Earthquake! How I Survived and Learned About Your Business's Future

This can't be happening! That's what I thought as I stood in my office speaking to a client on the phone while watching my bookshelf tip three inches away from the wall!

My administrative assistant ran into my office and jumped underneath my desk. "Lynn, we're in an earthquake!"

I dropped the phone, ran out of the office and sprinted across a beautiful, two-block park towards the 25-story high-rise where my wife and I lived. I ran past tipped-over cappuccino carts. I hustled past a rolling green slope where 100 people did Tai Chi every morning around 7 AM.

I wondered as I ran, huffing and puffing, if I would have to tell my in-laws that their daughter had been buried under rubble. Tears came to my eyes as I imagined our 25 story apartment building toppled into an ugly heap, covering my wife and hundreds of other tenants. As these thoughts raced through my brain, I heard desperate cries from people trapped in their cars on the Embarcadero Freeway, just 200 yards away.

When I arrived at the edge of the park, our apartment building was still standing! I couldn't believe it! I screamed for my wife and eventually found her wandering, dazed, in a large crowd of frightened and confused citizens.

After grabbing her and settling her down, I asked, "Why hasn't our building fallen down like so many of these other structures?"

She had overheard the answer to this question several times as she waited for me to arrive. Apparently, local city planners had long required engineers who designed tall buildings in San Francisco to create "rollers" that would sit beneath the basement or at the base of the foundation. If the earth suddenly shifted to the left, the rollers would compensate by shifting the base of the building to the right, thus providing stability and 'fluid balance.'


Since 1989, I've thought a lot about the resilience of this apartment building and how important it is for our companies to have "rollers beneath the basement" to enable to us to weather what Clayton Christenson called "disruptive innovations."

Examples of disruptive innovations might include cell phones, personal computers, discount retailers, community colleges, retail medical clinics, marketing automation, hybrid cars, driverless vehicles, personalized everything, Uber, AirBnb and, of course, Amazon. In a real way, these innovations are "earthquakes" that have changed the game - viciously attacking unimaginative incumbents.

Soon, we'll have ethanol made from biomass and sugar that doesn't cause diabetes. Today's dominant companies in those industries will crash and burn or possibly, redefine themselves using massive infusions of cash.

If a competitive earthquake such as a drastic change in technology, an exit of top talent or a dramatic increase in the cost of raw materials happened to your firm, what would the "rollers beneath the basement" have to be for you to survive? How could you bolster organizational and personal resiliency so you could turn lemons into lemonade?

Here are my five 'beneath-the-basement rollers' for companies sitting on a fault line (that would be all of us):

New Vision: A sense of what direction the company is going to take regardless of short term turbulence and misfortune. Must acknowledge the recent disruptor and be energetically aware of how lemons can be transformed into lemonade.

Grassroots Participation: Your customer-facing employees know where value is being lost. But they can't get through to you; they can't make a difference. Form committees and task forces with both managers and low level workers in the same group. Make sure the group is facilitated by a professional in an egalitarian fashion. Focus each group on strategy, diversity, talent development, brand/values, innovation, industry trends, Internet or digital transformation, the link between personal and professional growth and competition. Challenge everyone to embrace Blue Ocean (new market) strategy. Banish laggards, apple polishers and gossipers. Reward constructive dissent and people who speak creatively about the company.

Fusion: The ability to create new products by blending features is a sure fire innovation strategy. Apple fused a phone with a camera with a music player with a Rolodex. Premium yogurt and hair-care products fuse and blend exotic ingredients that accelerate growth or health. If you can't fuse features, fuse organizations. Create a new alliance or joint venture. Inject and absorb new thinking, go new directions and watch your employees regain enthusiasm for your company.

Passion: There is no substitute for conviction and belief. You don't have to believe in the past; believe in future possibilities and celebrate every lesson and step forward. People express passion in different ways, so stay open to how it is displayed. But remember: emotion is the fuel that keeps the "train of resilience" running forward. Invest in True Believers (as Tom Peters used to call 'catalytic' personalities).

Specific Action Steps: When dazed and dispirited employees realize that the game is not over, not by a long shot, they become confused as to what to do next. What are my priorities now? they ask. Who do I report to? How am I being judged? Be very clear about what constitutes progress and how they will be treated. Then ask them to 'rise up' and define what it means to 'do my very best at creating value.' Demonstrate absolute trust that they will muster courage and integrity and deliver more than anyone will ever know.

These are 'resilience rollers.' They are lubricated by a special grease called "mindset." They will keep your internal reality from imploding. When you find your new future wandering around in a daze, embrace her and start over, knowing that another earthquake will eventually come again, perhaps soon.

Call for a presentation about disruption, resilience and renewal. Count on a dynamic presenter who has 'done it all' to light your event on fire.

Lynn Hinderaker, 402-208-5519.

#turnaround #earthquake #disruption

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