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Adapting to Change. Taking Control of Your Future (Part 2)

Roland Alston, Appian
April 16, 2020

Dorie Clark, Best-Selling Author, Branding Expert

(This is the final installment of a two-part post on adapting to change and taking control of the future with best-selling author and branding expert Dorie Clark [@dorieclark]. Read part 1 here.)

In the age of COVID-19 and stay at home orders, the topic of adapting to change has never been more relevant. Two-thirds of Americans say the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic is a major crisis and their outlook for the future is bleak, according to a recent survey fromPew.

Which brings us to the final installment of our conversation with best-selling author and branding expert Dorie Clark who has been paying close attention to how the pandemic has transformed the way we work and do business.

Clark says, for example, the massive shift to doing things virtually is a change we expected to see unfold over the next decade. But basically, she says, it happened in the last several months instead. Research reveals that the majority of Americans are alarmed by rising uncertainty and rumors of economic recession.

And, so, with the "new normal" of staying at home and working in isolation, it's easy to feel stuck like we're under siege. But better to be open, says Clarke, to be reinventing ourselves, to be experimenting and exploring, to be sustaining a sense of innovation and forward movement.

Last week, Clark gave us a three-step process for reinventing ourselves. This time around, she gives us the lowdown on getting the most out of business transformation, with a glimpse into the future of online learning. Hope you enjoy the conversation.

Getting the Biggest Return on Transformation

Appian: When you look at all the organizations out there, which do you think have done the best job of reinventing themselves?

Clark: There are some good examples out there. I recently listened to a presentation from the CEO of The Nature Conservancy. He talked about how when the Conservancy was founded, it was started as essentially a land trust to buy property and protect it. And many people think that that is what they do now.

And, to a limited extent, it is. Their mission, of course, is to conserve land. But what they've actually done, which is far more clever, is seeded a national land conservation movement. They've encouraged the creation of local land trusts to purchase and maintain land locally. So, the Nature Conservancy itself didn't have to do it.

They were basically creating a movement to outsource that function, so that the Nature Conservancy could focus on higher-level more complex deals, that are beyond the capabilities of a small local group.

In many ways, I think that's an emblematic transformation, because they are continually asking themselves: "What is our highest and best use? What is the thing that we are capable of doing that no one else is?

And how can we add more unique value by letting other people handle the easy stuff, so that we can tackle the really difficult, complex, stuff that will get us the biggest return?

The Be-Perfect-or-Fast Conundrum

Appian: That's such a great story about self-disruption. Many of the digital leaders who we've talked to say that successful organizations disrupt themselves before their competitors do. But there's a different narrative which says that the key to digital transformation is in building an organizational culture where people understand that it's okay to make mistakes, and not be afraid to take risks.

What do you make of that point of view? Is it more important to be perfect or fast?

Clark: This is a conundrum, isn't it? Of course, it's okay to cultivate a culture where it's okay to make mistakes, because people are human and there's no such thing as perfection. If your people are so terrified of making mistakes, that's going to freeze them up and, almost by definition, prevent innovation.

Because if you're truly innovative. If you're doing something that hasn't been done before, you don't know if it's going to work.

And, if you're in a position that the penalty is so severe if it doesn't work, then the obvious response is to only replicate what has worked previously. However, that said, the key to this is understanding that there are some instances where it's okay to experiment low-stakes situations.

You need to know the difference between that and critical high-stakes situations, where you need to have everything vetted.So, if an organization creates an environment where employees understand the difference, they'll know where to take and not take risks.That's the ideal kind of culture that can blend both of those aspects.

Online Learning Poised to Explode

Appian: To wrap up our conversation, as you look ahead, what are some of the trends that are on your radar for 2018?

Clark: Business is changing rapidly. Everybody recognizes that, even if they don't know what to do about it . That said, it's getting increasingly expensive and complicated to train people. Employees may want to hone their skills, but they don't have a lot of out of pocket money to do it.

So, I think we're going to see continued growth in the online learning trend.

It has gone mainstream. And it's beginning to be very pervasive. (in 2019, U.S. enterprises spent $83 billion on training and development.) I think that at the enterprise level, people see it as a good solution to provide just-in-time learning for employees.

And employees look at it and say: "I know I need new skills, but I can't take time off from my job to get it." But taking an online course to get a skill that you need? That's increasingly going to look like a winning proposition.