Groundhog Day for Businesses: Ending “Corporate Winter” Once and for All!

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By Neal Archbold, Head of Innovation and Strategy at Big Radical.

Most of us know the film and the annual tradition it is based upon.

Since 1840, the almost deity-like groundhog (aka Marmot or Woodchuck)  Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow on 2nd February each year at “Gobbler’s Knob” in the town of Punxsutawney in Western Pennsylvania in fronts of modern day crowds of 40,000 locals and tourists alike.

If he sees the shadow and returns to his burrow, winter will remain for a further 6 weeks. If it is overcast and he doesn’t see his shadow, spring will arrive early.

Using a large ground-based squirrel I know isn’t the best method of meteorological predictions, but in the 1993 film version the constant repetition of the same day that follows for Bill Murray due to Phil seeing his shadow, got me thinking about my career and the behaviours of many businesses I have worked in.

I have worked in many large businesses and I have seen loads of amazing activities, brilliant people and fantastic performances. I have also seen a cycle of repeated mistake-making and “living repeating lives”.

I am 100% convinced that unless the cycle is broken then the results will be the same for businesses: waking up each morning at 6.00 listening to “I Got You Babe”. Again and again and again.

 

The activities I see businesses doing constantly and getting the same “less than positive” results are many in number, but a few really make me pull my (limited) hair out.

Let’s be clear, Bill Murray took some extreme measures to break the repeating day including drink driving, one-night stands, attempted suicide and even kidnapping Phil the Groundhog and driving off a cliff!

So, what did change the day? A drastic, self-sacrificing, extreme act? No. It was a change of focus: Learning new skills, being true to himself, thinking of others and being enthusiastic. Could it work for business? In my opinion; Yes.

Insight Addiction

Many businesses I have worked in or consulted for, have put customer insight to the forefront of what they are doing. This is a good thing. But I have been shocked by the negative implications of becoming “insight-addicted”.

Let’s be frank, insight doesn’t tell us the whole answer. It isn’t a silver bullet and I guarantee that it won’t find the key to internal life. Yes, it helps – but spending massively, repeatedly and getting mediocre results, doesn’t make you customer or insight-led. In my opinion, you are becoming insight-dependent, a “research addict” with an unhealthy, insatiable and unquenchable thirst for insight. It should not be a crutch for the C-Suite “We don’t have enough insight to make that decision”. And you never will.

To break this repetition, I believe in the power of understanding people, prototyping and testing. Real things being built and used by real people. You will learn BIG and often hard lessons, without them being expensive lessons.

Doing Innovation Internally. Badly

I am very empathetic to in-house innovation teams or “internal start-ups”. I have worked with many and ran a couple myself. Most failed and for many reasons.

Often it isn’t the fault of the individuals in the team who feel like they have been given the chance to drive a speedboat in their day-to-day work life.

Be free, be fast and explore strange new seas. What they weren’t told is that their speedboat will be tied to the oil-tanker that is the “rest of the business” and the ropes of culture, process, governance and plodding mean the speed boat goes nowhere. Potentially except backwards.

This happens EVERY time. Create the vision, inspire the team, start the work, smother it completely, stop the work, close the team. Brilliant.

I am a big advocate of “Relative Innovation”. Doing specific things better than today to drive competitive advantage is a brilliant step without the operational cost and burden.

 Simple, practical and meaningful is future for business.

Strategic Planning Ad Infinitum

I have been a Director and HOF of Strategy in several large corporates: and really loved it. Great teams, talented people and big questions to answer. What could we better?

Sadly, the world has changed – but the demands of Boardroom haven’t.

The days of lofty 5-year plans, strategic visions, target operating models and business transformations, in my view, are dead. They lack the detail and are too assumptive. The further away we get: the less we know, so we make the targets bigger….

Having a “North Star” I love…. but take small and real steps. In this changing and disruptive world, this has to be the way. Consciously in control of practical progress is the future.

I get the need for financial plans, quarterly forecasts etc and a long-term view of value – but predicting how a £500m will look in 5 years is foolhardy.

My prediction, unless you do something different, it will very much look like today. Groundhog Day all over again. The same climate. The same activities. 


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Neal Archbold

If you’ve enjoyed reading Neal’s thoughts and insights around business innovation or would like to hear more film related metaphors please contact neal.archbold@bigradical.com