Have you ever noticed how our view of what can be done is so often limited by our knowledge of what has been done?
Flipping through the channels in my hotel room last night I stopped on American Ninja Warrior All Stars. A bit of a guilty pleasure, but one that sometimes inspires me to get to the gym or go for that run even if I’m not feeling it. This particular show featured an obstacle called the “Super Salmon Ladder,” where competitors use a bar to pull their bodies up and then jump up 40 “rungs” to reach the top in a timed ascent. Whoever does it the fastest wins.
One of the competitors on this particular show held the record for ascending the ladder in around 33 seconds. He was first to go, and remarkably beat his own record by making it to the top in 32.75 seconds.
He must have been working hard between shows, perfecting his technique. He was the king of the salmon ladder…until two competitors that followed beat the new record easily, the first by completing the climb in 27.6 seconds, and the second in only 19.39 seconds — something he accomplished by throwing his body upward, skipping rungs nearly all the way up. With that performance, what had moments before been an accomplishment to be proud of (33 seconds!) was now slow, conventional, and lacking creativity.
What occurred to me when watching this is just how much our view of what is possible is shaped by what has been done before. I fully expected the prior record to be broken — chipped away at by a second here or a second there — I didn’t expect it to be obliterated, reduced by more than 40%.
Our prior champion didn’t rest on his laurels; he had worked hard, no doubt, but was a victim of his own success. Thinking that if he just worked harder, got a little stronger, and put in a few more reps, he would beat his previous time; and that’s exactly what he did. But at least one other competitor thought not just about how to do it better, but how to do it differently, recognizing that the goal wasn’t to be better at the process, but to get a better outcome.
This same phenomenon occurs everywhere in our lives, including in our businesses. Expectations tend to come in increments, when what is really possible might be larger step changes. But those possibilities are hard to see when we use past as prologue, and when we focus too much on the process, and not enough on the outcome.
I see this with our clients, where most are looking for incremental change to what they’re doing today — better visibility than today, more control and better alignment than what we’ve had, removing steps from an antiquated process, etc. Only a few clients are really looking to make possible transformational change leading to better and different outcomes — a step changes rather than increments.
When I think about where Mitratech is as a business, and where our clients are as leaders in their industries, the reality is that we need to do both: we need to get better at the things we’re doing today, bringing technology to bear on reducing steps, speeding processes, gaining better visibility, and gaining more control; and we also need to step back and think about not only reduction and incremental changes, but also elimination and step change. This is what’s exciting about the business we’re in today.
Yes, we should get better at identifying those firms who provide us with more value. We could also flip the process on its head and have firms compete on value through tendering automation and reverse auctions.
Yes, we should work to provide decision-makers with the access to information that will help them make better, more informed decisions in context. We can also eliminate the need to make decisions when machine learning and AI make connections that we don’t even see.
Yes, we can streamline process and provide access to those processes to more people across the organization. We can also automate a huge portion of those processes that today make up the bulk of our work.
And yes, legal and compliance can provide more value by modernizing and running like a business. We can also transform our legal departments into centers of innovation and models of performance for the entire organization.
This is the core of what I find so exciting about being a part of our industry today, and about having the privilege of leading the industry-leading business that is Mitratech.
We are helping the leaders of our industry to move from being incremental to transformative change agents. We are investing in making our customers’ lives better today, while also investing in what they will be ready for years down the road. We are focusing on bringing change to those customers for whom incremental improvements will make a world of difference — and this is still a huge part of our industry — while we’re uniquely positioned as the industry leader to support the ambitions of those who envision success measured in entirely new ways.
More to come, but needless to say, I’m inspired by what I see today.
Want to see how some companies drive “skip-a-bar” transformation at their org? Check out these stories: