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True Reinvention

by Ulises Pabon

The easiest way to render a concept useless is to turn it into jargon. It ceases to mean anything. Without meaning, the concept loses its relevance and usefulness.

Remember what happened with reengineering? Once the buzz word stuck, everybody was “doing it” – whatever "it" meant. Need to fire people? Oh, we’re reengineering! Need to automate a process? Yep, reengineering! Need to reorganize? You got it, reengineering!

Do you still wonder why the term fell into the haystack of management fads? It wasn’t that the original concept lost validity. It was because the term ceased to represent the specific principles and methods reengineering subsumed. Reengineering turned into a buzzword that meant anything and nothing at the same time.

Enter reinvention. You see and hear about reinvention everywhere! Before COVID-19, it was the go-to call-to-action every business leader and consultant (I reluctantly have to admit) had in his or her pocket. After COVID-19, reinvention went into overdrive. It became the holy grail, the light at the end of the tunnel.

So here we go again. We can now meet via Zoom or Microsoft Teams? Yep, we've reinvented ourselves. You can now deliver my laundry? Hmm, reinvention! You are now manufacturing hand sanitizers instead of cough syrup? You got it, reinvention!

Don't get me wrong. All of these actions are commendable. For many businesses, these measures are "do or die". Hat's off if you turned on a dime under these excruciating circumstances!

Yet, here's the problem. The coronavirus pandemic is a force to be reckoned with. To our dismay and sorrow, its tripled-edge sword has killed people, destroyed businesses, and brought economies to a halt. This microscopic pest ignores geographic boundaries and attacks with global proportions. As a masterful ghostwriter, it has edited our attitudes, and our ensuing changes in behavior are reshaping the future.

As Yogi Berra would say, the future isn't what it used to be. If there ever was a need for genuine reinvention, it's now. Do whatever you need to do to weather this storm. But don't confuse reacting to circumstances with reinvention.

Do whatever you need to do to weather this storm. But don't confuse reacting to circumstances with reinvention.

So, what does reinvention entail? Here's an initial checklist to get you started in the right direction:

  1. Start by describing the system of problems you face. List the challenges you are facing and identify the opportunities you see. Understand how these things you've listed are intertwined. Get a feel for what stands in the way of doing something about them. Zoom out and map the interdependencies. If you feel like you're in the middle of a mess, you're doing it right. Reinventing your business is rarely about tweaking one variable.

  2. Learn to plan interactively. This method combines the practice of designing a desirable future, designing actions to bring about this desirable future, and rapidly incorporating the lessons learned as the uncertainties and ambiguities of the future play out. Linear planning schemes won't work. Reinvention is an iterative process.

  3. Look at the world with new eyes. What orthodoxies have been shattered by COVID-19? What new attitudes and behaviors are dictating new needs? What new competencies will you need to thrive in this new world? What ideas and structures will you need to eject? Don't reinvent yourself into the past.

  4. Use the Business Model Canvas to learn how to dissect your business into its building blocks. Apply this framework and knowledge to design your business anew.

  5. Study the emerging configurations regarding how work gets done: networks and virtual teams, collaboration platforms, hybrid (face-to-face and virtual) structures, and accelerated learning practices, to name a few. In the spirit of this article, get past the buzz words. Study the essence of these concepts and practices. Learn why they work, when they work, and how they work. By expanding your toolset you will be better equipped to craft the future.

  6. Respect the human dimension. Recognize and respect that people are living through difficult times. Fear, anxiety, and stress abound. Use your organization's purpose and values to frame the reinvention process. Be a principled leader and a principled designer.

It's a daunting list. But it's an exhilarating journey. And if you expect to be relevant in the future, it's called for.


Send us a note if you're interested in hearing about our interactive planning workshops and interventions.

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