One of the human traits that I tend to forget about (and I believe many with me) is that we ignore well over 99 percent of all the information that our senses receive. If you don’t believe me, take the selective attention test as a case in point. In many ways, focusing our mental energy on the few things that really matter is a good thing. At the same time, it makes it hard to identify new things, developments and ideas.
In industry, companies with a strong culture have taken this concept and applied it to the organization as a whole. This results in a set of rules and constraints, based on a set of beliefs, concerning the things that deserve attention and those that do not. This culture often forms the basis for the company’s success during the first years.
The challenge, for individuals and for companies alike, is to identify when the ‘filter’ that we employ in our perception of the world is starting to fail. Especially in an age where the pace of change is accelerating, relying on a slow, bottom-up, organic process where new views and perspectives are brought into the organization over the course of years, is a recipe for failure. By the time the organization as a whole realizes the need for change, the needed change is already old news and the company is perpetually behind.
The challenge is that for all the focus on company culture, in practice the company culture is always wrong. Company culture, or the set of values, norms and beliefs commonly held by the majority of people in the organization, is, in fact, the filter through which everyone in the company sees the world. Because of this, it causes people to ignore those things that are novel and that need to be adopted by the organization.
The core for any solution to this challenge is based on the central tenet of the mindfulness movement: presence. As humans, we run our lives to a large extent using habits. In fact, some research claims that up to 95 percent of the day, we run around mindlessly, controlled by our habits. The notion of presence is concerned with operating in the moment with full focus on the situation at hand.
The second aspect of presence is the absence of judgment. We often tend to immediately associate a judgment with the situation, the statements by others or the actions of customers or competitors. The moment you judge, you’re no longer open to the new experience. Instead, you’ve pigeonholed it and given it a classification. The challenge, of course, is that this classification is based on the old paradigm and consequently the opportunity for innovation and new insights is gone.
Finally, the third aspect of presence is openness to new experiences, ways of working and new forms of value exchange. Even if you are present and avoid judgment, you’re still not necessarily open to engage with the new insights. So, curiosity, a willingness to experiment and acceptance of the fact that most experiments will be failures are critical to bringing in new insights into the organization.
As an organization, you need to balance exploitation and exploration in all aspects of your business. Exploitation is doing what you know works and generates the outcomes that you’re looking for. Exploration is trying out new ways of doing and experimenting with new approaches. Exploration is necessary to ensure continuous reinvention of the company, but exploitation is what pays the bills today. So, both activities are necessary and no company will be successful focusing on only one of them. Establishing the optimal balance between the two and assigning the associated responsibilities to individuals is critical to continuously evolve the company culture.
Concluding, the current company culture is always a step behind the actual company needs. Ensuring that the company culture evolves at the pace required to maintain competitiveness requires presence, absence of judgment and openness. Focus on how you can evolve your company culture in order to maintain your competitiveness.