Win or avoid losing?

Do you want to win or not lose? A perspective on transformations.

** How can leaders in companies maintain proven quality when their ingredients (technologies, buyer behaviour, working environments or cooperation models) are constantly changing? By questioning their expectations.**

“If I don’t lose, the other guy can’t win.” Boris Becker is said to have once described his game tactics with these words. Whether you face challenges as either a “winner” or a “non-loser” influences your willingness to make mistakes. And if you stick rigidly to one of the two roles, you will sometimes make the wrong mistakes and miss opportunities.

If you don’t want to lose, you will not allow mistakes, control more and rely on the tried and tested. Anything else is negligent. You try to anticipate potential stumbling blocks or delicate situations. Nothing must escape your attention. Your perspective is selective, focused, narrow.

If you want to win, you look for new ways. You are curious, you question. Even if you proceed cautiously, you accept undesirable results. Your perspective is wide and open. This allows you to keep an eye on your goal and to switch to other paths should you ever get stuck - vividly illustrated by the so-called “slow elevator problem” (Source: Wedell-Wedellsborg; T.: What’s your problem? (2020)):

The owner of a commercial property is confronted with complaints from tenants that the lift is too slow. He looks for solutions (increase speed, increase capacity, form tenant clusters to create more “carpools”, …). All of them involve enormous effort. At lunch, he talks to a colleague, a facility manager, about his problem and that he has not yet found a workable solution. The colleague says that the real problem is not the lift, but the individual waiting time. A simple solution would be to install mirrors in the waiting area. Nothing attracts the attention of the waiting passengers like their own reflection.

While individual athletes choose one or the other role depending on their level of play, training and possibilities, this decision is more complex for leaders. This is because the decisive individual events are interwoven, interact (opaquely) with each other and cannot be isolated. The simple decision logic “if X, then Y” does not apply.

Read transformations.

However, despite the best preparation, transformations constantly give birth to such opaque situations. They often trigger intense emotional reactions. Their mostly unknown interactions with surrounding systems make transformations unpredictable, ambiguous and surprising phenomena that challenge leaders in many different ways (source: Duck, J.: The Change Monster (2002)). As leaders, you should fulfil both roles (simultaneously, equally): Taking risks AND avoiding mistakes.

Now you may object that some people tend to see a glass half empty and others a glass half full. This is linked to their personality. Just because this reasoning is excellent for avoiding important leadership challenges, it does not make it any more true. Optimism and pessimism are learned interpretations and not hard-wired into the DNA. They can therefore be specifically changed (source: Seligman, M.: Learned Optimism (2006)). In other words: We can all learn both roles and behave appropriately in unpredictable events during transformations.

Digression: 2 wolves

A grandfather tells his niece about the two wolves that live in each person’s chest. One wolf is aggressive, opinionated and self-centred. The other wolf is friendly, open and helpful. When the girl asked which wolf would win, the grandfather said: “The one you feed.”

And which one do you feed?

Type A and B transformations

Transformations can basically be divided into two types: Transformation type A solves a old problem in a new way (to reposition today’s business to maximize its resilience); transformation type B solves a new (but related) problem in a new (but related) way (to create a new growth machine).

Source: Anthony, S.; Gilbert, C.; Johnson, M.: Dual Transformation (2017).

A company can either change what it does or how it does it - or combinations thereof. Since the two types present companies with different challenges, it is important to distinguish them neatly, not to confuse or even mix them up. As a rule, the requirements of type A transformations dominate those of type B, because they seem simpler, more logical and less dangerous - they are thus ideally suited to “not losing” and therefore tend to enjoy a larger following. For this very reason, type B transformations should be supported with their own resources and ideally be assigned to a separate team that practices the role of the “winner”.

Transformation culture?

Interestingly, it is less important that you make the right decisions in transformations (that would also be clairvoyant given their unpredictability) than that you create a culture that supports transformations, promotes both the role of the “winners” and the role of the “non-losers” and demands them with appropriate expectations in each case. This is the conclusion of a study (source: Berry; C.; Fowler, A.: Leadership or luck? (2021)) on the correlation between CEO decisions and the share price performance of the companies in which they work: The influence of CEOs is only marginal. Insight: Decide what you can and must decide. However, make sure that you shape a culture in which transformations are supported.

Conclusion: So ask yourself about transformations: What type do they correspond to? Do you and others take on the appropriate roles? And are goal-oriented expectations formulated? Because if not, disappointment and frustration are pre-programmed, results are not achieved and opportunities are missed. The wrong mistakes are made and then “not losing” becomes the core programme. The balance between consistency and dynamism shifts to the detriment of dynamism. A culture of error avoidance establishes itself.

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