Swimming Against the Tide

Swimming Against the Tide

Organisations do not exist in a vacuum. All around them, and through them, every day, things are changing. Market tastes change and morph. Competitors invent and discover. Technology itself changes – and makes many other changes possible. Society, from whence the workforce is drawn, changes. People within the company come and go. Legislation makes new demands.

The Swirling Sea

Most organisations pay little conscious attention to the sea of change swirling around them, in which they swim. That’s life, after all, is it not? Many corporate ‘change’ initiatives are born in response to one particular swirl or another. Maybe one initiative or another will bear fruit before the swirl passes, maybe some initiatives actually deal with their particular swirl.

The Flowing River

If we adjust our analogy from swirling sea to flowing – oftentimes turbulent – river, we can say that organisations finds themselves swimming against a constant flow. Upstream lies higher margins, improved revenues, lower costs, and a generally more effective business. Downstream lies dissolution, waste, low margins, low sales, high costs, and a generally ineffective business.

Rightshifting characterises this river as flowing from right (upstream) to left (downstream). And organisations working to improve their effectiveness as swimming from left to right – i.e. against the flow. Any organisation that fails to respond adequately to change, any organisation which does not swim at least as fast as the flow of the river, will drift downstream (to the left – aka ‘left-drifting’).

Stasis – or Progress?

Many organisations barely manage to keep their heads above water, remaining essential stationary in the flowing river (i.e. relative to some fixed landmark on the river bank). Even though expending much effort, neither left-drifting nor right-shifting. Many of these organisations have little in the way of ambition to improve, to become more effective at what they do, and so regard their stasis, their lack of left-drift, as a great “achievement”.

A few, more ambitious, organisations however see such stasis as failure. Absent any net progress to the right, towards becoming more effective, all the time, money and effort invested in “improvement” just to stand still seems like a huge waste. Surely the aim of of “improvement” is actually to get better?

Just swimming is like busywork – without a reference point, energetic swimming can appear productive without ever being so.

Is your organisation actually making real progress upstream – or is it simply ever-busier swimming against the tide?

– Bob

1 comment
  1. Tobias said:

    This joy of stasis reminds me of a statement in Surfing the Edge of Chaos: “Equilibrium is a precursor to death”. Companies seeking repeatable process, are unwittingly seeking death. And yet it is still considered the pinnacle of achievement. Curious.

    I enjoyed the term left-drifting as a counterpart to right-shifting.

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