January 29, 2016

Stop fighting today’s problems with yesterday’s answers

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The focus needs to change. People need to stop fighting today’s problems with yesterday’s answers, and instead, focus on finding solutions to tomorrow’s challenges.

I see this time and again from organisations large and small, from both experienced and newly educated people – a focus on the problems that have been identified today, categorised and identified based on the impact caused, and then old methods and approaches are applied based on prior success with dealing with similar problems.

Cultural indoctrination

Most of our education system, the way that training is done, and even manuals and documents – mostly take the same approach; this is the way you perform this task. We are taught how to identify issues and problems, and then categorise them, identify a known solution, and apply it. We are taught that if you try something new, and it does not work, to disregard the approach and never apply it again – “that’s never worked before…”. We are conditioned to not re-visit solutions that have failed or been rejected before trying them, to avoid re-trying something and instead to refer back to prior solutions – or even ask for advice from an “experienced” expert.

I bet that by now you are either thinking that this does not apply to you, or that you are smarter – in which case, great. But there are probably a few people who you know who make a statement of “that is not the way we do things around here” when offered a new approach. Perhaps there are some who tell you how the project/strategy/task will be done by using linear, chronological description – instead of giving directions in reverse. Organisations that have this ‘traditional’ way of thinking (identification, analysis, response), may be caught up in a technology debt that keeps them “playing catch-up” with their systems.

If you are reacting to a problem, you are too late

The pace of change in the back-office is slowly increasing – slower than business change, slower than consumer demand, and much slower than current society. But it’s still too slow, still stuck in the past. Locked into processes that often were based on replicating paper-based forms into bespoke systems, and people are entering data and performing activities that actually are not required – or even desired.

The services that run a business, the back-office activities that are generic and in every business – regardless of what the business does, need to change. However, the appetite for change and risk in improving these core activities is much less than activities that could generate more revenue or increase customer penetration. Perhaps the concern is that change in these back-office activities could impact the ability to execute business? Maybe the concern is that there will be staff losses, or a move to outsourcing – or just a concern that change is not required in the back office…

Is automation the key?

The concept of Automation can be a trap – organisations may believe that they need to reflect their existing processes into an automated solution, but then there is no improvement – just applying yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems yet again. Successful automation requires a paradigm shift, a review of what is actually required for the business to be successful.

A successful change will often require outside help. An external view, by people who can step away from the incumbent processes and approaches, agnostic of what has been done in the past. New blood who can identify ways to avoid internal red tape and unnecessary complications that historical processes may have engrained into the business.

Innovation, not experience

For centuries, experience has been seen as the saviour – people who have gained knowledge through years practice (and failure) are seen as the experts, with age leading to wisdom and knowledge. However, by having the Internet at our fingertips, knowledge can be drawn up by anyone with skills in using Google or by referring to sources like Wikipedia. Discussion forums and crowd-sourced knowledge bases can be referenced instantly, and the collected knowledge of experts around the globe (plus quite a few sources that need to be disregarded…) can be found, and even probed for more detail within a few hours or days.

Today’s pace of change has identified that there is a need to reflect that innovation is the key, not just experience. Trying new approaches and attempting new solutions – even if something similar has failed in the past – needs to be pushed down to internal back office processes.

So, stop referring to the dusty, leather-bound manual of how to react to a problem – and instead see problems as an opportunity to innovate and move forwards.

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