Building a Cadence of Change: Four Attributes that Define Today’s Fast Company

Feb 15, 2017

At the Third annual MetTel Innovation Summit in Scottsdale Arizona, Robert Safian, editor-in-chief of Fast Company magazine provided his insights into the four key attributes of nimble organizations that are capable of navigating the hyper-fast changes wrought by relentless technology disruption.

Safian coined a term for the new breed of professional optimized for this environment: Generation Flux. Generation Flux refers to two things – 1) the current era, a time of rapid, high-velocity change that shows little signs of slowing down; and 2) a group of people: those who are best positioned to thrive in this kind of environment. Safian said age is not a parameter for Generation Flux. The key attribute is mindset and attitude. A willingness and an ability to adapt to constant change that’s going on around us. We now live in a mobile, social, global, interconnected world where the old rules of business really don’t apply anymore.

Until recently, we thought we knew what it was going to take to succeed, said Safian. But today we actually have no idea what the new rules are. There don’t seem to be any new rules. We’re living in a time of constant chaos, requiring this more flexible mindset to survive and succeed.

Speaking of survival, none other than the father of evolution himself, Charles Darwin, noted that it’s not the strongest of the species that survives. It’s not the most intelligent that survives. It’s the one that’s most adaptable to change.

One thing Safian says is not capable of aiding Generation Flux to survive is our antiquated education system in the US.  He said our education system was constructed a century ago based on the notion that high school or college would make the student proficient and informed for the next 20+ years. What the country really needs is a system that creates continuous, lifelong learning, which is what’s required when things are moving this fast.  But there are no firm structures in place at this point to create that kind of dynamic educational process.

And now here are the top four attributes of survivable and thrive-able companies in these real-time times:

  1. Take your ideas from everybody
  2. Redefine the corner office
  3. Speed matters
  4. Find your mission

Take Your Ideas from Everybody

Vice Chair Beth Comstock recognizes, particularly at an organization like GE, that there’s a constant risk of it becoming calcified, of people getting locked into their own areas. She has spent a lot of time trying to get GE to partner with different kinds of companies to try to bring in new ideas to disrupt this tendency to calcify. GE is long been known for its leadership training program.  But part of the GE culture for a long time was this private club in Crotonville, NY, called the “white house.”  It was a place where senior executives got together after hours to drink Scotch and smoke cigars.  It was also a place where a lot of ideas got planted. Comstock came in and replaced the after-hours private network with an all-day coffee house open to everyone…and everyone’s ideas.  Coincidentally, GE is leading the business world’s transition to the Industrial Internet/internet of Things so clearly innovation is its calling card.

Redefine the Corner Office

Steve Jobs turned the CEOs office on its head.  He took the riskiest things Apple was doing and put them at the core of the organization. He hired Tim Cook to make sure everything ran smoothly while jobs himself focused on change.  Mark Parker, CEO of Nike is purposely unscheduled, wandering around, poking people to see what they’re up to in their natural, unscripted environment.  But perhaps most poignant is Aaron Levie of Box who calls this process “building a cadence of change.”     He changes his core product every six to nine months. One day he realized he should be changing and reinventing his company every year as well. The point here is that leadership has to work more fluidly and embrace risk and drive the organization to change….or it will calcify.

Speed Matters

Speed of change, actually, innovation is born of change throughout a constant, continual, ongoing process that does not necessarily pay dividends in a straight line but pays them out over time. The entity that is most emblematic of this idea of speed mattering and innovation in this way is an entity Safian calls “Amazappooglebook.”  That actually refers to four entities: Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon. These enterprises define speed of change and innovation.  They push themselves and each other to change all the time.  Apple is not just a maker of desktop computers. Facebook is not still connecting college kids, it’s original mission.  And Jeff Bezos is not just trying to just sell books anymore. Google is doing a lot more than search these days.

At Buzzfeed Studios in L.A. everyone changes their jobs every three months. They have bought into this culture. This creates a cadence of change.  Taco Bell introduces a new product every three weeks. These are very current organizations that understand what it takes to navigate relentless change.

Find your Mission

Workers are generally less engaged in their jobs than in the past, according to Safian.   But at those places where people are more engaged, there is a clear mission. This is true not only for millennials but for workers of all ages. What motivates engagement is the idea of being part of something that people believe in.

Safian mentioned the CEO of a major public brand who said some outrageous things. The leader said “If you want me to make decisions that have a clear ROI, a clear return on investment, then you should get out of the stock. If you want a return on investment I’m not your guy.” The CEO went on to say “We do things because they are just and right, not because they improve shareholder value, not because they make money but because they are just and right.  The purpose of this enterprise is advancing humanity.”  Who would make such a brazen statement?   Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple — the most valuable company in the world.   In a time when things are changing so fast, a clear mission is the ultimate competitive advantage.  When things are moving so fast, leaders try to decide what things to react to, which things to let go by.  A company’s mission gives it a filter to know which of those things to respond to and which things are most important……a kind of GPS system to help it navigate change.