I say it all the time, but organizations are funny things. Sometimes an organization will start to make a little headway with something–anything from their culture to their branding to their structure to their products and services. They’ll have some forward momentum that they’ve generated over recent months or years, but as with any organization, they run into the inevitable obstacle or setback. Maybe a few of them.
You can almost see it coming at that point–a retreat is inevitable. Duped into thinking that going backward instead of forward in the face of uncertainty is the better option, organizations flee back to what they perceive to be safety. In reality, that safety is often at best a temporary respite from the craziness that is progress, and at worst a fearful and controlling uber-conservativism masquerading as safety. It’s like they hit the rewind–or perhaps even reset–button on the organization.
The problem is that the safe thing isn’t always the smart thing. And it’s certainly not always the best thing. A lot of times, organizations that thrive and grow are the ones who are willing to press on when things go a little sideways on them.
Citing Apple is so terribly cliché at this point, and I’m not one who says that everyone needs to be exactly like Apple, but that’s where my mind went when I was thinking about this. Apple had plenty of opportunities to pack it in and play it safe.
Like, for example, after their Apple 3 computer turned out to be a literal fire hazard. Or after their release of the not-so-lovely Lisa model. Or maybe after their Macintosh Portable, which was more likely to turn on when it wasn’t plugged in than when it was. (yes, you read that correctly) Or possibly after their Newton MessagePad, which sported new technology (technology that inspired modern products, actually) but was a failure in its day. Or perhaps following their PowerBook Duo, with all its random and various docks that people first had to purchase and then were subsequently confused by. Or after the Performa, which was supposed to be a cheaper line of computers but was still more pricey than its PC competitors and didn’t work nearly as well. Or the eWorld. Don’t remember eWorld? Yeah, most people don’t. Or the Pippin, a console designed to compete with Nintendo, Playstation, and Sega. Or their Copland OS. Or that hockey-puck-shaped mouse. Or the Power Mac G4 Cube.
You see what I’m saying, right?
Great organizations learn to roll with the punches while continuing to move forward. That’s not to say there’s never a time when an organization should take a step back for some reason, but those times are less frequent than we might be tempted to think. We have to work to keep calm and carry on rather than succumbing to what for many is the default mode of the human heart and mind–fleeing to safety when things get a little rough.