I am going to tell you two stories in this blog, two stories that perfectly explain how a business might survive the coming disruption. It is the nature of the universe that things grow and die, and so by default, if your business is not embracing change, growing and preparing for development, it is dying. Standing still is no longer either an option or a business strategy. Disruption is all around us, and you don’t know how and when your business will be next affected, which is why we call it DISRUPTION. Otherwise it would be called Predictive Change!
The Legend of Corrin Hill
So, to our first story. I told this recently to a friend as we stood on the summit of Corrin Hill, a small inland hill in the South of Ireland. An easy climb, at its top lies the ruins of an impressive Bronze Age cairn (stone mound). Tons of stone lie scattered on the summit of this windswept hill, once a burial chamber for some serious VIPs 3000 years ago. In the 19th century, masons taking stone for a nearby building project found two pottery urns deep in the cairn and broke one open, expecting to find untold treasures. They found ashes. What happened the other urn remains a mystery to this day.
For years, stories and legends have been told of what this large scattered pile of stones might be. While the burial chamber is the archaeological answer, my favourite is another legend (the Irish have always been good at weaving a story around a few bare facts. Jameson also helps).
The story goes that long ago, one of the Irish High Kings was blessed with his first son and heir. However, the King’s joy was short-lived when a local wise-woman foretold that the boy would drown before ever seeing adulthood. Naturally the King was devastated with this news and set out to defy the foretelling. He sent out his men to look for the highest peak in his kingdom “whereupon not a drop of water can be seen”. Standing on Corrin Hill today, you still have a 360-degree view around the rolling green hills. There is not a glimmer of a lake, river or stream, and the sea is a good 70 miles away. This was the site on which he decided to build his castle, to protect his son from his dark future.
A Predictable End
For many years, masons quarried stone and drew it to the top of this hill in preparation for the build. When finally ready to begin, the King visited the hill with his wife and now 5-year old son. He walked the perimeter, deep in conversation with the master builder, scanning the horizon to make sure he could see no water. Suddenly he was aware that his son was no longer by his side. They called and searched, but to no avail. And then the hill was chilled by the queen’s scream. Her son’s feet were found protruding from a wooden barrel of water. Having never before seen his reflection, he had leaned over with curiosity and fallen straight in. The fore-telling had come about because of a single water barrel so the masons could mix their mortar. The King abandoned the hill, never to build his castle, leaving all the quarried stone heaped here on the hill, where it remains to this day.
It’s a legend of course, completely untrue, but still a great story.
A CEO who fears disruption (or doesn’t prepare or embrace it) is like this King, trying to build a castle to keep out a foretold future. You can argue against it all you like, you can keep repeating “this is the way we do it” as often as you like, but eventually you might find yourself with your legs sticking out of the metaphorical barrel. There is no point in trying to resist the future. It is a far better idea to create it.
The second story is one that this same friend who stood on Corrin Hill with me retells in his own book ‘Rocking Horse Sh*t’
Be A Buffalo
In eastern Colorado, the Kansas plains are one of the few unique places in the world where Buffalo and Cattle live in close proximity. When storms come, they invariably brew from the West and roll across the plains to the East. What is fascinating is how both these animals react to the impending storm.
Cows are not the smartest creatures. I know, as I have had many conversations with them and it is clear there is not much going on upstairs. When the storm is coming, cows do what is natural for most creatures, they run from the danger. As the storm rises in the West over the mountains, the cows run East, as fast as their four legs will take them. The only problem with this is that cows are not overly majestic runners, and of course the storm quickly catches them. And still the cows continue running. So what ends up happening is the cows are now running with the storm, maximising their exposure to the wind and rain, maximising their pain and suffering.
Buffalo react in the exact opposite way. They see the storm and stand their ground. They wait for it to arrive, they don’t run. And just as it breaks, they instinctively stampede into it, heading straight into the danger. While counter-intuitive it results in minimising their time in the storm. As the storm passes over, they emerge out the other side faster, keeping their ‘pain’ to a minimum.
Isn’t that amazing and so simple. What clever Buffalo (although a zoologist once told me that it is probably just a natural reaction to get to the grazing pastures having been just refreshed by the passing rains, and also that Bison have big thick hair on their heads but are quite thin on their behinds, so they always face into wind. But I’m still going to believe they are just incredibly clever. It’s a better story!)
This story is usually told as a Personal Development metaphor, to embrace the things that scare you, to confront them head on and to break-through to the ‘new pastures’ on the other side.
Is your CEO a Bull or a Bison?
However, in business, I see this every day, there are ‘cows’ everywhere. Businesses running from disruption, afraid of the change it brings, thinking they can outrun it. A business model designed 20 years ago will only remain relevant if you embrace the storm. There is no running, no hiding from the needs of your new consumer. To succeed today, to stay relevant, you have to be the Buffalo. There is no place for the fear about an uncertain future. You have to embrace change, embrace opportunity and drive forward. The question is, is your business culture more MOO than a loud aggressive GRUNT.
Think about it. Would you rather a Buffalo or a Cow on your team if you need to get something over the line. The answer should be rather obvious.
Two simple stories that teach us to embrace the future, no matter how uncertain it may seem. As the saying goes…
Ken Hughes is one of the worlds leading Shopper and Consumer Behaviouralists, blending his vast expertise in consumer psychology, social & digital anthropology, behavioural economics and neuromarketing to answer the question to which he has dedicated most of his career: Why do shoppers buy and how can we make them buy more? Click here to read more
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