How Your Company Can Break Old Paradigms in 2021

Going back to pre-pandemic methods and assumptions means your company misses the opportunity to adapt to today’s realities. These are seven rules to help recognize and break old paradigms that no longer work.
Headshot of Amy J. Radin
Amy J. Radin
Expert Columnist
January 23, 2021
Updated: July 13, 2021
Headshot of Amy J. Radin
Amy J. Radin
Expert Columnist
January 23, 2021
Updated: July 13, 2021

The new year has finally arrived. The holiday greetings that landed in my inbox last month all celebrated turning the page on 2020. The reality is we will continue to live with the ongoing effects of last year’s disruptions.

Approaching 2021 as a “recovery” year implies to some degree going back to where we were — and if that is where you put your efforts, you will miss the bigger opportunity, which is to hit the reset button and begin anew. Assume that we are not going back.

New beginnings require believing, thinking, imagining, and acting with a new outlook. So, here are seven rules for breaking the rules as you pursue your organization’s reset in ways that might point you to a remarkably better year.

 

1. Rewrite the Rules for Today’s Realities

The orthodoxies that were defined by the way things used to work are out of date. You may find that the rules defining policies, processes, metrics, and structures for your business were developed in another time when the bases for assumptions were very different. They may now be outdated and hurting your progress and results.

A healthy question to ask is: “Where did those rules come from?” Be willing to ask this question and open the dialog with colleagues about where change can help the organization. We are in a new space, forced to operate on new terms. Don’t let too tight adherence to the old rules become self-imposed constraints on your reset efforts.

 

2. Revalidate the Problems You Are Trying to Solve

The market has moved. Stakeholders have moved. Customers’ needs have shifted, intensified, and been reordered. That means it’s time to make sure that the problems your company’s solutions address are completely aligned with all of these changes.

Are you a solutions-pusher or a problem-solver? The latter will capture more expansive opportunities to serve customers because their focus will naturally be on customer-centric problem statements. Don’t get stuck on your existing solutions. The compelling problems may now be elsewhere.

 

3. Shift From Talking About Innovation to Taking Action

There is always great interest in talking about innovation. When aspiring founders and intrapreneurs ask me where to begin the journey toward realizing their vision, I always begin with the same feedback: Just start. Do something. There is not an unambiguous rule book. Being in the game actively experimenting and learning is the best way to advance. Weigh your innovation energy heavily toward execution of prototypes and understanding the business model, over sharing presentations and theories.

 

4. Be Clear on What You Mean by Innovation

Innovation is very easy to theorize about, harder to deliver. It’s a messy journey, one that confounds people whose comfort zone is defined by predictable, linear processes.

It’s also a word loaded with meaning, ranging from “cool stuff” to hard-working solutions to real problems. Be clear on what innovation means to your organization, how it connects to creating stakeholder value, what customers you want to serve, and whose problems you want to solve with innovative answers. Gain alignment with colleagues so you can lock arms on where you want to head.

 

5. Embrace Uncertainty as Opportunity

Ambiguity, uncertainty, and unpredictability are replacing the standards and rules. Acceptance that we will likely be operating in this new environment for some time opens up new possibilities. We are seeing this already in the expansion of home delivery offerings, B2B2C businesses moving to serve consumers directly, new approaches to supply chain management, the rapid growth in telemedicine, and countless new digital services offerings.

There will be continued opportunity in the fallout of last year’s events. Within the messiness are massive new problems calling for answers, so shift energy from a focus on maintaining stability — where it may no longer even be possible — to embracing uncertainty as a source of opportunity.

 

6. Reevaluate Where Your Mindset and Skills Can Have the Greatest Impact

To adapt quickly enough to new market circumstances your core business partners may be newly open to engaging with you differently than in the past, tapping into your skill set and mindset to accelerate progress on pressing priorities. For example, there is now widespread focus on reinventing the employee experience, rethinking the configuration of the workplace, and accelerating the digital transformation of the customer experience. Where can you dive in and assist where you may not have been viewed in the past as a valuable resource?

Recalculate the mix of short-term versus long-term initiatives on your project list. Are there challenges right now to the core business model that require unconventional, non-orthodox solutions? Challenge your assumptions about where on the time horizon resources are being used. Transfer skills — speed, agility, collaboration tools, fit-for-purpose processes — that power new ways of executing. What have you learned this year that can be seeded throughout the business for obvious, tangible impact?

 

7. Reset Relationships With Your Internal Stakeholders

This is a time to build new partnerships with colleagues and be positioned to exploit what you do best for the benefit of your customers and the health of the business. To figure this out, follow the enduring first rule of marketing: answering “what’s in it for me?” Understand what drives your colleagues rationally and emotionally, how they define success, and where, as a result, there are new points of alignment. Go on a listening tour in the organization to find out how stakeholders see the year unfolding, what they are worried about, what their hopes are for the year. Choose partners who already exhibit in their behaviors, actions, and decisions the necessary growth-oriented mindset and ways of working.

Even with the new year underway, we will continue to face the challenge of being able to contribute value in the midst of rapid transformation, to reshape how we can impact customers, support employees, and meet business goals. Doing so depends on our own ability to let go of old paradigms that no longer work, and to be willing to be constructive rule-breakers focused on solving the problems people never had before, but are struggling with now.

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