Every inconsistency scratches fertile ground for innovation

Some may observe the incongruity of a church across from a casino on Cleveland’s Public Square. The Horseshoe Cleveland opened in 2012 and The Old Stone Church, the subject of this issue’s Uniquely, was founded in 1820. The current structure, built in 1855, is the oldest building on Public Square.

While I’m not making a judgment here, it shows how people have become amenable to little inconsistencies like the one mentioned above. How often do you find gambling and religious institutions across from each other?

If there weren’t inconsistencies or contradictions in the world, there would be few challenges. Without challenges, man would not have developed innovations leading to today’s products.

Inconsistences/challenges appear all the time during the business cycle — not just during the lows. In fact, many executives feel the real challenges occur during the high points.

“The biggest leadership challenge typically comes when things are going well,” a CEO told me. “Companies often think the biggest challenge is when you lose a customer, the economic climate is difficult or conditions are bad. What I have found is truly just the reverse.

“When a business has had serious challenges, whether it be from economic events like 9/11 or the 2009 recession, there is generally a kind of feeling within the organization that there is a challenge, a burning platform that everyone has to respond to.”

During those times, employees will pull together and respond and are willing to make changes necessary to ensure that the business survives.

If a leader allows the company to develop feelings of complacency, and that it’s OK to coast now, it will likely cause damage.

“If you have had some success, it is very easy to take your eye off the ball or do things in your business that may not be the right ones for the long term,” the CEO says. “It’s easy to get a little careless, so it is really important not to lose your discipline on the costs, investments or accountability of your team to execute the plan. You have to use constraint in some respects.”

In other words, if a leader has a nothing-can-stop-him mentality, the leader shouldn’t go in over his or her head.

“You have to be careful because hubris can occur and can lead to problems down the road. Overexpansion, too much hiring, too much equipment brought on, new technologies and new acquisitions — all those kinds of things when businesses are doing very well may not get as carefully scrutinized as they would if the business were going through a bad economic cycle.”

That scrutiny means knowing exactly where the business is going from one month to the next, one quarter to the next and one year to the next before a leader decides on an ambitious route.

If a company has a sense of ambition and urgency, it avoids the slower pace of business as usual, and a new project has a much better chance of succeeding.

You can bet on that.