We are immersed in a viciously competitive environment in which massive, disruptive change is happening at a ferocious pace. How do we survive such a world, both at a personal and business level?
IBM’s Chair and CEO Ginni Rometty says we “gotta keep reinventing.” But why is reinvention so important and how often should you focus on it?
I asked a panel of six successful reinventors, ranging from private equity and high tech venture capitalists to ad execs, design thinkers and serial entrepreneurs, to weigh in.
Why is reinvention so important to us at a business and personal level?
Sydney-based serial entrepreneur, Pierce Cody views true reinvention as changing the whole way you go about doing stuff. He is on his fourth reinvention: first he was in traditional advertising and then outdoor advertising. He went orthogonal and built an organic whole foods business and today is pioneering digital signboards for real estate with Cody Live (disclosure, I am a shareholder).
Mike Flax lives in Cape Town from where he runs a successful real estate investment business, Spear REIT. He began his career as an accountant, but feeling that his creativity was being stifled he shifted into real estate. He prefers to see reinvention as a process of ever evolving and is aware of the need to be constantly making small adjustments to his personal and business life.
Also based in Cape Town, Greg James believes that reinvention is key in all aspects of life as we have to constantly evolve and grow. He trained as an accountant and spent years in Switzerland as a mining industry executive managing mergers and acquisitions. He then returned to South Africa and reinvented himself as a private equity practitioner, setting up the Sagitta Group.
“We have to adapt to the changing nature of our world and environment. In order to achieve we have to grow and learn, without this we will stagnate. The world waits for no one. We live in an ever evolving world.”
Peter Bray began his career in Australia founding two advertising agencies before making the leap to New York, where he headed up digital at Saatchi & Saatchi. His take is that reinvention is often the first chance a person has to consciously chart their destiny.
“So much of the first part of our career is falling into a certain time and place. Reinvention is really the first chance for us to consciously invent.”
Design thinker extraordinaire, Doreen Lorenzo was President at frog design and Quirky before she shifted into the role of educator. She is now Director of the Center of Integrated Design at The University of Texas at Austin. Doreen sees reinvention as just another form of learning and in life, we should be continuous learners.
Third generation venture capitalist, Tim Draper lives in Silicon Valley where he founded one of the world’s leading technology venture capital firms, Draper Fisher Jurvetson. In addition to his focus on building high growth technology companies he has also shifted into educating and motivating entrepreneurs as the headmaster of Draper University. He believes in progress.
“Progress to a better life, a better world and to search other worlds. We need to continue to make progress and reinvention allows us to continue to progress faster and better.”
How often should individuals and businesses be considering reinvention and change?
One insight that emerges from the answers given above is that reinvention is not necessarily a one-off.
Mike Flax reflects this, “Individuals and businesses should be continuously refining their business model or raison de’etre. It should never be a once-off change but rather a continuum. By employing your intellect and questioning the future constantly, you will make small, fine-tuning decisions to subtly alter your course daily. The Big Bang reinvention is clear recognition that you haven’t been paying attention to the world.”
Greg James suggests that people and businesses should always have reinvention in the forefront of their thinking.
Doreen Lorenzo does. She thinks about reinvention a lot.
“I believe that a number of companies and business models would benefit in terms of output and success if design thinking were a greater part of general workflow and product development.
You look at the most successful companies in the world – Apple, Google, Amazon – at the forefront of their process is the human experience. They are constantly thinking how to best respond to the ever changing needs of their customers. Often times companies are too focused on the bottom line or pleasing the board without truly thinking about the end result.
Take Amazon for example, they take a hit on their bottom line every quarter to ensure that their customers are getting the best possible prices, the quickest delivery and the best experience. They bet on revenues catching up to the experience. Now, not every company can afford to do that but it’s an interesting model that addresses human-centric experience above almost anything else. More companies need to think this way and incorporate the human in earlier pieces of the process.
Tim Draper echoes this sentiment, “Every minute of every day, people and businesses should be thinking of how they can improve and do their work better and delight their customer more.”
What would be your one piece of advice to anyone wanting to reinvent themselves or their business?
Mike Flax says the one piece of advice he would venture would be not to chase material success at the expense of wellbeing.
“For you, enough will never be enough and you will never attain inner peace. Chase an ideal bigger than you and your immediate needs. Work towards something that can benefit as wide a group of people or creatures as possible.”
“Don’t try and change the world or others. Just try and change yourself. Because if you can change and improve yourself, by doing so, you will be an example for others to follow. And then they will change themselves and be an example to others and, eventually, the world will be changed as a result of your simple act of changing yourself.”
Pierce Cody believes that the first thing in reinventing yourself is the need to realise that you have got to do it.
“If you think everything is ticketyboo, while Rome is burning then you are never going to do it properly. You have to realise that you have a problem.”
“The question then is whether it is a solveable problem. Maybe it is. Maybe it is simple and you should’ve thought about it before. You might need to seek help from other people. Whenever you are in doubt and you are struggling, ask yourself whether you can change the rules of engagement.”
“Probably the most important thing I do in my life is that if I’m travelling on a shit road: a shit highway to shitdom, then I try to get off that road. I would really suggest to people if they are in that situation that they question whether there is another way to do it? When you are faced with a huge wall in front of you, change the rules of engagement and go around it.
What if Pierce was giving that advice to his 17 year old self?
“I’d give the same advice. I’ve done that with two of my three children. If it’s not working where you are, try and change the rules of engagement. No matter how weird that is and foreign, try.”
Greg James suggests you have a vision of where you want to be. Never let go of that vision and pursue it and as the world changes make sure you adapt your plans accordingly.
Peter Bray advises you to forget about trying to fit in and just be yourself.
“I dumbed myself down in the past far too much in order to not be threatening. In terms of my 17 year old self, I would say be more self-ish. If I were on my deathbed, I’d ask my 17 year old self to be kinder to myself.
Doreen Lorenzo keeps her advice simple: just do it.
This can be the greatest challenge for so many people and business though. They are caught between the status quo and a rapidly changing environment. They are too comfortable in their discomfort.
In his piece of advice Tim Draper suggests a way to break this stalemate: “Take the first step. The next step is easier and so on.”