CEO Adviser: The Art of Making Change

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“If you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.”

I’m sure you’ve heard some version of this saying. You’ve read it in a dozen books; you’ve heard it in a dozen motivational speeches. (If that last part is true, congratulations on surviving a dozen motivational speeches.)

“If you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.”

I respectfully disagree. Actually, I vehemently disagree. Because the news is even worse. 

If you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you will not keep getting what you’ve always gotten. You’ll get less and less than you’ve always gotten, until one day, you wake up and you’re out of business.

Here’s why. “If you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten” is really just another way of saying, “If you’re not moving forward, you’re standing still.” But that’s not exactly true, either, because it fails to take into account the fact that the rest of the world (including your competition) is moving forward. So if you’re not moving forward as well — and preferably at a faster rate than the competition — you’re actually moving backward with respect to everyone else.

Thus, if you keep doing what you’ve always been doing (that is, if you’re not moving forward), your competition will eventually pass you. It’ll invent a hot new product, introduce a hot new service, initiate a hot new marketing campaign. And it will pass you. What happens next? Your customers hear about the new product, the new service, the new campaign, and they start to migrate. And, bit by bit, your business starts to die.

So let’s rewrite the adage. Let’s change it to: “If you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’ll die.”

A little harsh? Well, so is business. Leadership is for big boys and big girls. Leadership is for people who aren’t just “OK” with change, growth and evolution. They actually welcome and embrace all three. Real leaders know that continuous change, growth and evolution are vital to the very existence of their organizations.

Back when I was the executive producer of Almost Live!, I booked a fresh, young comedian named Ellen DeGeneres to be on the show. It was only her second TV appearance and she hit it out of the park. Ellen quickly became one of the hottest comedians in the country. She could have stayed there. She could have coasted. But Ellen knew that if she kept doing what she’d always been doing, she’d die (figuratively speaking). So she moved forward. She starred in a groundbreaking sitcom and then went on to host her incredibly successful talk show. At this point, for all intents and purposes, she has no competition.

One of my keynote leadership programs focuses on the success of the Beatles. They started out as moptops who sang, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” They could have stayed there. They could have coasted. And if they had, we’d remember them the way we remember Herman’s Hermits. But the Beatles refused to keep doing what they’d always been doing. They moved on to Sgt. Pepper and the White Album and Abbey Road. And the Beatles, for all intents and purposes, have no competition.

“If you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’ll die.” Bottom line: The message — you’ve got to keep moving forward — is valid. The stakes are just a lot higher than you may have thought.

Leadership consultant Bill Stainton works with people who want to produce breakthrough results with their teams. Reach him at Bill@BillStainton.com.

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