Fast Company magazine recently featured 50 companies they ranked as most innovative. My attention was not drawn to the super-cool technology start-ups, but to some old-line companies that successfully reinvented themselves. I wondered: Are the factors that lead to corporate transformation similar to the factors that contribute to the reinvention of individuals?
Maybe I’m interested in this topic because I’m in the middle of reinventing my own company. Or maybe because so many of my friends, clients and colleagues are seeking to ‘reinvent’ themselves and their careers. Regardless, whether you are trying to lead yourself or your company toward a radically new direction, there are certain qualities that will help you achieve both objectives.
It’s easy to recall companies that didn’t successfully transform: Kodak, Blockbuster and Radio Shack come to mind. Their successes blinded them into oblivion. But what about Hasbro Toys, the 93 year-old toy maker that transformed into a huge media company, producing films, TV shows and even video games? Ironically, one of their toys is “Transformers.”
Or venerable GE, which recently sold its $6 Billion, century old appliance division in order to transform into a digital industrial company (designing and selling sensors and other gizmos that connect us to all the technologies we rely on).
But what does this have to do with transformation at the individual level? A few people I know have recently changed everything in their professional situations and their stories are instructive.
Marcia was over 40 years old when I met her as Administrative Director of a large department of an academic medical center. She managed staff, finances, physician practices and systems. She always seemed happy and engaged. I was stunned when one day Marcia told me she was quitting.
She said that she was going back to school to get her masters degree in counseling. She felt called to something more personally meaningful, and she intended to do something about it. She didn’t know specifically what she would do with her degree but she knew it would be more satisfying than her current situation.
The last time we had lunch she told me about some of the exciting work she was doing with people suffering from addiction. She also reported that she was going even further, and was applying for her doctorate in counseling. I’ve never seen her so inspired.
But you don’t have to be approaching middle age to reinvent yourself. My cousin Danielle is a creative, inquisitive person and a great writer. I remember her interest in graffiti-art; she used to photograph graffiti in foreign countries as a hobby when she traveled overseas.
Danielle was in her early 30’s, with a degree in English literature, when she became dissatisfied with her job working at a non-profit. But she did enjoy discussing corporate problems and strategic issues with her bosses. She developed an interest in business, which came as a surprise to all of her family, including me.
Flash forward a few grueling GMAT tests later and an MBA from Ohio State: Danielle now works as a researcher at a consulting company, and is more engaged and professionally satisfied than ever.
Having worked over the years with a few leaders who successfully transformed their organizations, I recognize that they have a lot in common with people who, like Marcia and Danielle, are driven to reinvent their professional identities. Those personal attributes include:
• Dissatisfaction or fear: They are frustrated with how things are going, or dread stagnation, coupled with…
• Foresight: They have a picture of what a better future could look like, even if that vision is not yet tangible, and an…
• Openness to uncomfortable information: They accept difficult facts and challenges without denial or rationalization, while expressing…
• Courage: It takes guts to move out of one’s comfort zone in order to find a new identity. And finally, they have…
• Perseverance: They are willing to stick it out and make personal sacrifices over time.
Of course these are not the only factors that lead to successful transformation. As with companies, it helps to have some luck, talent, and a little money in the bank. But without these personal attributes, reinvention is unlikely.
If you are contemplating a major change in your business or in your self, first ‘pulse-check’ to see if you have these characteristics. For example, in my case I’ll have to wait a bit longer to learn if I have the perseverance needed for a successful reinvention of my company. In the meantime my gut tells me to work on my stamina.
If you have shortcomings in any of these areas, do something about it before you take the plunge. This will increase your odds of successfully making the change you have been just dreaming about. And once you do, no one will ever call you an ‘old dog.’