As the pace of change continues to accelerate, craving stability is like building a business or brand strategy on hope rather than rooted in reality, writes Wander Bruijel, Chief Strategy Officer at Born Ugly.

Businesses have a tendency to look at the world linearly with themselves at the centre of that world. They’re addicted to stability and predictability. This is particularly true of well-established corporates and brands (though it can happen to anyone), who often find themselves doing what they have always done to solve never-seen-before challenges, demands and competition. This makes sense, as they stand a lot to lose.

The problem lies, however, in the fact that business ‘rank and file’ culture tends to value conformity and compliance over creativity and risk. It applies linear logic to an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world. And it ensures that only solutions to overcoming challenges that pass the internal alignment test make it through to the boardroom. This results in predetermined strategies and solutions to yesterday’s problems.

Source: Born Ugly – The problem with linear problem-solving

Source: Born Ugly – The problem with linear problem-solving

Barriers to dealing with change

According to a recent report by Born Ugly, the top four barriers C-suite leaders cite to dealing with change are a lack of innovative thinking; a tendency to do what has been done before; siloed ways of working; and internal politics. Moreover, nearly half said their business-stance was either ‘reactive’ or that they didn’t know if their business was either reactive or proactive.

Whilst on the surface, this may not seem like a huge problem, the implication of this approach is that many businesses and brands are effectively flotsam and jetsam on someone else’s sea. It implies a rudderlessness that leads to reactionary tactics and short-termist firefighting. And as the waves continue to crash in, reactiveness leads to defensiveness and ultimately to decline.

Clarity of vision

Reactiveness is an indicator of a lack of strategy, an ambitious vision or a clear mission. However, nearly half of the C-suite leaders we interviewed acknowledged a clear vision, mission and values would enable them to successfully overcome the challenges they face.

This seemingly benign statistic belies a worrying insight, however. It suggests that more than half of C-suite leaders either don’t understand (or have lost belief) in the importance of leading their brand into the future. Moreover, it suggests they have misunderstood that employees and customers in today’s post-purpose world are more values-driven than ever before. They are increasingly looking towards brands rather than governments to solve the world’s existential challenges with authenticity and transparency. And, lastly, it suggests they have lost sight of the value of empowerment to drive their brand forward, encouraging confidence, trust, understanding, creativity and accepting risk.

Injecting creativity into the problem-solving process

As the Cheshire Cat once said to Alice, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will lead you there…” So, how do you develop an enduring direction that gets ahead of change?

Firstly, it is reviving a nineteenth-century leadership principle called Auftragstaktik – or mission intent – developed by the Prussians after their severe defeat by Napoleon in 1806. Rooted in a clear definition of a mission-intent framework, it empowers those on the ground to act on their own view of the situation without having to conform or wait for orders. This enables individual creativity and commitment to success.

Southwest Airlines has adopted this approach with repeated success. Rooted in a strong understanding of its brand and empowered by the individual pride of its employees, it encourages its people to solve challenges creatively and independently.

This approach builds on a strongly defined brand, a belief in the competence of the team, mutual trust, a shared understanding of values and intent, discipline, and an acceptance of risk.

Secondly, injecting creativity into the business or brand problem-solving process. Creativity is the habit of doing things in new ways to make a positive difference in our lives. And creative problem solving is a process that solves complex problems in unconventional ways. Done well, it can help businesses and brands to get ahead of change before it happens to them.

Creative problem solving can generate multiple positive outcomes. It applies human-centred thinking and uses unconventional inputs, diversity of thought and adaptable problem-solving processes, to allow for a broad exploration of open-ended, sometimes seemingly implausible solutions. Brands can rise above the noise in their market and venture into new or reframed territories, defining their place in the world, rather than their world.

It challenges generally accepted assumptions to inspire new, unexpected and innovative ideas and solutions to complex challenges. However, it reserves judgement of ideas until later in the process. Exploring diverse perspectives fosters new thinking, unconventional thinking and creativity.

A clear understanding of the change you want to make in the world and adopting creative problem solving can flip conformist corporate tendencies towards elevating more ‘out there’ voices in your organisation which can lead to the birth of more audacious and transformative ideas.

When these ideas are carefully nurtured into fully-fledged, well-considered solutions, they unlock opportunities that help brands get ahead of change. Doing so can turn the destructive drudge of battling tides into the inspiring opportunity to make waves.