Friday, October 15, 2010

Introduction to the Plan B Philosophy

I live in a Craftsman bungalow built in 1919. The family we bought the house from about 10 years ago had lived there since the early 1940s. Needless to say it needed a bit of work. It turns out that I enjoy doing this type of remodeling, although I had never tackled a challenge like this.

My first project was the bathroom – I had remodeled a bathroom before, so I felt confident that it was within my skill set. Lisa and I picked out the tile, the fixtures and determined the floor plan. Then I tore into the walls. That was surprise number one – in addition to the plaster that I expected, the exterior wall was pure brick, the ceiling was layers of particle board and after my demolition I had a huge pile of rubble on the ground. And I was distraught. This was not what I bargained for. We had a vision of a beautiful bathroom that would begin our restoration of this great house. What I now had was a pile in the middle of the room.

What happened next is illustrative of many activities in our lives – even though most of them do not involve crow bars, hammers and power tools. I called my wife and said, “What do I do now? I don’t think I can put this back together.” Her answer was simple – “What’s the next thing you need to do to put it back together?” In business speak, how can we take the next step forward towards our vision – a beautiful bathroom – even though we encountered circumstances that we had not anticipated originally?

To a large extent, managing and growing a business in today’s world is a lot like my bathroom project. I had the personal skills and competencies to tackle this project. I had demonstrated success in a similar project – a previous bathroom remodel project. Yet that wasn’t enough – I found myself in a place that I hadn’t encountered before and couldn’t figure out the next step. There are surprises around every corner. Some of them are hidden beneath other surprises. Sometimes it feels like you have ripped down the walls and are now sitting with a pile of rubble in the middle of the room. What you do next as a leader is the most important thing. Some people call it adaptability or flexibility. Although these are components of success in today’s world, I think there are more than just those traits. I think it takes an entire way of thinking – something I have started to call the Plan B Philosophy.

The level of uncertainty today is greater today than in any other time during most of our lives. Change continues to move at a breakneck pace. In my business, financial services, we continue to get battered by the economy, regulation, new and revitalized competitors, in addition to the normal factors such as leadership, strategy and operational execution. The world is the same for all of our competitors as well – they face the same set of challenges, many of them that are a complete surprise. The question then becomes how do you react to this?

The Plan B Philosophy Blog will begin to propose a set of principles that leaders can use to adapt to changing circumstances. Some of these principles are ones that I have learned through more than a few scars. Some are ideas that my colleagues, associates and friends have demonstrated through their actions – both in the personal and professional world. My hope is that this way of thinking is infectious. There is an old saying that the Chinese character for crisis is made up of the characters for “danger” and the character for “opportunity.” We are clear about the danger in today’s economic environment. My hope for all of us is that we can stay true to our vision and focus on the opportunity.

I intend to post a couple of times per month with my thoughts on the changing business landscape. I welcome your questions, comments and even expressions of hostility. Feel free to pass this on to a colleague if you feel the urge - we could all use more adaptability, regardless of our role, industry or business.

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