William C Taylor, the co-founder of Fast Company, praises Lior Arussy’s latest book ‘Next Is Now’ and gives his insight to his key takeaways from the book.
“I have spent the past 30 years – first as a young editor at the Harvard Business Review, then as co-founder of Fast Company magazine, now as an author and lecturer – thinking about, writing about, and otherwise wrestling with the hard work of big change. Every so often (and it is, sadly, all too rare), I meet a thinker, or interact with a consultant, or read a book that has a tremendous impact on how I make sense of the forces of disruption that surround us, and illuminates the challenges for leaders who aim to master those forces and renew their organizations. That’s why I stand in awe of Lior Arussy. He is a true ‘triple threat’ of transformation – as a thinker, consultant and author, his ideas, methodologies and messages amount to a manifesto on the urgency of change and a manifesto for making it happen.
The Future of Competition and Leadership
Before I explore the key themes of Lior’s important new book and what it means for the future of competition and leadership, I’d like to pay a quick visit to the past. Back in the mid-nineties, right after we published the first issue of Fast Company, we organized a major conference around the question “How Do You Over-throw a Successful Company?” It wasn’t a gathering of young Silicon Valley hotshots eager to take on the business establishment )although that was a target audience for the magazine). It was a gathering of strategists, technologists and marketers from organizations that had been around for decades, organizations that were icons in their fields, who sensed that there were turbulence and turmoil all around them – huge shifts in markets ,technology and culture – and who were determined to reckon with those shifts and rethink and reimagine every aspect of how they did business and got results. Today, more than two decades later, that question feels more relevant (and vexing) than ever. That’s because the work of making deep-seated, meaningful change – building on all your past success, even as you build out a whole new point of view on the future – has become the defining work of our generation. That’s the question every leader must seek to answer, that’s the work every leader signs up to do – and that’s the challenge Lior Arussy faces head-on in Next Is Now.
How to set the stage for this urgent, provocative and inexhaustibly useful book? Perhaps the most worthwhile service I can provide is to highlight just a few of the key messages I took away, insights that I believe will be most valuable to everyone who reads it. I will be the first to admit that what strikes me as especially provocative or eye-opening may not strike you in the same way. There is so much unconventional thinking here, so many rich case studies and useful lessons, every reader may walk away with a slightly different set of personal takeaways.
We are living in a world where the ordinary is simply not an option
Here’s my first big takeaway: We are living in a world where the ordinary is simply not an option. Lior’s analysis of the forces of change, disruption and innovation is really a plea for originality – among companies, brands and leaders themselves. You can’t do big things anymore if you are content with doing thing a little better than everyone else or a little differently from how you did them in the past. The goal is no longer to be the best at what lots of other organizations and people already do. It’s to be the only one who does what you do. What do you promise that only you can promise? What can you deliver that no one else can deliver? what are you prepared to do – for customers, with partners, with your colleagues – that other organization simply can’t or won’t do? Those are the questions to help you invent the future – and that this book helps you to answer.
The more things change, the more the worries and objections to change remain the same
But they are also, truth be told, questions that make most of us quite uncomfortable. Which leads to my second big takeaway: The more things change, the more the worries and objections to change remain the same. This book is refreshingly honest about the obstacles – both organizational and individual – that stand between our intellectual recognition of what changes we need to unleash and our psychological and emotional willingness to do what needs doing. But don’t take Lior’s word for it – listen to a voice from long ago, one more quick visit to the past. If you go back to the very first issue of Fast Company, you’ll find a thoroughly entertaining article by a fellow named E. F. Borisch.
He was the son of the founder of a very successful manufacturing company in the Midwest, an outfit called the Milwaukee Gear Company, and he was the definition of a change agent. He had all sorts of bold ideas about new markets, customer service, reorganizing the workforce. yet every time he introduced an idea, he’d get pushback and objections and worries.
So he sat down and wrote an article called “Fifty Reasons Why We Cannot Change,” which we happily published. There was no introduction to the article, no conclusion, just a numbered list, from one to fifty, for all the worries and complaints Borisch had heard. What was so funny about this list was that so many of the objections contradicted one another: Reason 1: “We’ve never done it before.” Reason 4: “We already tried it before.” Reason 7: “It won’t work in a small company.” Reason 8: “It won’t work in a large company.”On and on it went, fifty reasons, each more contradictory than the last.
Now here’s the punchline: We published that article in our first issue, more than 20 years ago. But all we did was reprint an article that E. F. Borisch first published in 1959 – nearly 60 years ago now. Our message to readers back then, and my message to readers of Lior’s book now, is that we are in a world where playing it safe may well be the most dangerous course of all. Change begins to happen when leaders convince their colleagues (and themselves) that the risk of trying something new is actually less than the cost of clinging to the status quo.
The hard work of big change is intensely personal
There are so many more key messages I could highlight, so many takeaways that have shaped how I make sense of leadership challenges facing all of us, but I am eager for you to dive into the book and find the ideas that resonate most with you. I will, however, conclude by emphasizing what I believe may be Lior’s most important insight and one that far too many of us overlook when we treat the business as a largely intellectual or financial exercise. That insight: the hard work of big change is intensely personal. In other words, you can’t unleash deep-seated transformation in your organization unless you are prepared to wrestle with deep-seated transformation yourself.
Which is why, I believe, the most effective leaders are the most insatiable learners. Sure, they want to make their organizations and brands more interested – that’s an urgent challenge in this age of disruption. But to do that, they themselves must stay interested – in bold new ideas, in small gestures that send big signals, in the enduring mission of their enterprise and all new ways to bring that mission to life. You can’t be a great leader, especially in an age of disruption and transformation, unless you are a voracious learner. The central challenge for leaders today is to make sure that all of your expertise – the strategies, practices and assumptions that allowed you to create a more compelling future. Put simply, you can’t let what you know limit what you can imagine going forward.
Next Is Now is a powerful tool to help you rethink and reimagine what’s possible, to start learning as fast as the world is changing. I would urge you not just to read it, but to highlight it, to wrestle with it, to figure out ways, large and small, to put it to work in your organization and for your career. This book will make sure that what you know doesn’t limit what you can imagine.
Bill Taylor is the co-founder of Fast Company and the author of most recently, of Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways.
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