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How to Change Faster than the Competition

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“The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organisation’s ability to learn faster than the competition.”

But how do we do this? How does an organisation gear itself to being able to not only learn, but learn quickly? There is a strong relationship between a learning organization and an organization which has a culture of continuous improvement. This holy alliance between a learning organisation and continuous improvement can be logically explained. After all, to improve something, one first needs to learn something new and have the willingness to experiment with it. Without learning, continuous improvement will remain ad-hoc, fortuitous and unsustainable.

But this culture doesn’t just happen. It’s not a tool or an app which we can install, go for orientation on and be handed a booklet titled ‘How to do continuous improvement’. It is a culture that is engrained in every level and every facet of your organisation. It is a culture which embraces change, rather than shy away from it.

We build on our previous post on new ways of working by providing ways in which an organisation could welcome change which leads to a culture shift towards continuous improvement and ultimately become a learning organisation.

New Ways of Working v1.8_Learning

Why a Learning organisation?

Moore’s Law, described in 1965 by Gordon E. Moore the co-founder of Intel, still holds true today. Technological enhancements are doubling approximately every two years. These enhancements are being realized in areas such as processing speeds, memory and connectivity bandwidth. This fact, accompanied with lower than proportionate increase in cost results in a consumer’s ability to access services / information quicker, cheaper, anytime and without sacrificing convenience or quality.
Not only does this result in our customers’ needs changing, but also our actual customers are changing as well. To keep up with these external changes, organisations need to learn and fast. Organisations need to learn what the customers want (the first principle of Lean is ‘The customer defines the value’) and we need to learn a new way of doing things and ultimately adapt the way we work. Therein lies the problem. Adapting implies change and inherently people resist change. Or more accurately according to Peter Senge “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed”.
But to improve, we need to apply our new learnings which results in changes in the way we acted before. Simply put, Improvements are applied learning.

Learning + Change = Improvement

The fear of being changed

Consciously we fear change because it introduces uncertainty. Daniel Kahneman in his book ‘Thinking fast and slowsays that human beings would rather be wrong than uncertain. He in fact goes on to say that our hierarchy of outcomes is to be right (based on our own set of views and paradigms) then to be wrong and lastly to be uncertain.
I’ve seen this fear of uncertainty play out first hand while facilitating a workshop a few years back. I was to change to the flow of work in a delivery team and while running the workshop, the team lead kept on interrupting me with an apparent dire need for me to take into account the work that she needed to do daily on a Work In Progress Report. Eventually I asked her to give me some information about this report that she had been doing since taking over the team lead role eight months earlier. I went on to do some investigation and found that the report wasn’t needed, in fact was a waste and that she should please stop sending it. When I gave her this feedback I was expecting to see relief or even frustration. Instead, what I observed was fear. By telling her that something which she had identified with and gave her a sense of control was about to change, what I did was I had introduced uncertainty. Uncertainty for what was she going to do now, was her role still important, will she be able to do whatever else this change introduces?
There are also other conscious factors such as loss of control, lack of motivation and fatigue or “we’ve tried something like this before, they all failed and so will this”.

Subconsciously we fear change because that’s physiologically how our brains are wired. We trick ourselves into believing that if something’s been the way it is for a while (or decades in some examples) and we’re still alive or perceive ourselves to be delivering value then it must be good enough. The old adage of ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ sits right at the core of this perception. A study in 2010 performed at the University of Kansas found a bias towards things that have been around for longer. One experiment involving acupuncture showed that participants favored it more when they were told it existed for 2000 years as opposed to the group who were told it existed for 250 years. The same bias was seen when a group of participants was given the same chocolate wrapped in different colored wrapping. They were described as one being sold from 73 years ago and the other from just 3. The chocolate that supposedly sold 73 years ago tasted richer and creamier according to the participants!

All forms of change invokes some form of stress (even the good changes, like upgrading your car or going on holiday) and this stress triggers one of three reactions.

Fight – Because if it’s something different, I might need to fight it to maintain my safety or maintain my ability to exist. Like a wild cat when we were cavemen or in today’s age to resist new methodologies or technologies.

Flight – Run or hide from a wild cat or delay adopting new technologies, denying any enhancements and backing off into a silo.

Freeze – Just stand really really still, hopefully the wild cat won’t notice me or in today’s organisations pretend not to be aware of changes in technologies and way of working.

These forms of reactions are hardwired into our DNA.

Changing Legacy Systems

Our paradigms are made up of experiences and beliefs that we’ve gained over an extended period of time. The longer we’ve experienced them this way, the more engrained the paradigm is. The same can be said of the cultural paradigm of an organisation. Let’s call these cultural paradigms ‘Legacy Systems’.
The reason why startups encounter less resistance to change is exactly because of this fact. They have smaller and less engrained Legacy Systems. But this is by no means implying that big organisations with their deeply engrained legacy systems cannot change. Big organisations can and have started to change these legacy systems. They do so by adopting evolutionary change rather revolutionary change.

Evolutionary change – This type of change is small, continuous, and gradual and is reliant on the people to perform the change. As a result, it is well adopted by large organisations and becomes the make-up of the new cultural paradigm. In Toyota culture of Kaizen (Kai = Change, Zen = Good). Kaizen is a culture of continuous improvement, in small, sustainable, self-driven iterations using Deming’s scientific method. Kaizen requires empowered employees to firstly identify opportunities for improvement and then have the resources to institute the change. The author Imai (in ‘Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success) defines kaizen as “organized activities involving everyone in a company- managers and workers, in a totally integrated effort toward improving performance at every level”

Revolutionary change – This is a bigger more radical change and is reliant on the leader to describe and give mandate. These types of changes are often reactionary, i.e. a decline in market share or a department failing an audit. Revolutionary changes seldom, if ever become part of the culture of an organisation. In Toyota this form of change is called Kaikaku.

Change to Learn

Changing the way people think in large organisations is a daunting task yet remains absolutely necessary if we are to stay relevant. Dan Pink says that ‘Management is an invention, much like the television’. Perhaps, what’s happened is that management, the invention has not kept up with the evolution of change in our work and as a result now needs to be revolutionised? Below are some suggestions on how to enable change and learning:

  1. Create the case for change. What is the desire for this change? Answer the question of “what are the possibilities on the other side of uncertainty?”
  2. Empower the people. Give people the skills, tools and endorsement to make changes.
  3. Leaders should be visible and available. Make yourself available for questions, concerns and ideas (Hiroyuku Hiranu said: ‘Ten person’s ideas are better than one person’s knowledge’)
  4. Create the environment. Create a safe environment for experimentation and even failure without victimization. Favor intrinsic over extrinsic motivators.
  5. Make the change personal. Understand the individual aversion to this specific change and ask the question “what would you like to see / do differently?”
  6. Involve the entire organisation, from ‘C level’ execs to junior staff. People want to be heard. This also breaks the notion of ‘Us and them’ or ‘This change is being done to us’.
  7. Make time for honest reflection or ‘Hansei’ in Japanese. “Hansei is really much deeper than reflection. It is really being honest about your own weaknesses. If you are talking about only your strengths, you are bragging. If you are recognizing your weaknesses with sincerity, it is a high level of strength.” Jeffery Liker, The Toyota Way. Hansei helps you to recognize the problem, take ownership and responsibility of the problem and drives the individual towards a plan of action to improve.

Organisation leaders should understand that there will be resistance to change but resistance should not spell the end for change. Ultimately a realisation that through learning, better ways of work can be achieved.


About the Author

This article was written by Adrian Ryan, a Lean-Agile coach at Standard Bank South Africa. He has a passion for organisational change and is a Six Sigma Ninja.

Callum Connects

Jonathan Oh, CEO & Co-founder of Supplycart

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Jonathan Oh’s enquiring mind and love for learning has led him on an entrepreneurial journey, with him starting Supplycart which helps businesses manage their offices better.

What’s your story?
I am a person that just can’t sit still. I was always intrigued by how the world spins and how people connect. Spending a lot of time outdoors, I had an affinity with exploring new paths, thus leading me to become a serial entrepreneur with experience in creating, operating and building new companies. I am a firm believer there is so much to learn in the world and I love talking to people about ideas, what they are passionate about and what drives them.
Starting off my career in the medical industry, I realised I had a flare to create something that mattered, something that impacted other people’s lives. After exiting my first company in 2014, I continued my journey with two other ventures with a purpose to look towards impacting businesses in the region together with like minded individuals, and here I am.

What excites you most about your industry?
Being able to part of the SME tech industry and seeing how technology is moving SMEs to go digital to improve workflows and efficiencies is an exciting space to be in. Users are consumers. More and more, they are familiarising themselves with using technology in their everyday lives. We foresee the SME space to be the next area where adopting new technology would become vital for any organisation to remain relevant. As I have dabbled in this industry for close to nine years now, I am really looking forward to working with more people in the business community to make a change.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Born in Malaysia, I had the opportunity to go abroad and I realised there was so much to do back home. Spending time in Melbourne, Australia for a couple of years and recently Silicon Valley, it has provided me with experiences and insights into the difference a multicultural community can make. It also made me aware that Asia is still a very culture driven economy, as each country has its unique differences. I believe that the time is right to be in Asia now. We are a growing economy and a lot of exciting stuff is happening in this region.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Malaysia. I believe Malaysia is still a very attractive destination for business as it’s close to other neighbouring countries within the region and travelling between the countries is easy. There is also proper infrastructure in place, an affordable cost of living and a sizeable pool of talent. The government also has numerous initiatives for technology companies to apply for MSC status that permits companies to hire foreign companies without restrictions. Malaysia is the perfect launchpad to start growing businesses regionally. From a culture perspective, we are multicultural, which promotes diversity in business and language is never a barrier here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“The difference between a businessman and an entrepreneur; one does a markup and the other creates value.”

Who inspires you?
I would say the people around me inspire me. I wouldn’t narrow it down to a particular person but lump it up with family, workmates, entrepreneurs and friends. From my eyes, everyone has a certain drive, a certain glow and strengths that sometimes they do not see, and that inspires me. I believe the journey to success is never alone, it’s with people.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Something recently that blew me away, made me realise, visually about how much time I have left. I was reading and stumbled upon the writer doing this. This might sound morbid but I drew a horizontal line and started plotting the year I was born all the way up to when I think I might go. It showed me that I have spent 25% of my life growing up, I am going to spend another 55% of my life working and the final 20%, maybe retirement. It got me remembering all the milestones I have achieved and to be thankful for and above all, how I want to spend the 55% of my life doing what matters the most.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I believe that I am exactly where I need to be because of the experiences I have had before. Thank god for the journey so far. It has been filled with ups and downs, new experiences and people along the way these have moulded me. I guess a small thing, if I had my time again, would be to pick up playing a musical instrument which I think still possible now. You are never too old to learn anything.

How do you unwind?
Unwinding for me would be spending time with my family and my two little boys. The little ones are such a bundle of joy. Reminding myself to have balance in terms of not missing the early years with them. Other than that, having coffee with other entrepreneurs, sharing ideas and learning from them is also another way I unwind.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
A term I would use would be “cuti cuti Malaysia.” This means heading to a local destination for some R&R to save on the cost of going on overseas to travel. Top of my the list would be heading to a farm or the jungle with clear river waters and a waterfall all to myself. Staying the night, out in the open under the stars, with a campfire and heading back to nature. The other option would be taking a boat to one of the furthest islands in Malaysia, just before the border of Indonesia, to get away from civilization.

Everyone in business should read this book:
I would actually recommend two books that everyone in business in the early years should read. ‘Founder’s Dilemma’ and ‘Start with Why.’ After being in a couple of businesses and many mistakes later, I came to realise the importance of starting it right. Both these books address the whole mind-set on what founders need to have from selecting who is it we start a business with to why are we starting the business. The business foundation is built from the founders and moving forward everything is built from there. Sometimes we are so into the business that we forget we need to be on the business as well. I would have definitely avoided a couple of bumps if I came across these much earlier on.

Shameless plug for your business:
Manage your office better, that’s our motto. We are always on the lookout to work with organisations, suppliers and partners in this field for partnerships and collaborations.
Supplycart is a B2B procurement platform addressing a need for a change in the way companies manage their office supplies, products and services. We enable suppliers and companies to adopt digital technology when selling and procuring for their business, resulting in a more efficient and productive workforce.
Supplycart provides an easy to use, convenient platform that streamlines the whole procurement process by allowing users to quickly order and reorder, receive instant quotations, obtain quick approvals from necessary approvers and fulfilment items are coordinated/planned to ensure a timely a speedy delivery.
Businesses can now focus on the more important matters in growing and sustaining their business while leaving managing the office to Supplycart. Our vision is to be the number 1 office platform for businesses across South East Asia. “Your office will never be the same again.”

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/ohjonathan/
e : [email protected]
w : www.supplycart.my

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Trung Nguyen, Founder & Managing Director of Advertising Vietnam

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Having initial success with his first start up in the ad industry, Trung Nguyen went on to start other ventures in the ad world in Vietnam. He now has the largest agency community in Vietnam.

What’s your story?
Three years ago I got my first job in the advertising industry. I worked for a local agency in town, and I fell in love with the creative industry. In June 2015, I founded Agency Life Community in Vietnam. It quickly became the most engaging community in the ad industry. The main content focuses on entertainment. After six months we had over 30,000 organic followers, now we have 120,000 followers.

Because the industry had been good to me, I decided I had to something for the industry to help the industry be better. So, I opened http://AdvertisingVietnam.com – a creative industry ad site which keeps advertising informative, creative and inspiring.

After more than a year in the ads industry in Vietnam, I figured the industry needed a better solution for the recruitment of good staff. Given I own the largest advertising community platform, why don’t I utilise Agency Life to help connect talent with ad agencies. So, I founded job site, AdJob.Asia in January 2017.

What excites you most about your industry?
The ad industry is a creative one with very passionate people who are always challenging themselves. The exciting part for creatives, in the morning they might be working on a baby brand and in the afternoon they are answering a beer brief. There is so much diversity. Every day is the new journey.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I am Vietnamese.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Thailand. The Thais are the kings of the creative industry in SEA. Thai ads are very smart and creative.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Do what you love.

Who inspires you?
My friend, mentor and partner Mr Nghi Nguyen, founder of BrandsVietnam.com. We started our businesses at a similar time. He doesn’t see us as a competitor but rather, he believes that we share the same passion and we are working to provide better knowledge for the ad community.
Mr Nghi also guided me a lot when I first opened the business. I am inspired by his vision to make our marketing industry better.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Our business is a startup company and as a founder I do everything from operations, business development, planning and strategy. However, this is not the good way grow our business. You have to share the workload – find a co-founder or hire a great employee to help share the workload. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Quit my full time job sooner.
During the first year of running my business, I was still working as an ad manager for an agency. However I lacked focus at work due to the overload of work and it affected the company I used to work for. I strongly recommend people who have an idea to start their own business, quit their job early on and focus 100% on it from the get go!

How do you unwind?
Play with my cat.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love to travel throughout all of Asia. I enjoy new places and meeting new people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Carpenter: A story about the greatest success strategies of all.

Shameless plug for your business:
AdvertisingVietnam.com is a site where you can quickly update yourself on the advertising news in Vietnam. We have 15,000 unique monthly readers who are professional people in the advertising and communications industries.

The Agency Life, https://www.facebook.com/agencylife is largest agency community in Vietnam. This is the right place for ad agencies to share their creative work.

AdJob.Asia now has more than 160 agencies in Vietnam who use our services. We are a leading recruitment service for the advertising industry in Vietnam.

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/trungnx26
Email: [email protected]
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/trungnx26/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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