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The content in this article was provided by Etienne Pretorius, PBC Group (Pty) Ltd, a response to the call for Business Management Consultants in Operations, HR and Financial Management in South Africa | 15th March 2020.

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Charles Handy starts his book “The Age of Unreason” with a scene of the General Synod of the Church of England in the 1980s. The debate was whether women be admitted to the priesthood. A speaker who had the floor tried to convince saying “In this matter, as in much else in our great country, why cannot the status quo be the way forward?” [i]

We might agree that change is constant. The question, however, is whether we are ready for it and whether we are ready to make the change.

The safety of the status quo was of paramount importance the last time I was employed by a corporate. However, I had to decide whether to stay or to follow a course which would mean my exit. It was a daunting time where I was tempted with the pursuit of the status quo. I had been listening to a lie, which was keeping me in my comfortable place. It was a lie of things people had promised me, and of things I had promised myself. I concurrently had the Plan A and a Plan B to stay safe. I tried to keep one foot on dry land and dipped the other foot in the water. Mike Tyson once said: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” This is the way I felt as the course of my future slowing drifted into the unexpected. It is inevitable that you will be forced to make a decision at some stage, and just jump into the water.

The danger of the status quo is quite possibly hidden from us when considering the future. The status quo filters our view of the future and what will really happen. It causes us to fall into the “wishful thinking trap” instead of being objective. Fear of the future is often the real motivation when considering the status quo. Perhaps this means that the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” paradigm is broken. We choose not to fix it because we don’t have the skill, capability or capacity to improve it before its “broke”. More importantly, we don’t possess the confidence to explore new things. I wonder whether we shouldn’t balance exploitation and exploration.

How to achieve a balanced view of the future is something I was considering while I watched a TEDx Talk which was presented by Knut Haanaes in 2016. [ii] In his talk “Why Companies Fail”, Haanaes tried to explain that companies only do “more of the same”, or “only what’s new”. The issue, he presented, was that companies would singularly pursue either exploitation of what they knew or the exploration of new things they wanted to learn. He suggested that the strategy should rather balance exploitation and exploration as short term and long-term goals, respectively. He cautioned against expecting the current success to extend into the future. We should balance the planned success with a vision that changes with the times. I then pondered what Bill Gates said, “Success is a lousy teacher; it seduces us into thinking we cannot fail.” So, perhaps instead of trying to stay safe, we should consider safe as a dangerous place, and welcome failure. I wondered whether we shouldn’t rather think in multiple timescales (1, 3, 5, 10 years) and ask the questions:

  1. In which areas is our plan (or our company) in danger of falling into the success trap?
  2. When did we explore something new last, and should we be doing that more?
  3. Is it really prudence holding us back, or is it fear?

Failing forward [iii] is a concept John Maxwell taught me many years ago. Perhaps this was a fundamental and foundational concept which supported me when deciding to move from corporate to consultant.  Trump and Kiyosaki seem to concur in their book “Midas Touch”. [iv] Robert Kiyosaki explains how the traditional school and varsity systems teach us not to fail. They explain how we should rather learn to fail often, and learn and recover more quickly. Success, it seems, comes from getting up and doing it again, rather than avoiding the failure. This makes the fear of failure an irrational sentiment, and a concept I might not have learnt by choosing the status quo.

[i] Handy C The Age of Unreason – New Thinking for a New World (Arrow Books of Random House Group Limited, London UK, 1989)

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVXmYD0UPRQ&t=22s Two reasons companies fail — and how to avoid them | Knut Haanaes (accessed 13th March 2020)

[iii]  Maxwell J Failing Forward – Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success (Thomas Nelson Inc, Nashville USA, 2000)

[iv] Trump DJ and Kiyosaki R Midas Touch – Why Some Entrepreneurs Get Rich And Why Most Don’t (Plata Publishing LLC, United Kingdom, 2015) p27

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