10 Questions Every Change Agent Must Answer

Posted on June 25, 2009

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Bill Taylor,
Harvard Business Publishing Website

As leaders, we have no control over how fast markets grow or how wisely banks lend. But we do control our own mindsets and “animal spirits” — the phrase coined by John Maynard Keynes in the depth of the Great Depression. If all you’ve got is a spreadsheet filled with red ink and dire forecasts, it’s easy to be paralyzed by fear and resistant to change. But if you can summon some leadership nerve, then hard times can be a great time to separate yourself from the pack and build advantages for years to come.

Indeed, when it comes to creating the future, the only thing more worrisome than the prospect of too much change may be too little change — especially in an economy where there are too many competitors chasing too few customers with products and services that look too much alike. Now is the time to rethink long-held strategic assumptions inside your company, to challenge decades of conventional wisdom in your industry, and to push yourself to learn, grow, and innovate. As Albert Einstein famously said, “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” Or, in the spirit of some unknown Texas genius: “If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you ever got.”

It’s time to do — and get — something different. Here, then, are ten questions that leaders must ask of themselves and their organizations — questions that speak to the challenges of change at a moment when change is the name of the game. The leaders with the best answers win.

1. Do you see opportunities the competition doesn’t see?
IDEO’s Tom Kelly likes to quote French novelist Marcel Proust, who famously said, “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” The most successful companies don’t just out-compete their rivals. They redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world of me-too thinking.

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