Sunday, July 5, 2009

None so blind as those that refuse to see

Recently I heard a television broadcaster pose a question. Will soccer become a bigger sport in Australia than Aussie Rules? My colleague, with me at the time, a true-blue Victorian, scoffed and said it will never happen. My response was to suggest her very response indicated it would happen.

Our choice of language is important. When we say it will never happen we may be opening the door to allow it to happen. Leaving aside the greater global popularity of soccer, the opportunities for players to represent their country, to play in almost any country in the world, to earn greater income, for television studios to demand higher advertising rates and provide greater sponsorship, for parents (and players) to avoid lifelong complications from a variety of horrendous injuries and the list goes on. In saying, 'it will never happen' we are closing our minds to the possibility it may happen and preventing ourselves from implementing flexible strategies designed to ensure sustainability.

How often do we say the words, 'it will never happen'? How often to we use these words to defend past ways of doing things? Part of our rationale is our fear of the unknown. We prefer to work with what we know rather than what we don't know. That doesn't mean we shouldn't take the time to discover what we don't know, in doing so the unknown becomes known, the future becomes clearer, our fears reduce and we move forward.

An army patrol has three options. The first is to sit and do nothing. The second is to send the entire patrol out at the same time, side by side, in a line and the third is to send out a couple of scouts to survey the approaching environment. If they elect to do nothing everyone will die. If they elect to walk shoulder to shoulder the majority will die. When they send out a scouting party, one or two or even maybe none, will die.

If you sit and do nothing then the future envelopes you to become the present and very soon you become the past. If you rush blindly into the future without taking time to gather information then you are gambling on survival - heads or toes. When we take the time to survey the future, gather information, blend it with past and create a new future, we adapt and the majority of us survive.

My colleagues approach to the question on the rise of soccer over Aussie Rules was to dismiss the possibility out of hand; in doing so took the sit and wait approach. If my colleagues perspective were representative of the majority of Victorians, then Aussie Rules may become a minority sport in time.

How do you avoid the 'sit and wait' approach at work? Firstly acknowledge the future will be different to the present. Nothing stays the same. Consider nursing, arguably the second oldest profession in the world, look at how it has evolved since the days of Florence Nightingale! I am sure many old-school nurses would prefer the profession to have remained as it was. Had it done so, how successful would hospitals be at attracting high quality people, today?

Take time to explore and ask 'what if' or 'how can we do this better'? In doing so you are intuitively exploring the changing needs of your customers and consumers. You are adapting.

I am certain Andrew Demetriou, CEO of the Australian Football League believes soccer could be bigger than Aussie Rules, if he and his executive team were to allow it to happen. I am equally sure they do not intend to sit and do nothing. The executive team of the AFL owe to their army of stakeholders and supporters to be aware of the the emerging environment and to prepare accordingly. As a member of the management team in your organisation you owe it to your stakeholders to do the same.

My question for you, this fine Sunday morning, is this. Is your management team hunkered down in a foxhole, content with present, believing it can survive a firestorm or have you sent out the scouts, to survey the emerging environment and to provide you with information to enable your organisation to operate in a sustainable manner?

If you are a manager in a public hospital perhaps I could pose the question to you in another way. Could the health system in Australia and New Zealand become a privatised system similar to that of the United States?

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

John Coxon & Associates
Taking You from Frontline Manager to CEO
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