to move a seasoned sales force from heavy briefcases stuffed with high-cost literature to iPads with digital delivery, but that journey was never entirely fulfilled. New ideas are rarely the issue. For change to take place, issues must be recognizable, actions executable, and employee engagement improved. More importantly, it must be clear to those impacted by the change that the gain of adoption will outweigh the pain it brings.
Unfortunately, history has proved that change often means lower wages, more work, or, worse yet, job loss. My father’s employer of thirty years, A.C. Nielsen, was acquired by a competitor in 1987. The acquisition was predictably framed as an opportunity for business growth. Within two years, he was forced into early retirement at age fifty-seven along with several coworkers. This taught me a powerful lesson early on that you’re never secure in your role. You have to grow.
Change in companies is often ambiguous as to who will benefit, making many employees incredibly anxious along the way. It is not surprising that when many people hear the word innovation, their minds jump to radical change which is rarely in their favor. Depending on their level of trust in their managers and willingness to attempt something new, they often have a fight-or-flight response.
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Next week I’ll share an excerpt of the greatest optimizer ever known that changed the world!