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VOL. 129 | NO. 102 | Monday, May 26, 2014
Graber Atkinson

Michael Graber & Jocelyn Atkinson

Have Courage to Leap

By MICHAEL GRABER & JOCELYN ATKINSON

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As Innovation and Growth Strategy consultants, we have methods, processes and exercises that we apply to client problems.

While tools from this vast toolbox work for any type of organization seeking to provide a better service or product (health care, nonprofit, hospitality, consumer goods, financial services, wholesalers and B2B) to generate insights and custom solutions that set them up as a category leader, what we sell is something else ultimately. This is perhaps the rarest asset in corporate America for an unknown reason, called courage.

According to Wikipedia, courage is the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation. Most corporate cultures move in fear, make decisions for the worst case, then present power points for their leadership teams like a pep rally squad playing the roles of analyst and accountant.

What happened to the ability to dream, to share a vision, to outline something bold? In the land of how-we-do-things-here, no new thinking is allowed and courage is stamped out the moment it shows the glint in its dreamy eye.

It’s little wonder that all of the big telecommunications companies can only grow by major acquisition rather than human invention. Given that they are fixed and rigid in their business model, infrastructure costs and roles, they cannot afford to rethink the industry. So, in moves a concept that defies their paradigmatic models, Skype, and without the capital-intensive notion of a network, they become the market leader in international calls, with more than 12 percent of the market. The bigger companies lacked the courage to drop their world-view and see the market needs and new technological possibilities with the objectivity of a startup.

Yet, many corporate citizens lust after such a wild leap. On every corporate desk, we see copies of the Business Model Canvas or Lean Start-up.

Skunkworks teams meet with the fervor and passion of illicit love. Like stolen love, these relationships really make it in the light of day. The concepts are cleaned up and presented to the larger enterprise. Then, behold the attack. Behold the boundaries. Behold the reasons why we cannot move ahead with something radical. Faint praise for fresh thinking peppers the conversation, then it’s back to business as usual.

This cynical, but too-true, scene is enacted again and again every day in America. Cultural antibodies eat at any expression of courage like rapacious piranha in company after company. The only antidote is courage, the courage to confront fears, dangers and uncertainties. To be able to enact this courage, it takes a focus on an innovation culture where even the business model that brings us together is an ongoing experiment and prototype open to improvement.

Courage: It changes things, for the better.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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