Business disruption and the difficulty of unlearning old ways

10.8.2017 -

Summer holidays are great for a number of reasons. Time to engage in various activities, learn new things, relax and let your brain unwind. It’s also easier to break routines when you have time to think about your old habits and to change them.

Although a shortlist as a concept originated in the business world, it applies to our life both at work and at home. In the business environment, we make shortlists for partner preference and for preferred job candidates.

We pick a lunch restaurant from our mental shortlist of favourite restaurants near the office. We have another shortlist for politics to help us select a party or candidate to vote for. Online, we frequent the same shortlisted news sites day in, day out. In social media, we always follow the conversation in the same groups. We even select our next holiday destination from a shortlist of three choices.

Further, we always shop in the same stores. At the beginning of this decade, our company conducted a consumer survey. The findings showed that consumers usually frequent 2–4 supermarkets. Since this list is very short, only the biggest supermarket chains make the list.

We prefer tried and tested because it’s safe. Trying out something new always means taking a risk. That’s why we would rather keep doing things as we have always done. Unlearning old habits and venturing outside our comfort zone proves to be very difficult.

Shortlisting is closely related to some other thought patterns, such as ‘Repeating the same over again’ and ‘Keeping to what has worked in the past’. I have seen them both at work in various business development and digitalisation projects aiming to build the world’s best new Something or other.

These projects often result in making slight changes to old methods or giving an old solution a new name and fresh look. The company might have spent between €700 and €70 million on the project. At some point, the business goals are revisited and rendered less ambitious. The thinking behind this goes: ‘Once we get this project over the finish line, we can develop things further.’ It seems to be more important to tick the project off the to-do list than to create a drastically better or more profitable business.

I’m sure participants of each project would really like to create something new, but the difficulty of unlearning drives us to make safe decisions. And, if unlearning is difficult on a personal level, then plucking up the collective courage of an entire organisation to change the game is even harder. In the end, severe schedule and cost pressures often consume what’s left of the game-changing courage and enthusiasm.

The breakdown of established operating models, also known as business disruption, has an effect on each company and organisation. And we shortlist-loving people are the ones that either drive the change or don’t. Developing and producing digital services especially calls for courage to change the game and the ability to see beyond the bubble in which you live. The best option can rarely be found on a shortlist.

The summer holiday season provides a welcome break to daily routines. My holiday itinerary is almost ready. I plan to try out new lunch restaurants, eat vegan meals for a few days, visit as many new stores as I can, use new online services and get to know new groups in social media. And I intend to follow the political discussion without prejudice.

My goal is to shake my life up a bit and find new items to include on my shortlists. When I get back to work and meet customers, I will warn everyone over and over again to the point of weariness against keeping to the old ways and recommend looking outside the box. You should try it at home, too.

Juha Luomala

Juha Luomala

I am a digital commerce expert and Solteq’s ‘Mr. Portfolio’. I work closely with company management teams and key personnel, and participate in planning new projects and operational models. I listen, challenge, consult and coach. With this understanding, I also lead Solteq into new solution areas. It’s a pleasure to work in a field where there’s never a dull moment.

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