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Maule: Embrace change before you fall behind

Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

Guy Kawasaki, a former Apple employee, wrote a poignant and poetic article on the lessons he learned from Apple founder Steve Jobs.

“The starting point of changing the world is by changing a few minds. That is the greatest lesson I learned from Steve Jobs.”

I believe the single most important lesson and the legacy that is Steve Jobs is change is not only good, but also necessary. It is frightening and amazing. It is how we continue to evolve, to grow beyond the current shell that is safe and familiar but also limiting.

Change is inherently frightening to people because it challenges people to believe in the unknown, unseen and unproven. It says push away from that safe place on the wall of the pool and get over here in the deep end. It asks us to believe in ourselves in a way that, as a culture, we are reluctant to try.

We applaud those innovators who crack open the shell and bring in the light to shine on needs we didn’t know existed. We declare them brilliant and anoint them geniuses. Oftentimes, they also were fools who took risks that failed. The “losers” we warn our children and colleagues about.

The reality is we are all both winners and losers; brilliant and bozos existing side by side in the same space. Our fear of change often manifesting the loss by missed opportunities or being slaves to predictive and habitual practices of business and relationships. Yet, truly innovative companies understand the power of failure. Google and 3M are among those on the leading edge of innovation in their industries and both allow employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on self-directed projects. The work is the reward. Success and failure adding value to the company, the employee and the process.

Change is hard. Change is scary. But change also is a gift that allows you and your company to imagine the possibilities – to take an offensive posture instead of a defensive posture. While defense will prevent your opponent from advancing, offense is what puts points on the board. You need to score to win. You need to innovate to survive.

Your company will need to change to evolve in an ever-changing competitive landscape and, more importantly, to remain relevant. The beauty of the free-market system is that customer pressure drives innovation and forces the price down. Customer pressure makes diamonds out of coal – to bring our best foot forward.

To create a line of defense against pressures that are moving your company forward is silly. It also is using resources to stay put. The secret is to identify how to harness that same pressure, to use that energy to advance your company rather than to hold a line of defense.

Where do you find your iPod moment? How do you jump the curve and deliver to your customers that which they didn’t know they were missing.

Where is the white space in your industry, market and customer base? How can you reinvent yourself by refreshing your company to meet the needs of your customers? How do you meet the need your customers do not yet know they have?

The starting point of change is truly to change your own mind.

• Mary Margaret Maule is the president of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce.

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