Godin on Organizational Resilience

If you’re not listening to Seth Godin’s Akimbo, you’re missing some of the best material available on leadership, marketing, creativity, etc.  Every week, this is the most brilliant stuff on the internet.

Godin recently dropped an episode on organizational resilience, “Supple.”  Church leaders and ministry leaders can learn a great deal from this episode.  My summary:

The question is, “What will you do when the world changes?

How does your organization face change?  The one thing that is certain is that the world will change, and it will change faster than you expect.  You can be supple–and try to adjust–or you can be brittle, and change will break you.

Being supple, resilience, is a choice, an outlook, a way we can choose to plan our future.  Look at the example of Lucille Ball: she wasn’t the prettiest actress, etc., but over her career, when change came to the entertainment industry, she adapted.  She didn’t insist that things stay the way they were.

And by this strategy, she became the biggest star on TV, then the first woman to run a major Hollywood studio.  She became the mother of Star Trek and Mission Impossible.  Not everything she did was a stunning success, but enough of the things she tried connected, and she became a monumental figure in the industry.

Seven elements that lead to organizational resilience:

FIRST: scale.  The bigger you get, the harder it is to change what you do.  The harder it is to adjust to changing circumstances.  It’s not bad to be big, but this is one of the tradeoffs; big costs you the ability to change quickly.

SECOND a simple rule about money: DON’T RUN OUT.  It’s easier to be resilient when your scale and cash on hand fit one another.  Long-lived organizations live within their means, and maintain reserves to adjust to changes.

THIRD, you have to choose to talk about change.  Organizations often become brittle when the world around them changes; “If we ignore it, it will go away.”  Western Union failed to adjust to the telecom revolution.  AT&T wouldn’t have adjusted if the government hadn’t broken them up.

“Talking about the pressures and the shifts is the only way to evolve our thinking, and discover the new places we ought to be going.”

Microsoft ignored the internet until Bill Gates’s famous “Tidal Wave” memo to all senior staff, and was two years too late to capitalize on the opportunities that were theirs for the taking in 1993.  Just think: if Microsoft, with the resources they had in 1993, had focused all their energies on building the first browser, e-commerce, the first search engine, the first online document platforms, etc.; the world would look very different today.

FOURTH, mindfulness.  Do we want to push against the changing circumstances that effect us or do we accept them and “dance with it.”  Do we adjust?  “To deny, or to adapt?  THAT is the question.” Godin: “The world doesn’t change more slowly when you fight against it.”

FIFTH, resilience / suppleness is a choice.  If we bet that the world is going to change, we will usually be right.

SIXTH, be biased toward experimentation.  Try new things.  The things that work with the environment of the moment will be successful.  Don’t fall prey to the temptation to never be wrong; you have to try new things and be willing to let them fail and try something else.

He imagines an interview with Lucille Ball in 1939, when she was just starting: “You’re not the prettiest actress.  You’re not going to be cast in Gone with the Wind.  How will you succeed?”

Her answer would be, “I’m scrappy, and I’m going to keep trying things until I figure out what works.”  And she DID figure it out, didn’t she?

SEVENTH, how fast are your cycles?  For churches, this may need some thought; perhaps a quick read of Godin’s The Dip (itself a quick read) would be helpful.  I think that the question is how long you have to work at a project to know if it is succeeding.

If you’re a school, your cycles follow the calendar.

At BIZG, we know every year that we will roll out new things in October and March; that’s the European school calendar, or at least the calendar in Croatia.  That gives our work a certain rhythm.  It also tells us when we need to assess the new things, and how much time we have to make improvements.

  • October is when new things begin.
  • September is always the time for final preparations.
  • Everyone (the entire country) takes the month of August off.
  • May, June, and July are the time to organize new things.
  • March is when new things begin, but a smaller set than October.
  • February is the time for a smaller set of final preparations, almost always begun in the fall.

See the rhythm?  Those are our cycles.

So, thinking through this for my organization:

What do we do?  Biblijski institut promotes biblical Christianity by teaching people how to read, understand, and apply the Bible.  We do this because we believe that the Bible has answers that people need, no matter who they are.

Church leaders, mature Christians, baby Christians, spiritual seekers, everyone can benefit from reading and understanding the Bible and applying it to their lives.

Our mission is to promote biblical Christianity through education, networking, and service.  We want to see the churches of Croatia thrive.

What are the circumstances around what we do that will never change?  (There may not be many, but there will be a few.)  For us, the things I expect to never change are that Christians will always need to understand the Bible, and will always want to know it better.  Not ALL Christians, not every person, but enough to make our work worthwhile; “the smallest feasible audience”, as Godin calls them.

What circumstances should we expect to change? 

How will we adjust to those changes?

Back to Seth Godin:

His closing quote from the podcast is golden.  After describing his work as an author, which has seen him publish books in every imaginable format, Godin says, “Don’t fall in love with the medium.  Fall in love with the mission.”

The medium (the HOW) may not be portable, you may be forced to change tactics and techniques as circumstances change.  But the mission is portable; you can pursue the mission in all sorts of circumstances.

Don’t fall in love with the medium.  Fall in love with the mission.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s