Shift your Paradigm - change ain't what it used to be

Just as we speculated, the understanding that we would need to radically shapeshift our way through 2017 has already thrown up some monumental challenges from the world around us, and within our own lives and businesses.

Up until now, we’ve been speaking about the need to be a Shapeshifter and Shapemaker, in response to new challenges and new thinking being demanded of us as we navigate our businesses through the general global hubbub. At a high-level view, we have been regarding Shapeshifting as being to make those moves needed to adapt, adjust, to be flexible in response to circumstances – reactionary at times in a sense, in order to create something new and different, and to lead the way. This is where Shapemaking picks up and fits in as well - the need to shapeshift, but also to be proactive, to invent, create, make and innovate at the cutting edge of the New. We've covered some of this our earlier blogs.


But what happens when you are an established organisation, with years, perhaps decades, of set patterning, management style, product and service range offering, and company culture in place? How easy is it to change?

This is where we need to Shift our Paradigm – a shift from within – inside the confines of an existing structure, to disrupt constructively and not completely destroy that which built the businesses’ success in the first place - with technology now proving to be the key disrupter. More than ever, technology is the agent of change, and we can harness this for our own good. Even though we have our businesses in the technology sector, sometimes it is a case of the cobbler 'whose children have no shoes' and we forget to apply all fruitful aspects of digital and technology practices for ourselves.

The new workplace is agile and nonstop. Can you keep up?

Technology has changed how we work - our smartphones and digital technology keep us connected to the office all the time, while the internet brings the world’s information to our fingertips, wherever we are. What started in the tech industry has also had widespread repercussions and lasting effects on other industries too.

“All the layers and specialisation are breaking down. Instead of a year, we want to put an idea in front of a customer in a week,” says a technology innovation expert. “And this is where being agile as an organisation comes in as a management concept – rather than try to do giant projects that take months or even years, it’s about creating smaller projects and teams that do a bit at a time; or, as one tech company does it – turn out forty smaller changes to its product every day. This way, small problems don’t balloon into enormous ones hidden inside a huge bureaucracy. And progress can be measured in small steps — one little project at a time.”

“Now cloud computing is also having a significant outside influence to the way we work too. Cloud computing (a technology) and agile computing (a management concept) have proved to be a strong combination for the way we approach running our businesses, and creating and tweaking products and services faster than the competition, bringing together the combined force of new technologies and management ideas.

It also means that the company management and team members can work more flexibly – which sometimes also leads to being expected to work all the time, react faster to demands with more varied skills, and the lines becoming blurred between work and home life. In this trajectory, it is no longer regarded as the work-life balance, but rather the work-life mix.

Technology is still the answer, but to a new question

Technology holds the key to shaping the world around us. It’s also giving companies that do it right an opportunity to weave themselves into the new digital society. But, contrary to popular thought, it’s not only technology merely taking over our lives as a one-way flow: “It’s no longer people who are adapting to advancing technology – rather, the technology is also adapting to us. In fact, every time an experience is personalised, or technology anticipates people’s needs and wants, we are being placed in the driver’s seat to realise them. As technology becomes more sophisticated, it’s not the technology itself that’s driving change – it’s us. We’re putting technology to work to disrupt ourselves,” says a thought leader from Accenture. We’ve already moved from the ‘culture shock’ of rapid technology infiltration into the way we run our lives and do business, and are now looking at ways to best make use of it – such as the integration of AI, whether for a large organisation or an SME.

But for our businesses, a lot of finding ways to change and shift paradigms from within comes from the combination of management receptive to new thinking, and contributions from the bottom up too - it can also come from the individuals and departments who run the everyday ‘machinery’, who are really ‘in the know’ at a fundamental level and, given the opportunity, could prove to be valuable influencers and agents of change themselves. One of our Network Group members has previously spoken of how he empowered one of his staff to try his hand at a completely new department of work within their company, and he proved to excel at this and brought with him fresh thinking and new ideas. So not all paradigm shifts need to be seismic, they can start small.

How can you do this in your own organisation? What’s your step forward? How can you shift your paradigm? How can you disrupt your established way of working to open up new opportunities to stay competitive and ahead of the game, and forge new business frontiers working within your business parameters and resources?

Turning the Tide – make a desert bloom

To see how a paradigm shift can take place within the confines of what is already is a challenged existence, we can look at an example in two great deserts of the world. A far-removed example from our tech industry perhaps? But great lessons can be taken from this.

The Great Green Wall projects in China and Africa are excellent examples of shifting from within, using the resources and framework that is already around you, and presented to you, with all its challenges – either through business heritage or direction taken, and effect change from within this. The Great Green Wall project is a gigantic task of reclaiming vast tracts of desert and introducing reforestation and farming, stretching the breadths of China and Africa respectively. In this instance, it is about trying to contain and reverse the regressive and engulfing shifting sands that has created the need for finding a new paradigm to do so.

In Africa, The Great Green Wall will eventually be a nine-mile wide band of trees and shrubbery across the southern border of the Sahara desert, stretching 4,400 miles through 11 countries. Two thirds of arable land could be lost if the current desertification trend continues.

Romy Chevallier, an environmental expert speaking about the Great Green Wall of Africa, said considerable resources and research had been ploughed into natural resource sustainability. She said the plan had the potential to change the entire region's future but implementing it would require a delicate balance of regional, national and local interests.

"We know that with many other projects in the past that regional collaboration is difficult because we always look after ourselves but ecosystems and climate change don't respect national boundaries, so it is crucial," she said.

"But the more you internalise the management, the more each country takes responsibility and the more they devolve that responsibility to communities that live in these areas and harness local expertise, the more feasible this project is and likely to thrive."

As an analogy for our own businesses, it is the paradigm shifts that we need to take as a whole organisation, as well as enable and empower departments and individuals within it, to seek and harness new thinking to effect positive change and growth – sometimes from the bottom up.

Not only an evolving path of growth, but creating brand new business opportunities, making a shift in paradigm, a stepchange, revolutionary shapemaking, such as with the example of Senegal finding new markets and new currency in their tree planting – prosperous new business offshoots out of their solution.

“Senegal has reclaimed more than four million hectares of land along the Great Green Wall. They have planted more than 27,000 hectares of indigenous trees that don’t need watering. Many animals that had disappeared from those regions are reappearing - animals like antelopes, hares and birds that for the past 50 years nobody saw.

Senegal has largely planted acacia trees which can be harvested for Gum Arabic, a substance used widely to manufacture products including pharmaceuticals and soft drinks, for which demand is currently outstripping supply. Other indigenous trees are planted to maximise shade and prevent ground water loss and shrubs that can be grazed by livestock.”

Another example is in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world. Its farmers have been able to revive vast tracts of arid land with minimal investment through the practice of natural regeneration and innovative ways of reviving the roots of plants and trees, and digging half-moon pits to store water. These methods have succeeded in restoring five million hectares of land, and around 200 million trees.

A critical factor had been the weakness of the Niger government, who previously regarded trees as the property of the state, but now allowed farmers to reclaim trees and restore them to health. One expert from the World Resources Institute says he is convinced that success must come from the bottom up, rather than through top-down interventions.

"We need enabling agricultural development policies and enabling forestry laws," he says. "Unless the accent is put on empowering millions of smallholders to protect and manage trees, it won't be possible to overcome land degradation."

The practice of "farmer-managed natural regeneration" has since spread to other countries where farmers have been allowed to control the process.

How can you change the tide in your organisation?

Will change come from a collaborative mix between organisational and management adaptation and flexibility, as well as the knowledge and contribution from the valued individuals you have employed?

Be an Intrapreneur

Another business term for this reforestation example is to create Intrapreneurial Success - leading disruption and managing change, and embracing an intrapreneurial mindset, which intentionally disrupts things from the inside out and often from the bottom up, and which is a radical concept for companies that thrive on stability and predictability. However, if a business is committed to developing its innovation capability through intrapreneurship, three groups of people must be mobilised to make it happen: leadership, stakeholders, and innovation support.

It is about trying to replicate key startup methods and an entrepreneurial culture, in ways that can be scaled within an established business corporate context. All this this requires savvy leadership and a well-equipped transformational toolkit. It also helps to know the most common points of failure and how to avoid them.

More on this in our next Shift Your Paradigm article.


Author - Karin Dubois, Head of Marketing, Network Group