When I was a kid, my uncle joked that there are only two certain things in life. Death and taxes. He wasn’t wrong, but now that I have my own kids, I put things a little differently. They don’t need to worry yet about death or taxes, but there is a constant in this world of chaos that they might as well get used to. Change. To thrive, they had better get used to adapting.
Adaptation is key for businesses too, because things are changing all the time. Even when everything is working well, we can’t let ourselves get too comfortable — it might not last for long. There’s another saying we’ve all heard. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for stagnation.
What is still done the same way it was 50 years ago? Agriculture, manufacturing, professional services, entertainment, investing — almost every activity in every industry I can think has changed dramatically. This didn’t happen overnight. Things changed as business leaders experimented with new approaches over the years. Things that worked spread, and things that didn’t work were cast aside.
Businesses are a little bit like sharks. I don’t mean they are predators. Sharks can never stop swimming – not even when they sleep – because movement keeps water flowing through their gills so they can breathe. If they stop moving, they suffocate. In business, somebody always wants to eat your lunch. You may have a good thing going now, but sooner or later, a rival is going to figure out how to do what you do. The solution is to keep moving forward.
Growing, adapting, and leading don’t necessarily require grand visions, detailed plans, or deep insights. All that you need is an open mind and a humble spirit. Instead of sweeping overhauls, small, frequent experiments are more likely to produce long term results. Depending on the nature of your business, you might test out a new vendor now and then. Make a small bet on a new sales channel. Try out a new software package. Don’t wait passively for the world to change under your feet. Be proactive about discovering the future.
Most of the experimentation that will help you grow can be done with surprisingly small investments. Even when they seem costly, the returns on success are high enough to justify many failed experiments. If you have employees, encourage their impulses to try new ways of making their lives easier. It might seem like laziness, but their varied perspectives on your business are a valuable source of intelligence for the organization. The laziness impulse can pay off handsomely in higher productivity.
Constantly running small experiments to make your business better is a way of harnessing the scientific method to improve your business. That’s what science is all about. Form an idea about how something works (or might work better). Test your idea and observe. This approach transformed the world. It’s also how the technology industry has grown to dominate the modern economy.
Doing things the way they’ve always been done just because it has worked up until now isn’t a good strategy. And trying new things need not be intimidating. Small experiments are low risk (loss of a little time and money) and high reward (survival, growth, leadership). That’s how to thrive in a rapidly changing world.