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VOL. 128 | NO. 12 | Thursday, January 17, 2013


Michael Graber

Status Quo: The Big Lie

By Michael Graber & Jocelyn Atkinson

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In a recent Let’s Grow column, we tackled the hard subject of cognitive biases. Yet, we did not touch upon the most prevalent and insidious bias in business. This big lie is that the status quo exists. Nothing stays the same. Companies who strive to keep things the way the presently are – one definition of status quo – live a lie that is not sustainable. They get fixed and rigid, locked into a certain way of counting on the world, and then they crumble and fall.

In a dynamic marketplace, the current state of affairs never becomes fixed. As the housing bust reminded us, you can never bet on the market acting and reacting the same way for too long. Likewise, look at Kodak. The giant waited too long, hoping against hope that the market might, for an unimaginative reason, revert to an outmoded technology. The refusal to accept reality and the insistence on keeping the status quo allowed new era companies like Microsoft and Google to bid on Kodak’s only relevant assets at bargain basement bankrupt prices. We could list tragedy after tragedy, case after case. The sickness is the same: The big lie.

The key to this column is ensuring your business or place of employment does not allow itself to hide in the shadows of the status quo. Good is never good enough, really, when you can do something great. So, put safeguards in place. Challenge your co-workers, your employees, each other to identify when entropy sets in. Also, know that the status quo can cost you a lot of money. So many forms of business operations have become more effective and more cost-effective. Why settle for a tired routine when it isn’t working for you at the highest return?

Proactivity drives away the big lie – and is less expensive than remedial actions. It takes enterprise-strength and a hefty budget for Change Management to fix an entrenched issue remedially. Proactivity cures the parts of the corpus that are drifting on autopilot.

Acting as if the status quo were real may limit growth significantly. In a rigid culture, a lack of attunement to what drives the business means that no one will have eyes to see or heart to seize opportunities. Here, a paralyzing resistance to change means that no one is inspired to think about new forms of top-line growth.

The big lie damages your brand. Branding is a game of building momentum and creating a shorthand out of a name. If your brand is known for being inflexible, rigid, and status quo-driven, we hope you work in the security industry where such traits may be seen on the positive side of the ledger. Otherwise, you will never gain the type of equity that amounts to a respectable valuation.

Most important, status-quo thinking keeps you at risk of becoming obsolete in the market. As the farmer says, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

If your business operates under a business model that seems outdated, it probably is. If your company suffers the status quo bias, ask for help. For a business, lapsing into a status quo mindset means lapsing into a harmful delusion that markets stay static. The speed of change increases every moment. While retreating to the status quo may seem like a good defensive strategy, it actually is a worse trap. Beware.

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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