Ticket to Paradise. A conversation with Dr. Max Mckeown

Paradise Island - a place where businesses thrive and grow irrespective of outside conditions

Paradise Island - a place where businesses thrive and grow irrespective of outside conditions

Dr. Max Mckeown has written a number of books based around change, development and leadership including Unshrink, Adaptation, The Strategy Book, The Innovation Book and most recently, Now. I had a fascinating chat with him about his view of leadership, change, and innovation. 

Max, the industrial print community has the challenge of disrupting traditional production and cultures – this is hard, why do people resist new ideas despite all of the evidence that they should change?

Some of these people don’t want any change at all as it is inconvenient as they spend their lives focusing on stability.

However, stability is an illusion as what you think can be counted on cannot be counted upon.

The same goes with efficiency. This doesn’t protect your future. The most efficient way to cope with market changing is actually by being inefficient. The danger, when you over focus on something that will not last forever, is you become redundant. Frankly, nothing will last forever, and in order to endure, you will need to take a risk.

Can you develop new value without taking a risk?

If you waited to find out which platform was the most effective before investing, then you will have difficulty. For example, twitters best years are behind it. You could have been waiting to enter with the right idea or investment only to discover you have missed it. You will have then waited for two years ramping up and completely missed the boat. This isn’t sensible.

Do you think product life cycles are shorter these days?

Yes, it was ever thus. I think the key to success is being able to successfully adapt. Therefore failure in my view is the failure to adapt. Look at organisms, the human race, and organisations. They all succeed if they are well adapted to their environment. You could argue that humans are a little bit different, as we deliberately adapt sometimes, or change our environments to meet our particular personality or abilities –but the same overall adaptive logic applies.

How can a market, culture or environment change?  

If you change the components and how they are linked, you change a particular environment. For example, if the number of players involved in the competitive environment increases, you will have a huge potential for faster change.

For any company, I believe you will get a greater change if someone is able to create something truly different.

In any market, the more people that find a better way will create change. Then there may be someone copying what you do, so then you may end up competing with margins. These are two pressures for change, the third is where people are driven by curiosity to change by creating a new way of doing things. It is unpredictable as often these people are not the conventional types so the disruption seems to come out of nowhere and totally disrupt an industry.

For example, people didn’t create the internet to disrupt the printing industry. Yet it has. This is inadvertent change. The internet then increases the number of people in play and people keep changing and developing and this changes the culture we operate in, our 'modus operandi' if you like.

This is the basic human nature of curiosity and necessity and the nature of the environment. If you start to compare to how it used to be, there always has been a lot of change – but now it appears to be changing faster as it the change is harder to ignore as our world has gotten smaller.

Do you have any systems or models to help organisation’s understand their challenges and what they may need to do to equip themselves for the future?

We use the 3 island system and it helps analyse where your product or business may be in order to help clear a path for the future.

Bloody Island

On bloody island, everyone can do the same stuff and it is completely obvious what everyone is trying to accomplish. This is usually the biggest island as everyone is playing on it. Eventually, the waves overcome it, so you have to compete with everyone, or you get swept away.

Beautiful Island

On beautiful island, you create something unique thing that separates you from the stuff the on bloody island. However, what you are doing remains pretty obvious. So bloody Islanders will copy what you do so your unique pass will be revoked eventually and you will be drawn back to the bloody island.

Paradise Island

On Paradise Island, you will have achieved your place here because there is something you do which is unique, and this is something that most, if not all of your competitors really do not understand. This may be a particular technical advantage you have, but more often than not it is your culture. The principles which you use to operate your values – your competitors just don’t get them, but your customers really appreciate these aspects of what you do.

I’ll give you an example. Most airlines treat their customers in an appalling way and don’t make any money. Commercially, they are always close to disaster. The recent example where United Airlines threw customers off of an aircraft, really underlines this.

United Airlines people react in a predictable way based on the culture they operate in. United simply don’t care about their employees, and they care first and foremost about the rules. Therefore they shaft the customer and treat them badly. When a plane is delayed, customers have to sit around for 24 hours without any compensation, or duty of care. Yet if a customer is 5 minutes late, they will not help you out as this is how they operate and it doesn’t really work. This is all bloody island stuff.

Max has developed a unique and engaging speaking style including cartooning as he goes

Max has developed a unique and engaging speaking style including cartooning as he goes

In contrast, you get South West Airlines with the same basic equipment. They make a good profit every year, and their employees are really happy. They do whatever makes sense in their heart and what feels right. I read a recent story about them turning a plane back as they realised someone was in trouble on the flight. This is a commercial and logistical inconvenience, to say the least, but they did it as their heart told them this was the right thing to do. It’s a simple thing, yet the competition (United) doesn’t copy it as on bloody island they just don’t get it as their culture is at odds with it.

Another great example of a company on Paradise Island is Amazon. They are constantly trying new ideas out. They will immediately invest in long-term projects. And they have grown and their competitors the on bloody island, like Kmart and Borders bookstores are virtually dead as they don’t have this culture of playfulness. These competitors say things like ‘it is OK for them, as they are just a special case’ as opposed to following it, adapting and so on.

Take Amazon one hour delivery for example. Bloody islanders think it is crazy. Amazon will also reduce cost on their services and their competition doesn’t understand why they do it – they will sacrifice profit to invest in new ideas and this constantly enhances the customer experience.

Knowing where you are on any of these islands is really important. It helps you clarify what you need to do for the future, and most importantly now.

So how do you get to Paradise Island?

We deploy a model called the ‘RUN LOOP’. It focuses on adaptability. The run loop is straight forward to understand but sophisticated to put together – but underpinning this all is the need for you to recognise your need to adapt.

The principle is in three steps: Understanding the adaptation required, understanding the necessary adaptation, and then making the necessary adaptation. The goal is fast learning.

So what will happen if I don’t adapt and what if I do?

This is a key question. But either way, you must take the next step to understand the nature of the adaptation you require.

What do we need to understand - that we do not understand?

Move yourself towards exploration with an open mind. And if you are really serious, you must do your homework. It is amazing how many people simply do not do their basic homework, so they lack the necessary information to know how or why to adapt in a particular way. Information is vital.  People do not use the wonderful technology that we all have at our fingertips.

The run loop will help, but if you deliberately create an open collaborative culture that is ‘nowist’ you will seek out ideas and get on with it even if you are disappointed and even if it is difficult.

How can you find the key ingredients for success that will allow you to make it to Paradise Island?

I think you need to start by asking yourself ‘how are we always there for people’? How can we build it in so it is always true and it is really important?

Think about me – I can blend academic insight, presenting and my cartoon drawing in a live environment. Making my presentations different has enabled me to work with groups in an entertaining and useful way. This is unique. This is what sets me aside as different. I have focused on this and made this my ‘thing’.  The important thing is -  do not let methodologies bore you to death or slow you down.

Corporates will employ methodologies. For example, six sigma.Companies pretend this is the same as adaptability. Your strategy should not be a document and innovation is not a creativity skills training session – it is something you do, and something you understand.

An example I often mention is a hairdressers salon I know of in Scotland called Elan Hair Design. This hairdressers were a normal bloody island hairdressing salon until the daughter of the owner thought that they should do more recycling at home. They then looked at their salon and the daughter said they are not green enough – then they followed this focus on sustainability – started slowly then followed this white rabbit then started doing less obvious things and found a way to reuse hair to turn into energy then created a patent – then knocked down their salon and built another one – now they have a windmill and are carbon neutral and this is all excitement and following the passion through and suddenly it is not scary – innovation, technology, and new ideas become your friends as opposed to an enemy. How do we nurture new ideas? We need to see new ideas as friends, not enemies.

You know when an organisation is in trouble when they start quoting what happened before. In any discussion, if this happens then you're in trouble. People will throw out red herrings – and when people throw up blocks, then we call it mad.

Their behaviour tends to follow like this:

  • Minimise signals related to change
  • Attack anyone who mentions it
  • Deny it is happening anyway

So is it a misnomer to believe that people like change?

If it is good change people like it. For example, if you reduce your bills, it really doesn’t take long to adapt to that, because it is nice.

This is important – when leaders think people are resistant – this often means they stop communicating and start to listen to people about the draw backs of the new idea.

Change can be good or bad.  To get to Paradise Island quicker you start to be creative about the change being good rather than blocking anything that begins with change.

When you are trying to change then it's useful to recognise that you tend to get two types of people and these will be people within your organisation.

We call them La-Las and Ha-has.

La-las are Low ambition. Low adaptability. They either cannot or they refuse to change

Hahas are high adaptability and high achieving. They see that change can be good.

When you can see this then it empowers yourself and quickly you can see change and be good

It is the ‘nowist’ stuff.

What do you mean by the term ‘Nowist'?

It is the life changing psychology of always moving forward – turning pressure into pleasure – the belief that these stresses placed on us are not necessarily bad or good but the question is the response you have to them how you transform the thing and how you turn it into a positive.

People often say that a bad thing (change) has transformed them positively, by saying things like, 'I wish it had never happened but some great things have happened as a result' afterward.

How do you shape a better future? And what does that take? For that, you need strategic thinking, adaptability, innovation and nowist psychology.'

www.maxmckeown.com