the ceo magazine, leadership,
Allen Adamson, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Metaforce

Will your business still be in business five years from now? That depends on whether it’s still relevant to your customers - whether what it does still matters to them. To stay relevant, businesses must indisputably know why they matter to their customers. That said, maintaining relevance in a world that’s changing so very fast is very challenging. The ability to keep up with what matters to people is being significantly challenged by the accelerating pace of change – and new ways of doing things – that are emerging with every passing day. Even small errors in navigation on the part of businesses can have huge consequences. Businesses that have the skillset to course correct on the fly are those that will be most likely to succeed.

Businesses that have leaders who have the characteristics required to course correct on the fly are those that will be even more likely to succeed. In the research for our book, Shift Ahead: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast-Changing World, we interviewed more than 100 executives  and experts who lived through change, and who led the charge shifting their companies ahead of marketplace changes, before it was too late. We talked to them about how, in example after example, shifting markets, customer needs, competitors, and technology have left some companies struggling to survive, while others have emerged only stronger. What was it that differentiated one company leader from another? How was one able to move an organization forward in the face of change, while another was left behind? No doubt, it takes an extraordinary individual to be able to overcome obstacles as well as to prepare and execute an effective shift of strategic direction. As the result of our many conversations with senior management across a broad spectrum of organizations, we determined that there are three primary characteristics of leadership necessary to help an organization shift ahead of change successfully.

Peripheral Vision: The lay business practitioner often uses the word vision to describe the first essential characteristic that a leader must possess to bring about an organizational shift. This definition confines vision to future forecasting and decision making, which doesn’t capture nearly enough what is truly required. What is required is a deep understanding of customers, their problems, how their problems can be solved, and how technological advances enable alternate solutions. We decided that peripheral vision describes this trait much more than mere vision does. Peripheral vision is seeing a broader landscape, seeing the context, seeing both the bigger picture and the details. To have peripheral vision requires getting out of the bubble of your desk in the corner office, no matter how high that office might be. Or, sharing a phrase that people used about Bill Marriott’s management style: “His feet never touched his desk.” The continued success of the Marriott organization is due, in good part, to the fact that Bill was always out on the road, looking at all the details that could make or break a guest experience. As a leader, he could see and sense what shifts were required along the way to stay a category leader.

The ability to see and seize: It’s one thing to be able to see and sense changes in the road ahead and in the broader landscape. It’s another to have the wherewithal to seize on the opportunities they portend. While some leaders may be able to see an opportunity to shift strategy, they have neither the insight nor the risk tolerance to act upon it. The challenge, obviously, is maintaining competitive advantage without disrupting daily operations. But the implications for not staying in front of marketplace dynamics raise a greater threat – obsolescence.  There was a catchphrase a few years back, “Dell or be Delled.” In other words, if you don’t disrupt the category, someone else will. James Quincey, the new CEO of Coca-Cola said, “If we’re not making mistakes, we’re not trying hard enough.” Shifting ahead requires leaders who can take bold actions.

The understanding that “Success is never final”: That’s not our phrase. It’s actually from an interview with, again, Bill Marriott whose father attributed it to Winston Churchill. “With every great success, my father would tell me to stop patting myself on the back, and remind me that there would always be new markets to conquer and more guests to satisfy.” At the risk of being too obvious, no matter the organization, whether public or private, for profit or not, there will always be more “guests” to satisfy. As demographics, markets, technology, and global forces continue to rapidly change, so, too, will the needs of those guests. For organizations to meet those needs and expectations, for organizations in a fast-changing world, they must have leaders who possess the understanding that success is never final.

Whether your business will still be in business five years from now is, of course, dependent on many things. If your business is led by someone who possesses the above three characteristics, well, based on our research, we’d say the odds are in its favor.

About the Author

Allen Adamson is Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Metaforce (, a disruptive marketing and product consultancy which, unlike traditional firms, takes a multi-disciplinary channel-agnostic approach to marketing challenges. Allen is a noted industry expert in all disciplines of branding. He has worked with a broad spectrum of consumer and corporate businesses in industries ranging from packaged goods and technology, to health care and financial services, to hospitality and entertainment.How organizations do – or do not - stay relevant is the subject of Allen’s most recent book, Shift Ahead: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast-Changing World. Using fascinating first-hand accounts and detailed case studies, Shift Ahead explains how the best organizations recognize when it’s time to change direction, and how they pull it off while bolstering their brands.

[Image courtesy of khunaspix at]


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