It’s TunesDay, and today’s story has been a half century in the making. It was 50 years ago this week that The Beatles were on The Ed Sullivan Show and the world changed. For those of you who were watching that night (as I was), you know that’s not hyperbole. It seems kind of quaint now, but here is how that change began:
We’d lost a president a few months before. America was sort of depressed. Four young men from Liverpool brought us out of our funk and showed the world that performers could also write their own material (something not very common in pop music to that point). They were just as impactful off the stage. Their press conferences were filled with laughs but also with pointed jabs at authority, setting the tone for the tumult of the next decade. 50 years ago, the revolution began with pointy boots and a smiling drummer. Which is, of course something we need to remember in business.
Everything began to change that February night and yet very few businesses were prepared. How would you like to have been a barber shop and seen those haircuts (or lack thereof)? The record business was one of singles. Albums were a couple of hit singles and a LOT of filler material. The Beatles made the entirety of an album important. Putting aside that almost every cut became a hit, three years later Sgt. Pepper set a new artistic standard that changed the business. The cultural changes came faster. Everyone knows someone who saw that broadcast and picked up a guitar – you’re reading someone who did so now. Their talent was enormous but subtle and it was easy to think “I can do that.” Sort of how digital business is 50 years later.
As business people our radar needs to be extremely sensitive to change. When that radar goes off we need to ask a great number of “what if” questions and pay attention to how things are progressing. The first PC’s were met with shrugged shoulders. 25 years later the PC in our pocket is more powerful than the computers that took man to the moon. Facebook is 10 years old and there wasn’t a “social media marketing” requirement many businesses are just learning to fulfill now.
I know – the only constant is change. True enough, and it’s rare when that change happens very loudly and clearly on a winter’s night with drums and guitars. It hasn’t been quite as obvious since then and won’t be the next time either. Are you listening closely enough to hear it?
Let’s start with a truism: things change. Sometimes those changes are about how we behave; sometimes those changes are about how others react to behavior we’ve been manifesting all along. Either way, if we’re not cognizant about the change and fail to act accordingly, trouble generally follows. Let me explain why this is on my mind this morning.
You might have seen the video of the Rutgers basketball coach interacting with his team at practice. He’s yelling at the kids as well as grabbing them, shoving them to move them around the court, and even throwing basketballs at them. Was I shocked by this? Not in the least, since I played organized sports growing up, basketball among them. I had a third base coach in baseball literally kick me down the baseline in the heat of a game. I had a lacrosse coach who was bigger than many of us and would engage us in hitting drills at full speed. The basketball coaches had a kid stand next to a wall with his hands up for a long time to teach him, well, to keep his hands up, and ran us until some kids threw up. I’ve got stories from other sports as well, and I don’t think I ever had a coach in any sport on any team who didn’t spend a fair amount of time yelling at us.
Did I feel abused? No. Did any of the other guys? No. Did the parents who might come by the beginning or end of practice go to the school to have the coach fired? Not to my knowledge. But things change. That’s not a knock on where athletes and their parents are today. It’s a recognition that as a society we don’t expect what might seem to be physical or verbal abuse from adults we put in charge of our young people. If you’re a coach and you don’t understand that change, you end up on the news as an example of a bad apple.
The same applies to your business. Calling your female assistant “honey” gets you fired. When I started in business it got you coffee. There are many examples but you get the point. Many of us were spanked as kids – do that now and you might go to jail. Things change, and you need to change with them.
I was watching the hockey playoffs last night and had a thought about business. You might not find that strange given that for several years of my life hockey WAS my business. However, what occurred to me has both broader application and a less-obvious path. It has to do with obstruction.
Getty Images via @daylife
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, obstruction (and its cousins hooking and holding) is what players do to decrease the flow of the game. An easy way to think of it is as a player preventing another player who doesn’t have the puck from skating, obstructing their ability to play. Almost a decade ago, the NHL cracked down on the practice by enforcing the existing rules against it in an effort to improve the flow of the game and allow the more skilled players to show those skills. As one might expect, teams adjusted their rosters over the years to emphasize great skating and stick-handling over the clutching and grabbing that was so prevalent .
Watching the game last night, I was struck by how little free-flowing skating was going on. Many of the other games I’ve watched during the season have seemed the same. The rules, or at least their enforcement, seem to have changed. Which is the business thought.
If you’ve built your team to play the game a certain way and the rules change, how do you compete? If you’re a media company that’s built on ad revenue for eyeballs, what do you do when the audiences you’re selling evaporate to other channels? If you’re selling SEO, what happens when the algorithms change and everything you do is now wrong? Even if you’re in online commerce, what do you do with inventory when tastes change?
Ultimately, I think our success and failure revolves around change management – what happens when the rule book gets modified. We need to be thinking about that as we bring on new hires – how well have they dealt with change in the past? We need to maintain flexibility in our planning – why spend money to a budget that’s based on old rules?
I’m sure it’s frustrating to the coaches and managers when they find a different set of rules on the ice than in the rule book. I know it’s frustrating to find a different set of business conditions and consumer preferences. What do you do when the rules change?
The critic Anatole Broyard once opined that
The epic implications of being human end in more than this: We start our lives as if they were momentous stories, with a beginning, a middle and an appropriate end, only to find that they are mostly middles.
Today is one of those days that isn’t. – Please keep reading >
The Open Championship begins at Royal Birkdale today. Whilst we call it The British Open over here, for the last almost 150 years, it has been the premiere test of golf worldwide. Is that because of the courses, which generally have few trees and not a lot of water? No, I don’t think so. Really, it’s such a great test because of the ever-changing conditions. Teeing off, it may be sunny and warm. By the turn, it can be in the 50’s and rainy. The wind may come up – gale force winds at that – and just as quickly go away.
This morning, the conditions there are terrible. Rain. Wind. Chilly. Two golfers – each of whom has won a major championship before – quit at the turn because their scores were so bad they couldn’t take it any more. Now THAT’S a test!
How equipped are you and your company to deal with changing conditions? What happens when things turn to..um…British Open weather? I’ve found that many folks are not ready – they’ve packed for sunny and warm and have neither a plan nor the resources to deal with the change.
Thinking you can hit a 7-iron on the 165 yard hole today because you did so yesterday never works in golf. The wind, the heat, the humidity, your mindset – all have an effect on how you hit the ball and how far it carries. If you don’t pay attention to the changing conditions and have a plan to deal with them, you’re pretty much never going to win, no matter if it’s golf or business.