Agile & Digital / Matrix Management

Overcoming inertia: how do you want to change the world?

A lot has been made of the tech giant and Silicon Valley start-up culture of fail fast, take risks, experiment and learn (and rightly so).  The question is, can this really translate into big traditional companies who are trying to keep up?

Former Intel president Renee James is now CEO of a semiconductor start-up, so she has seen both worlds first hand. With big companies, “there’s a real inertia when you need to keep existing product growing and revenue stable”, she recently explained to the 2018 Fortune global forum in Toronto.  But in her view, breaking down big business units into small teams with a big vision can inspire innovation even in a corporate dinosaur.   To get people excited about that big vision, she recommends figuring out and clearly sharing what problem you want to solve. Or even better, “How do you want to change the world?”

At the same summit, Ellen Kullman, former CEO of DuPont shared that in her experience, “culture norms, totems, are set in the middle of the company.  Making sure those middle leaders are comfortable with the uncomfortable has to become part of the culture.”

Sounds good, but how do we actually do that?

Organizational psychologists propose that organizational inertia can be broken down into three elements:

  1. Insight inertia
  2. Psychological inertia
  3. Action inertia

That is, firstly we have to set ourselves the challenge of actively seeking new insights – from our end-users, clients, other sections of the business and external commentators.

Secondly we have to be aware when our mindset might be holding us back: ‘things are changing so fast’, ‘this way of doing things has always worked fine for me’ or ‘this looks too risky, I don’t want to screw up’ are all natural reactions – but will stop us innovating and evolving. If we notice this is how we are thinking, we can consciously challenge ourselves to try a different thought reel such as, ‘I will try this out, get feedback and adjust as I go”.

Both of these steps will allow us to overcome action inertia and follow the startup drum-beat of ‘test and learn’.

So over to you – how do you want to change the world?

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