Thursday, March 9, 2017

Why only the paranoid survive


 “The lesson is, we all need to expose ourselves to the winds of change” Andrew S. Grove 

I was recently watching an episode of the hit TV show Scandal and was asked what I liked most about the show.  My love for the show went deeper than it being a hit TV show; it took a while for me to ponder:  Why did I like Scandal so much?

I love the show for the rubric cube-like interconnectedness of the plots and the seemingly endless array of multi-dimensional chess gamesmanship across the characters and the stories.   If you are a Scandal junkie, you have most likely become slightly paranoid watching the show at times in attempts to decipher certain symbols or code words in conversations or gestures; one never knows what’s lurking on the other side of a comment, glance, or decision.

While emotions of paranoia span a spectrum of actions and beliefs, those that live on the “slightly paranoid” side of disruptive change sometimes have an edge.  The slightly paranoid typically embrace disruption, whether that is disruption is positive or negative, whether it is in a particular industry, or within your own organization.   

Think about some of the most disruptive events in history and how the slightly paranoid individuals who saw it coming were able to anticipate, prepare, and embrace the new normal before others even knew what was going to happen.   

  • When digital media disrupted the music industry, some people initially gaffed at the idea of “having 1000s of songs in your pocket” as Steve Jobs once envisioned.  The slightly paranoid began leveraging the early versions of this idea hence the creation of illegal peer to peer sharing sites such as the infamous Napster to what eventually led to today’s digital media culture.  

  • The U.S. mortgage housing crisis of 2005 disrupted the housing market and began the financial crisis; many people spiritedly debated about how strong the markets were and commercial construction projects across the US were in full swing, a handful of slightly paranoid American financial experts predicted and profited from the build-up and subsequent collapse of the housing market and subsequent credit bubble in 2007 and 2008.

Think about how these examples apply to your organization…who are some of the slightly paranoid individuals in your firm that may be trying to get your attention on what seems like a minor, non-urgent, manageable threat? Whose warnings do you keep brushing off?    

In the book, “Only the Paranoid Survive”, author Andy Grove call these employees “Helpful Cassandras” after Cassandra who in Greek mythology was cursed so that no one ever believed her prophecies.   

Helpful Cassandras are slightly paranoid individuals in an organization that are acutely aware of the emerging shifts and trends.  They usually are the first to fire warning shots towards a pending disruption before the average person even recognizes anything is even happening.  Unfortunately, sometimes their guidance and warnings fall on deaf ears or even ridiculed…until it is too late.  

Being slightly paranoid is not a bad thing when it comes dealing with exponential 100X change within your organization.  Change can become more tangible and opportunistic when it is embraced rather than feared.  The slightly paranoid make decisions and take action from a place of strength, courage, and power to reap the full benefits of the pending disruption.  

If you want to prepare, anticipate, and embrace disruptive change around you, pay closer attention to the world around you.    

Stop and read the signposts - particularly the silent, subtle trend lines that no one else maybe paying attention to. 

Listen and investigate the warnings.  

Ask questions during critical inflection points. 
Challenge the status quo. 

Connect the dots.  

Plan and pivot.  Don’t be afraid to take action; if the first action doesn’t work, change your approach.   
Just keep moving. 

…or, build up your paranoia muscle by watching Scandal.     Because in disruption, only the paranoid survive.