As recently as ten years ago, if you wanted to watch a movie that you didn’t own on video or DVD, then that meant taking a trip to Blockbuster. Of course, that company no longer exists today thanks in large part to competition from video-on-demand and streaming services like Netflix, but the final nail in Blockbuster’s coffin was its rigid adherence to the status quo. As Netflix began streaming movies to people’s computers and phones, Blockbuster clung to its brick and mortar model, and the rest of the story–like Blockbuster itself–is history.
Blockbuster should serve as a cautionary tale to companies about the dangers of the status quo. While staying within the realm of what you know and what you’re used to sounds like a safe practice, sticking to the status quo makes companies unadaptable, obsolete, and increasingly vulnerable to competition.
When I work with companies during a restructuring process, their leaders will often explain their operations by saying, “Oh, we’ve always done it this way.” This attitude traps companies on a course that results in stagnation rather than growth. After all, customers and markets change constantly, and if you’re not ready, then sticking with how you’ve always done things means getting left behind. There are countless other excuses why companies never look past their status quo, so it’s vital for businesses to make sure that they aren’t turning their backs on innovation just because it’s not how they’ve operated in the past.
Breaking the cycle of the status quo is hard. When companies consider taking a new approach, it’s difficult for them to see past the high costs and challenges of changes, which disincentivizes adopting a new path. To combat this hesitation, conduct a strategic analysis of your company’s current strategy to identify areas of weakness or vulnerability. If you can get your colleagues to realize that there’s a problem with the way you’ve always done things, then they’ll be more open to changes. There’s also the possibility that people oppose innovation because it jeopardizes their own positions within your company, a problem that can have its roots in the culture of your business. In these cases, emphasize that the success of the organization is more important.
Henry Ford was rumored to have said, “If had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Don’t let your peers tell you that your company has always focused on horses when the first cars are rolling off the assembly line; convince them to look beyond the status quo and embrace innovation as the key to success.