Symptoms: “That’s not how we do things around here,” “it works just fine,” “we tried that years ago and it didn’t work.” Let’s perpetuate what worked last year. That’s why we have org charts – so no one runs off the deep end and spends money on anything that wasn’t approved by “corporate.” “The boss will never go for that; besides, it doesn’t seem practical or necessary.” Let’s institutionalize initial metrics and insist that any innovation achieves its proper margin, order size or net price or be abandoned – regardless of shifting market demands or potential future growth.The finance department must review all proposals concerning new products, distributors, manufacturing processes, or market entries and comment on whether they meet internal gross margin, net margin, risk-adjusted ROI, challenging anything outside of the most common historical practices. “General council’s office must review any and all of our corporate tweets;” I actually heard this one from a client company!

The marketing department tightly controls what products or services can carry the company’s brand name, and resists selling through new distribution channels, such as direct to consumers, for fear of upsetting old distribution lines.

Diagnosis: Stop others from trying anything new; don’t rock the boat; if it isn’t broken, leave it alone; it’s not your problem. Protect old norms at all costs. Avoid venturing into new products or distribution channels regardless of what’s happening in the market.

In short, Status Quo is a killer disease, suffocating a fragile ecosystem and depriving it of fresh ideas, energetic new blood in key roles, air to circulate the constantly recycled stuff everyone’s been breathing for the past 100 years, and sunshine to shed new light on the dark corners of the office we just don’t talk about.

Examples: Microsoft’s commitment to PC technology has helped it lose market share in smart phones, delayed its entry into the much anticipated and growth-oriented tablet business, and left it in the cold with living room hubs (what Xbox is desperately trying to become).

AT&T and its bureaucratic structure was so dedicated to the sale of its landline long-distance services, that it ignored such players as Skype, fixed price wireless, and technologies such as VoIP. While revenue growth and profits disappeared, AT&T approached bankruptcy and was acquired by Southwestern Bell.

Motorola avoided smartphones (as too small of a business and niche oriented, even with higher margins), and instead stayed on course with sales of regular phones and pagers (anyone remember those?)

Digital Equipment (DEC) and SiliconGraphics (SGI) banked their business on proprietary, expensive technologies in computer-aided design and manufacturing software; both companies’ stubbornness and dismal, visionless leadership drove them into the ground.

Treatment: Such destructive norms couldn’t be sustained if it weren’t for the “get along, go along” status quo pushers. Like ruthless meth dealers at dodgy, dark, stranded street corners, their job ensures that the historical ways of doing business are not disturbed. Their intent has seldom enhanced or elevated business results; to the contrary, it’s made sure that the organization stays with the tried and true, regardless of the results. They assume the results will be fine if the status quo continues.

The treatment is one of a process, and not a system. It is Relationship Centric Innovation! Think of this process as an evolution if you can:

  • Create a Spark;
  • Fan the Flames; and
  • Fuel the Fire!

Create a spark by hiring the extraordinary – thinkers, doers, and status quo busters. Look in their pasts for signs of relationship-centric approaches in how they’ve learned new skills, accomplished key goals and objectives, and have moved the needle of those who mattered. If you’re in a mature industry or business, hire young, wild guns for their energy, enthusiasm, and (shocker) new perspective in looking at the same, old business.

Fan the flames by creating formal and informal mentoring teams both within as well as external to the organization. Don’t send your top performers to some stale, pre-historic, death by case-study education weekends. Send them to IDEO, Apple, Starbucks, or Amazon.com for a week – to observe, ask compelling questions, and internalize why you do some of the things you do; force them to create their own case studies. Ask them to come back with 10 ideas, build compelling pilot cases around those, and present the top 3 ideas that will put your company out of business IF you don’t pursue them, to an executive champion AND a board member (to bypass the corporate filtering).

Fuel the fire by asking people to spend 10-20% of their time on new ideas with their strategic relationships, and hold them accountable for cannibalizing the current products, services, or thinking – consistently. Fund new pilot campaigns, promote real innovators for more interesting projects with less bureaucracy not more, and ask high performers to create their own corporate ladder. Stand back in amazement at how often they may surprise you! Build strategic relationship ideation off-site sessions into the annual calendar. When you do have a chance to get disparate parts of the organization together, create intentional opportunities for them to mind map how to do things differently (real innovation) vs. just better than last year (incrementalism).

Status quo cannot be taken lightly. It’s a killer disease as evident by countless high profile individuals and organizations left for dead by its silent presence. Don’t let it suck the remaining life out of you or your organization. Fight.

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