“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”Thich Nhat Hanh
The legend of Orpheus and Eurydice is a story of love, faith and transformation. It provides a wonderful analogy for letting go of the past and having faith in the future. (The following is a concept from my permanent reinvention workshop and my book, “Undisruptable” available in Europe and on coming soon to the U.S. and Canada where it is available on Kindle now).
Orpheus was devastated by the death of his true love Eurydice. In an act of mourning, he played his lyre so beautifully that the Gods granted him permission to descend to the underworld to bring Eurydice back to the land of the living. Once in the underworld, Orpheus persuaded the mighty Hades, God of the underworld, to allow him to rescue Eurydice. As is often the case with the Greek myths, there was a catch. Hades insisted that Orpheus meets one very specific condition. Eurydice could follow him to the light, butOrpheus could not look back at her or he would lose her forever.
The tragic myth tells how Orpheus was unable to follow this sole condition of his deal with the devil. Stricken with the fear of losing his true love again, he glanced back to ensure she was still behind him. Looking forward and trusting in the path was his only way to succeed. To truly transform we must let go of the way things used to be. Yes, we must respect the old order of things, but then let go.
This Thursday Thought recognises this as an error many businesses make when they are experiencing their own transformation, As John Maynard Keynes recognised decades ago: “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”
It takes grit, determination and luck to establish a successful organisation. Once an established, the organisational mindset shifts from one of search and discovery to one of scale and safeguard. These are two opposing modes of corporate being and they are diametrically opposed. The larger and more reliable the revenue, the more entrenched the mindset of scale and safeguard becomes. Therein lies the problem, as organisations age, leadership forgets the entrepreneurial skillset that helped build the organisation in the first place. There is a gradual shift in culture, where once the DNA of an innovator was widespread in the organisation, now the innovator’s spirit represents a threat to the predictable revenue. Eventually, intrapreneurs are ostracized, rejected and eventually ejected.
If organisations let the innovative flame extinguish, it takes a herculean (often a Sisyphean one) effort to shift the culture. It is akin to starting the business all over again, but this time you have to break free of the shackles of a predictable and thus “protectable” revenue stream. It is easier to build an organisation from scratch, hiring the right skill sets and mindsets than to retrain people who will cling to their ways of doing things. We have to use gravitational pull to overcome organisational drag.
A spacecraft uses more energy to escape the gravitational drag of its home planet than it does arrivinng at its destination planet. The spacecraft requires an enormous amount of fuel to break free of the gravitational pull of a planet. All that fuel adds significant weight to the spacecraft which means you use more fuel.
This is like an established organisation, it becomes top-heavy to manage processes, procedures and protocols. It requires multiple layers of bureaucracy to ensure that no decision that threatens existing revenue streams is taken lightly — if at all.
To depart from such a culture, the organisation must overcome the gravitational pull of its current state of being. This requires the investment of time and resources to ensure the transformation “takes off”. All this “investment” represents the enormous amount of energy required to break free of the organisational drag of the legacy mindset. This energy expenditure is not enough, however, as with any journey, the departure from your home planet is not enough, you need to have a destination — even a vague one.
Gravity is the force that attracts two bodies toward each other, the force that causes apples to fall toward the ground and the planets to orbit the sun. The more massive an object is, the stronger its gravitational pull. “Gravity Assistance” is where a spacecraft pilot uses the gravity of a planet to accelerate the spacecraft. This technique saves fuel because the “assist” is provided by the motion of the gravitating planet as it pulls on the spacecraft.
If a leader paints a compelling vision or “North Star” for an organisation, it acts as a gravitating body and pulls people towards that vision. I see this in every workshop I run, people have had enough of the “command and control” mode of organisations. People want to strive to achieve something bigger than their daily tasks. People are crying out for a North Star, a vision, a purpose. As business leaders it is your job to paint this picture, to involve your people in that vision so they buy into that vision early and feel part of the solution. This is extremely difficult when you are leading a legacy organisation, you are dealing with crystallised mindsets, margin-hungry shareholders and perhaps a board who do not get the new world order.
Not One Or The Other But Both
In our current business environment, it is better to run two parallel modes of being, a search mode and an execute mode. If you are running a legacy business, you must make a new departure and break the gravitational pull that can hold you back and align the organisation with the slipstream of a new becoming. However, once that immense work is achieved, the best course of action is to run two ships, one ship is manned with a crew of innovators, with vastly different DNA than executors.
Executors are the crew of the ship who safeguards the existing business, the one that has achieved scale. As a leader, your job is to be or to assign an intermediary who speaks innovation and execution seamlessly, they are the liaison between both ships and they are essential for a successful voyage.
Most importantly, you cannot fall prey to the Orpheus trap. You must realise that what got you to where you are today, will not keep you there. In a world, of rapid change, we must look forward, not back.
THANKS FOR READING
How can you help make sure your team doesn’t get stuck in a rut?
How can you encourage people to discover new things, even those that seem to be disconnected to their day jobs?
How can you awaken to opportunities and threats that sneak up on even the most successful of us?
These questions inspired me to create this workshop.
“The Permanent Reinvention” virtual workshop is now available, based on “Undisruptable: A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention for Individuals, Organisations and Life.“
It is a workshop that reignites creativity and wakes us up to opportunities and threats.