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Corporate paralysis, the biggest threat to business

"For some companies long term success has brought on a strange kind of corporate paralysis. No one seems to want to mess with the formula in-case it all falls down around them"

I love playing guitar and for anyone who plays an instrument, you'll probably be familiar with the creative stagnation that sets in after years of playing. Every time I pick up my guitar, I always end up playing through the same old shit. Blues scales, trusty Led Zep riffs, a bit of 90's Britpop and always my favorite Smiths tunes. I love these songs; I've played them so many times they make me believe I'm a very good guitarist. I'm stuck in a rut as my fingers unconsciously do their thing, my mind tells me to be more adventurous and try something new but my confidence is shouting don't do it, you'll fuck it up, you're not that good a guitarist!

To be honest I don't think I've progressed as a musician since I gave up being in bands and playing live. Being around other musicians pushed me out of my comfort zone. It forced me to try new things and adapt my playing to their playing. Playing live to an audience helped me to tweak my delivery for maximum impact. It made the whole thing about being a musician real and human. Ultimately what I did with my guitar and the band on that stage affected real people. It made them feel something and it certainly made me feel something too.

The Temple circa 1987 (me and my hair at the front of the shot)

Anyway I gave up on my dream of being a rock star a long time ago after I realised I could make much more money as a designer and still feed my creative hunger. The funny thing is, now I see the same kind of creative stagnation happening to the very companies I consult for, and not surprisingly, they are stagnating because of the same reasons I stagnate as the lonely bedroom guitarist.

Take for instance the typical boardroom meeting in any company pretty much anywhere in the world. How many times have you heard a conversation that is risk averse in tone, underpinned with fear and a lack of confidence? An insider only debate on what they should do as a company to be more relevent.

Leaders in large organisations often play the same old riffs as they always have, with no influences from outside or even in the room to nudge them in new unexpected directions. In fact, many decision makers are so fearful of failure, they backfill their gut feel with copious amounts of market data and business statistics in a fail proof attempt to navigate the idea through the stormy waters of their innovation funnel.

Alternatively, when they look for outside help, they turn to the usual suspects, external consultants that think very much alike, so they feel comfy, safe and blinded by a sense of security that we did the "right thing", we followed the rules, we ticked the boxes. I won't lose my job if this all goes wrong.

For some companies long term success has brought on a strange kind of corporate paralysis. No one seems to want to mess with the formula in-case it all falls down around them.

In fact, today, more than ever, I think companies need to do exactly the opposite, they need to do the "wrong thing" break the rules and do something radical. Why don't companies take "creative sabbaticals?" Have a break from the business and allow themselves time to refocus their purpose. Give themselves space to connect back to the real reasons they started this in the first place. Get back to what it meant to connect to other humans and do something for them that makes them feel something positive.

Bands have been doing this for years. The Beatles in search of creative inspiration travelled to northern India in 1968 to attend an advanced session of Trancendental Meditation hosted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It proved to be one of their most productive periods and led to the creation of the White Album. Admittedly, probably shitloads of mind bending drugs were involved too.

I think the same basic principles apply whether you're a musician in a band, an artist, a politician, a sales guy or a multi-national company. We all need to be relevant to our audience and that means getting to know who your audience are and allowing your audience to change you in ways that may feel uncomfortable. Pushing you to do things that they want, and not what you want. Working with your audience outside of the boardroom walls, in their space not yours.

Companies just need to get out more, stop being the shy hermit and go mix with the locals. Allow yourself to be inspired rather than threatened, suck it all in like a sponge. Better still, hire influencers or change agents into your organisation knowing full well that they will break the status quo. Allow them the freedom to not tick the boxes and take notice how this kind of disruption infects your own people in a good way, increasing their own sense of freedom and empowering new creativity and engagement.

Bob Marley sings it well on the song Jamming from 1977, "We're jamming, and I hope you like jamming too" A song for me that encapsulates a sense of experimentation and freeform creativity. In business terms this means allowing ourselves to get into the same room with a diverse group of people and being comfortable enough to let the barriers down and just see what comes out.

Now I think it's time for me to go and write that ad for a lonely bedroom guitarist stuck in the 60's and 70's, looking for a band to bring him into the 21st century.


  • Anton Schubert
    Principal Consultant / Design Strategist