All or nothing isn’t always the right answer, but we can’t afford to be left in the dust in our market where change is upon us. Innovation or death is the only way out, and as a startup, you need to choose one of them.
I work in an environment that promotes innovation — it boasts that its leaders expect its personnel to wake up in the morning, excited to come to work for sake of what we do and for that alone.
I, unfortunately, work within a team that resists innovation. If it isn’t their idea, it’s a terrible idea and a burden to them as peripheral contributors (if they’re asked to do so). It breaks my heart. I am a capability integrator — which is a fancy way of saying, business analyst + technology chaser + implementation specialist + organizational coordinator of all things new and awesome. I follow user requirements like a hound follows a duck during hunting season. In conversation, I pick up on queues and frustrations and try to offer potential solutions to problems to ease the moaning and groaning only to be met with pushback and sideways looks of disapproval. It isn’t because my ideas are bad (and I’ve had some goofy ideas), but it’s because it means work, it means living the perceived comfort zone of complacency and learning something new, it means having to communicate (and communicate often) as a stakeholder who seeks to improve or approve a program for workflow integration. That’s seemingly too much.
With their heads down, staring at the lettered keys in front of them, I watch my office mates pluck away at their work. I’m a “one of one” — I don’t do what they do and they don’t do what I do, but they do the same thing as all the others in my office. I am a team of myself within a team that is resistant to change and the risk of failure that may come with it. They’re scared to take on the hard projects that mean they might actually have to speak up and let their opinion be heard. They’re scared they might even become irrelevant. If it means that I might bring something to work one day that I discovered and thought might be relevant to our organization’s goals, they shudder to think it.
As an early adopter of technologies and concepts, I pride myself on immersing my mind in the latest news and information related to emerging capability. I get lost, I’ll dive down into a rabbit hole, and I gladly explore all the facets of the things I discover in the dark of “coming soon” concepts while all others find comfort in what they know and that alone.
How do we change a complacent culture? How do we tackle this problem? We watch on as we see the train that is tech barreling down the track toward us and some stand there in its lights waiting to be thrust into oblivion rather than finding a solution to better their situation. Change is coming whether we like it or not and it’s my job to learn it in a way that convinces them to like it. I’ve mapped out my plan and it’s an evolving, trial-and-error experiment.
- Be the energy. Despite the dullness that might surround you, become the energy you’d like to elicit from your peers. Be excited and enthusiastic, demonstrate an open mind and curiosity for what’s coming next.
- Send short summaries. When you identify something worth exploring, jot up a short, friendly, and concise email — something to the effect of, “Hey, I was looking at this and thought…” while briefly describing why your discovery mattered.
- Lead by doing. If you have the ability to procure your own toolsets and use them to produce products or some output that your coworkers normally would strain or struggle to accomplish — whether they struggle because the task is hard or simply monotonous and time-consuming — prove your concept through evaluating the potential of the new capability in-house, among them. Don’t put on some formal (or even informal) gather-’round demonstration, but just use whatever it is you believe could be the next big thing for your team. If they notice and take the initiative to ask you about it, refer to #1 while seizing the opportunity to show-and-tell.
- Expertise is gold. Educate yourself on the subject at hand — not only on the shiny new thing, but also the task you intend to enhance or change. Get as deep into the weeds as you would down that rabbit hole of what could be and become familiar with the processes — step by step — and how they could be improved. Once you’ve done your due diligence on the subject, find a solution that fits the inefficiency or gaps and learn that to the best of your ability with what resources you might be afforded. The better you can speak to the problem and the solution, the easier it will be for you to offer and implement the solution to solve the problem.
- Recognize your thing might be junk. There’s no harm in introducing something only to realize you might have gotten the context of the problem wrong and having to start over again. Don’t push the “bad idea” further for the sake of pride or refusal to accept that your peers didn’t get excited about your idea. Instead, accept it and try harder next time — and by try harder, I mean try researching better, asking questions about the context of the problem or the problem itself, and seeking out those solutions that truly speak to the issue.
- Understand your environment. Be cognizant of the fact that your peers may not see that there’s a problem. They may not view their processes as obsolete or outdated — antiquated. They may only see that they have a job and the means to do it and they’re able to accomplish the task, no matter how painful, monotonous, redundant, or time-consuming as it may be. It might be all they know because, in their minds, they don’t have time to go out and learn or explore new possibilities on their own. If you’re in a position to do so, be understanding of this and adopt a willing attitude — whether you can offer to take on some of the workloads to free them up to pursue new options. If they don’t recognize the need for new options, though, understand this and don’t become frustrated over it. You might be on the outside looking in while all they know is what’s in front of them.
- Slow down. You do not have to (and likely won’t be able to) change your organization overnight, within a week, or maybe not even within the year. It’s okay to stop and take a breather, work on other things (like learning the business processes that already exist and becoming intimately familiar with them), and give them their space while you hustle quietly in the background. If you can come up with a goal, a solution, a means to test it against the problem set, and then present it all on your own without costing them their already precious time, you can easily get in front of the group and present it as a potential integration option and how to do just that with minimal disruption.
I personally try to have a get-after-it attitude. I try to be “all about it,” talk the talk and walk the walk — but I find myself exhausted and seemingly out of options. I feel defeated at some point or another throughout my week and perhaps even a little let down by those that can’t see I only aim to help them. Sometimes, the resistance I meet might actually be a problem to solve and technology won’t do that — no capability on the market that I can purchase will solve the unwillingness to progress beyond our 2018 computer systems and desktop workstations within our beige cubicles in our fluorescent-lighted workspace.
While I recognize that some problems can’t be solved with tech, I am a resilient human being and I believe I can win the hearts and minds of people with my persistence and passion. Maybe that’s the culture I have to work to change first — not simply the workflows and processes, but the attitudes toward improvement first. That, my friends, is what I will do. The rest will come.
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