Lately I have been speaking on the topic of the pain of staying the same versus the pain of change. For years, I have been writing and speaking about pain in regard to leadership development and growth in individuals. These particular pains can be traced back to individual leaders and decision makers, but the effects are more dramatic and devastating or rewarding and fruitful. The outcomes depend on the choice of pain you make for your business.
Let’s start with the pain of staying the same. In many ways, this pain is not immediate but comes in delayed form. The real downside to the pain of staying the same is the devastation it can create. Let’s take the case of Sears, originally known as Sears Roebuck and Co. They were originally founded in 1893 and began as a mail-order company. They published a catalog and customers could select items from the catalog list and then delivered by mail to customers. In 1925, in Evansville, Indiana, Sears opened its first brick and mortar retail store. Sears had the largest domestic revenue of any retailer in the United States until 1989, when Wal-Mart displaced it from that position. They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October of 2018.
Somewhere along the line, the leadership and management of Sears made a critical decision. When things began to change in the marketplace and as Sears was becoming more and more irrelevant to shoppers, they made the decision to kick the can on change and tried more of the same. When Wal-Mart came along in the early 70’s with volume strategy and cheap prices, Sears maintained its superior defensive position. They continued to do that when Amazon launched in the late 90’s. Even while losing market share, they maintained a defensive position, when it was obvious to onlookers they needed to go on offense with downsizing brick and mortar locations and invest in online shopping solutions. Now, the pain of staying the same has set in with its devastating effects. The pain of change would have been both painful and difficult, but they opted for a delayed pain of staying the same.
The pain of change has immediate pain. Anytime, you change your thinking, your routine, your approach or believe in a different idea, it’s going to hurt for a bit. Sometimes the pain is from others calling you crazy, delusional, off-kilter or any other number of non-flattering handles. Jeff Bezos was not heralded as a genius when Amazon was an idea in the early 90’s and launched in 1994. In 2015, Amazon passed Wal-Mart in terms of market capitalization and became the most valuable retailer in the United States. Starting with published books, then moving in no particular order through electronic publishing, MP3 downloads, streaming audio, video, cloud computing, and the AI assistant Alexa, Amazon slowly changed the game, painfully.
Rather than kicking the can of change decisions and initiatives down the road, Amazon tackled them one by one. They had successes and some failures, but they persisted and pioneered while forcing and sustaining the pain of change. Wal-Mart faced the pain of change as well. Knowing that brick and mortar retailing was entering into the later stages of its business cycle, they began to look at online and e-commerce solutions. Additionally, back in 2016 Wal-Mart closed some 269 stores that were failing globally. More pain of change decisions. After its acquisition of Jet.com and getting a few operational and cultural errors corrected, Wal-Mart’s e-commerce initiatives seem to be paying off in gaining online share.
The key point is this. You can be indecisive, uncertain and slow regarding how you handle the future of your business. You can delay the pain of change which comes fairly immediately when you try to improve or fix your business model. The issue is that the pain will show up later as a delayed effect as you struggle to stay the same, the market place is changing. The more the marketplace changes and the more you stay the same, the more relevance you lose. Suffer the pain now with change or suffer the possibility of devastating pain later by staying the same.
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