No-more-business-as-usual is about not being inhibited and restricted by conventional business paradigms or confined by the standard models you have previously abided by. It requires a willingness to generate visions, strategies, ideas, and actions that do not fit the patterns on which you’ve built your previous success.
The way the world does business has become a burning daily issue in the current economic environment. The nature of business practice is under scrutiny as well. For decades, successful organizations have focused on creating their business by benchmarking the competition and embracing a traditional business model based on competitive advantage. This is one of the key reasons many new businesses never make it beyond the initial levels of business development before they run out of resources.
The role of leadership in business is coming under increasing scrutiny, with calls for more accountability in governance at the senior executive team and board levels. Seldom has a week gone by without a media report of a business that has self-destructed, been called to account for alleged inappropriate use of assets, or criticized publicly due to perceived lack of leadership. There has also been a growing focus on the phenomena of executive derailment, where executives engage in behaviors that cause harm to themselves and their organizations. Like train derailment, executive derailment usually comes as a surprise to everyone, including the executive himself or herself. Business executives who derail have a number of common characteristics, which include difficulty in adapting and changing, problems with interpersonal relationships, inability to build and lead a team, failure to meet organizational objectives, and an overly operational focus that discounts the importance of strategic positioning.
Things are changing. Making decisions and taking action have become more complex for business leaders in all industries and in all markets. Between financial calamities and environmental emergencies, organizations can no longer conduct their business as they have in the past. Businesses are becoming more multifaceted and changing at a faster pace. Service and product development initiatives must be more efficient and more rapid, and business innovation must be generated more quickly. Attempting to duplicate past achievements, preserve tradition, and keep everything the same can at best create outcomes like those achieved in the past. Doing business-as-usual may, at the very most, keep your business surviving, but at the same time, it prevents your organization from blossoming and flourishing. Normal business practices based on traditional business models are not working anymore. The old way of measuring value is becoming irrelevant.
A business-as-usual model produces mediocre outcomes. Standard business-as-usual practices are designed for survival. They are about getting by. If you are not happy with your circumstances right now, please recognize that you can make new choices and begin to change your circumstances for the better. The sooner you relinquish a business-as-usual mindset, the sooner you’ll become truly fit to lead from the edge of infinite possibility.
Maintaining business-as-usual obligates you to stay within your comfort zone and prevents you from going beyond the bounds of what is deemed normal and customary by your sector or industry. You have no choice but to yield to the level of average, unremarkable, mediocre, and run-of-the-mill. If you seek remarkable outcomes and outstanding success, they will not transpire from maintaining a business-as-usual point of view. Remarkable outcomes and outstanding success can be generated only from adopting a no-more-business-as-usual mindset and actions.
The financial downturn and changes in the environmental climate make the development of conscious business everyone’s concern. This current environment has been a devastating experience for organizations that have been slow to distinguish and take care of the elemental changes in economic and societal demands. At the same time, there have been abundant opportunities for organizations to practice no-more-business-as-usual. These new times have brought with them an array of opportunities and different possibilities. To seize these new opportunities and possibilities, leaders must be willing to challenge traditional perceptions. They must banish old paradigms and stop assuming we live in a world of scarcity and peril, which is the survivalist mentality of contextual reality.
The renowned facilitator of consciousness, Gary Douglas, founder of Access Consciousness: Empowering people to know that they know, gives a striking explanation of what contextual reality is:
Contextual reality is a reality where you exist only in the context of something else. You are always trying to locate yourself in the structure of what everyone else believes reality is. Contextual reality requires you to be in a constant state of judgment of you because you have decided that the contextual reality is greater than you.
Leaders who lead based on contextual reality accept as true the idea that other businesses in their chosen industry are their competitors and that they have to beat those competitors to succeed. They assume that life is about competing to survive in a world of scarcity and constraint. For instance, they assume that industry boundaries are fixed and definite, and that the competitive rules of the game must be abided by. They have many experiences that prove their point of view about reality is a fact about reality. Executives who lead based on contextual reality try to outperform their rivals and grab a greater share of product or service demand. They believe they have to control events and use force and effort to ensure that everything goes the way they want it to go. They believe that control and force are the source of creation.
Your assumptions and points of view about your business determine how you create it, operate it, and relate to it. The way you perceive, judge, and react to events throughout the day is based on your assumptions and points of view, which then anchor you in your view of what reality is. The good news is that you can change your points of view and thus change what you experience. Look at a current situation in your life and your business and ask: What points of view do I have that create my life and my business the way they are?
To see what this means in a business context, consider a discount retail fashion company. The conventional paradigm and mindset of most discount clothing companies has been to milk the most popular style. They do this by finding the current popular style and the best seller this year, take them to Asia, knock them off, and sell them next year in high volume for cheaper prices. This inevitably creates lags in inventory supply and turnover. This is business-as-usual for most discount clothing companies. A great example of a no-more-business-as-usual star is Hennes & Mauritz or H&M fashion retailer, based in Sweden. H&M has demonstrated what could happen when a business changes a point of view from the business-as-usual paradigm. The original brand identity of H&M was a cheap clothing retailer. H&M was known for being of good quality and cheap price. For a long time that was all H&M needed to be. Of course, the garments had to be good enough to satisfy their customer’s requirements, but that meant the styles had to be up to date enough, not be fashionably trendy.
In the beginning, H&M used to be all about price, and then they changed their point of view about their business and changed their brand identity from being “just about price” to being “high-end fashion at an affordable price”; They chose to add quality designer fashion to the equation even though conventional viewpoints said it was not possible to combine them successfully. They chose to be contrarian to conventional opinion. H&M is now known for being a temple of “cheap chic” since their merchandise is priced as low as the fashion is trendy. They gained a new reputation for being discount high-end fashion retailers through special one-season-only collections from celebrity fashion designers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Roberto Cavalli, Rei Kawakubo, and Jimmy Choo as well as with trendsetting personalities such as Kylie Minogue and Madonna. Also in 2005, H&M used Stella McCartney to help add style to their collections. With the introduction of these major stylists, H&M was able to increase their market share. H&M has demonstrated that when an organization is willing to let go of a fixed point of view of what it has to be, something even greater can show up.
Be aware of the reality you exist in. There are four major assumptions and conventional premises that most leaders adopt as their strategies. These key assumptions keep them trapped, competing in contextual reality.
Assumption 1. There are inflexible industry structures and boundaries. Business leaders adopt conventional business strategies because they believe their industry’s structural characteristics are inflexible and their business boundaries are defined. They conclude they must compete within these limits or boundaries. The dominant focus of their business strategy then becomes being in context with contextual reality.
If you accept this assumption, you create your business in the context of the industry’s structure and you attempt to locate yourself within the structure of that industry. Unfortunately, contextual reality also produces an anti-conscious environment of wide-ranging competitiveness and stress. There’s a compulsive need to fit in, to benefit, and to win, accompanied by the simultaneous fear of losing.
The recorded music industry provides a good illustration of an inflexible industry’s structure. Until recently the recorded music business fervently defended itself against the changing nature of its marketplace. They refused to recognize and acknowledge that customers preferred to purchase individual songs instead of entire CDs. Music executives refused to allow the public to buy and download individual songs online. These music businesses are now struggling to let go of the business model that made them a lot of money. They are still trying to impose this old model on customers and force them to buy complete CDs, even though music CD sales continue to decline. They are adamant about creating business-as-usual. They create from what they believe in instead of what they are aware of. Their minds are closed to other choices. In their view, there is nothing to question about the way recorded music is sold. There is no other possibility.
In the meantime, many independent musicians are having great success at marketing and selling their music online—the way the public wishes to buy it. Many bands have chosen to forego a record label and instead market and distribute their music only on the Internet. Digital marketing firms such as CDBaby, Magnatune and iTunes offer opportunities such as podcast creation and promotion and video hosting. Services, such as TuneCrank, have been set up to distribute independent music over the Internet with many different types of payment models. This often allows artists to reach a much wider audience than would normally be possible as a local band.
These examples offer several insights into the way one operates in contextual reality. Past references and ways of doing business are seen as significant. Consistency and sameness are considered valuable. For businesses operating in contextual reality, a static environment is seen as an essential foundation for a sense of certainty, security, and safety. When leaders are caught up in contextual reality, they become trapped in the habitual patterns of their beliefs and assumptions. It’s a place they are accustomed to; it’s familiar. Contextual reality carries certainty and predictability—but no sense of the opportunities that are possible.
Assumption 2. Businesses must specialize and concentrate their efforts in order to excel and establish competitive advantage. Contextual reality gives leaders a way to define, quantify, and identify who they are. This assumption requires them to be in a constant state of motion to create the context in which they fit, benefit, and win (or lose), and it encourages them to structure their business with highly defined boundaries, limits, policies, procedures, rules and regulations, so things stay exactly the same. They know where they exist in relation to everything else. They are always able to locate their business within that structure and establish competitive advantage in one category.
Potentially great organizations are crippled by leaders who focus on specializing, refuse to be aware of the new hyper-change world and continue to manage their business as usual. Leaders who embrace this second assumption are trapped in the fixed points of view of their past success and they tend to make judgment calls, trade-offs, and compromises that harm their organizations.
For example, in the late 1980s the gross margin on personal computers was 35 percent. However, by the late 1990s it was reduced to about 18 percent. This was an irrefutable signal to an organization like IBM that external change was occurring. However, IBM had been operating with a management philosophy based on the rigid assumption of permanence, which prevented the organization from being able to change at the pace and scale that was required. IBM’s leaders refused to acknowledge that their PC industry advantage was declining. They had an extremely rigid form and structure that had built up over decades, which they regarded as highly significant (another fixed point of view). This prevented them from moving beyond the mainframe computers that had been IBM’s mainstay for so many years.
IBM had created such a fixed point of view about what its business was that it was unable to be strategically aware of other possibilities. The leadership team was unable to see anything that did not fit its preconceived view of what the business should be. They believed they were running one of the most powerful organizations in the world. Who could have imagined that the leadership team could be blinded by its own success? This fixed point of view caused them to miss the dramatic shift in technology from mainframes to microprocessors. Their market advantage in PCs not only declined; the company never recovered.
In this instance, IBM leaders not only refused to accept the threat of personal computers; they actually contracted their zone of awareness and resisted all effort to see the value of personal computer software. Instead they chose to further cement their position in their traditional products. They continued to operate with an absolute devotion to the “IBM way,” which obstructed awareness and prevented innovation. They denied the warning signs that power was moving from hardware to software and refused to reposition their business in the new environment. IBM subsequently sold its PC division to Lenovo of China.
Assumption 3. To succeed you need to beat the competitors. If you are concerned about winning against competitors, you are operating from the point of view of contextual reality. This mindset induces you to fight for more and to treat others as competitors rather than focusing on what contribution your business can be to your customers, to the community, to the society, and to the world at large. When you choose to concentrate on being a contribution, everything is an endless possibility because you function from a place of generosity of spirit, awareness, and joy. You put your energy where it needs to be, and you are willing to be and receive all energies and no judgment is required. Being a contribution as a business executive is where you are in question, and ask
What contribution can I be?
What question can I ask?
Is this a contribution to our business, to our customers, to everyone concerned’ and to the world at large?
What can I choose here?
Contribution is a being, not a doing. Choosing to be a contribution is the difference between surviving and thriving, where you are not merely making a living but also making a difference. Being contribution, having generosity of spirit, supporting others, and building partnership is critical for building a successful business. When you are functioning from being a contribution, things come together quickly and easily—everything falls in place instantaneously. However, when you’re seeking to beat the competitors, you must of necessity do judgment and answer. Operating the business from the need to have competitive advantage requires you to constantly judge whether or not you have got it right yet. What would it look like if your business functioned from contribution rather than competition?
The push to gain a competitive edge is an unquestioned, sometimes even unspoken, defining prerequisite for your business. This point of view becomes a default setting for the way most executives conduct business. They see maintaining their competitive edge as the vehicle to success and operate from the scarcity and survivalist mentality of this reality. They assume that business is about competing, staying alive, winning, losing, and surviving in a world of scarcity and limited possibility. These highly competitive leaders use statistics, competitive benchmarking, surveys, and other tools to determine their place in the context of their industries. Their focus becomes: Where do I fit? Where do I benefit? Where do I win? Where do I lose? They look to see what others in similar areas are doing and try to out-compete them. They have the point of view that there is a short supply of clients and a limit to opportunity.
Contextual reality creates a world of judgments and beliefs. Much of a company’s energy is put into keeping up with or surpassing other companies operating in similar contexts. Business leaders thus trap themselves in contextual reality. Very seldom do they consider another context or ask, What else is possible? When leaders create their business by trying to put it in context with everything else, there is no question, no choice, and no other possibility.
The recent and ongoing example of the financial system meltdown in 2009 is a case in point demonstrating that current business strategies and business practices need to change. Businesses need to cease engaging in head-to-head rivalry based on the scarcity paradigm and the erroneous attitude that success is dependent on fierce competition.
In our view, the problem lies much deeper than a simple financial crisis. The real problem lies in the embedded scarcity paradigm that has underpinned the behavior of the markets. The change in financial market liquidity has driven people to function from of fear of lack rather than creating from the generative energy, space, and consciousness they truly are.
Assumption 4. Successful business is a zero-sum game. The underlying economic assumption for most business is that we live in a world of scarcity and lack rather than prosperity and abundance, so when one person wins, another loses. When you operate your business based on this assumption of lack you spend your days complaining and worrying about what you don’t have enough of. You don’t have enough staff, you don’t have enough clients, you don’t have enough profits, you don’t have enough time, and you don’t have enough cash. You become trapped in a cycle of frustration, disenchantment, and discontent. What begins as a misguided assumption grows into a giant justification for an unsuccessful business! Through the lens of contextual reality, some would argue that scarcity is the factual, realistic, normal, natural, and inevitable basis for business practice. People who believe this point of view are buying a lie. Scarcity is a lie. The lie of scarcity is the most prevalent and prominent influence in contextual reality. This lie often overrides rational viewpoints and creates distorted, selfish attitudes, and egocentric behavior. When you function from the scarcity and survivalist mentality of contextual reality, you create limitations for yourself and your organization. You feel more secure when you can identify and create the context in which you fit, benefit, win or lose. You are concerned about being in control and you become risk averse, which is another way of saying that you refuse to see opportunity.
This assumption reflects in the way many organizations set their strategy and conduct their business. Since they assume that resources are limited, they tend to speed up, engage in battle, and try to grab their portion now before someone else does. After all, if there are only limited resources, one organization’s gain must be another organization’s loss. The richer and more successful one business enterprise is, the poorer its opponents must be. Sadly, this assumption continually generates the greed, unease, distrust, and meanness that drive most organizations to make sure that they are not the ones who get left out or trodden upon. This point of view also encourages exploitation that results in abuse, maltreatment, and mishandling.
When you get stuck in this scarcity paradigm, you tend to only see doom and gloom, which prevents you from seeing the opportunities that are always around you. A belief in scarcity stands in the way of your organization’s ability to perceive different possibilities. In the book Unlimited Wealth, The Theory and Practice of Economic Alchemy, Paul Zane Pilzer points out that the economic assumption that we live in a world of limited resources is fundamentally wrong. Pilzer believes this assumption is the cause of much dispossession and deprivation in the world. He wrote: We live today in a world of effectively unlimited resources, a world of unlimited wealth. In short, we live in what one might call a new alchemic world…. In the alchemic world in which we now live, a society’s wealth is still a function of its physical resources, as traditional economics has long maintained. But unlike the outdated economist, the alchemist of today recognizes that technology controls both the definition and the supply of physical resources. In fact, for the past few decades, it has been the backlog of unimplemented technological advances, rather than unused physical resources, that has been the determinant of real growth.
Pilzer also puts forward the idea that business leaders who continue to behave as if they were operating in the old zero-sum world will soon find themselves eclipsed by those who recognize the new realities and take action accordingly. This is one more illustration of how important it is to let go of the business-as-usual paradigm and begin to lead your business from the perspective of no-more-business-as-usual.
While these four assumptions are very common, hundreds of other derivative suppositions keep business executives in a trance; it is as if they are under the spell of contextual reality. These assumptions are insubstantial inferences that exist because of an attachment to and reliance on a false context. Contextual reality induces business leaders to sacrifice what truly matters in exchange for efficiency and expediency. You do not have to take this path. Become aware of the context—and the assumptions will suspend, dissolve, and uncreate.