Reinventing the Wheel

I was riding my mountain bike, blasting down a trail, chasing my friend Adam Davis, and caught my front wheel in a hole. The rim bent in half, in the shape of a taco. Classic mistake.

Turns out there are different kinds of mountain bike rims. A couple millimeters of extra metal and a change in shape drastically alters the strength and the likelihood of bending it.

4 years ago, my rim was good. Now it is obsolete.

There are better, cheaper, stronger options, and I have to either replace the old or face a future of brokenness at the side of the trail!

When do you need a new wheel, personally and professionally?

1. When your wheel is broken too badly to ignore.

In our hospital context, we can no longer ignore when patients have avoidable bad outcomes or even death, when staff are quitting and moving to other facilities, when a client takes to the media to complain. . .broken systems can reach a crisis point that force action.

In these crisis situations, leaders must find a new wheel ASAP, which can be a blessing or a curse.

We must make hard decisions, we must move quickly — but that can open the door for mistakes.

Good leaders will rise to the occasion in a crisis and reimagine the broken systems. They will take the opportunity to reevaluate power structures and delegate responsibility, make new hires, bring necessary change.

Poor leaders will either limp along on the broken wheel or let it break completely through by doubling-down on old model or simply refusing to change/adapt. They will blame rather than own responsibility. They will cling to power rather than empowering their teammates.

2. When your wheel is squeaky.

Who is making the most noise in our organization? This one is tricky for all those in leadership, knowing what to do with the complainers and noise-makers. That guy who won’t shut up during meetings, the customer who gets really angry. . .do we give them what they want to make them quiet?

Don’t give in. Call on the quieter people in the room or in the organization to contribute. Don’t give the squeaky wheel a megaphone.

But. . .don’t discount this person, just because they are loud. If they are making noise for a legitimate reason, address it.

Whatever you do, you must address the squeaky wheel, because this person/people will not go away, and the problem will only grow.

(this is an ancient problem — look up the story of Absolom and how he usurped King David’s power because the king did not act).

3. When our wheel is wrong for the situation.

Mountain bike tires come in two sorts, those with tubes and tubeless. To those uninitiated, the traditional tube tires may look exactly the same, and they are until you run over a thorn. Then they have to be fixed trailside or it’s a long walk home.

Our people, our products, our plans may look great from the outside, but do they actually work in the desired context?

Last year one of my vendors spent three months building 2.0, much of it on the basis of requests I had made. It was really cool in concept, but some key pieces simply didn’t work. And the kicker, the reason I chose this vendor in the first place disappeared — the very easy checkout process with zero click-throughs.

Version 2.0 was not going to work for me, and they could have discovered this early on by emailing me a screen-grab or letting me know their plans. Instead they lost a customer because they built the wrong wheel!

4. When our wheel is good, but could be great.

This is the best reason to reinvent the wheel. Not because we have to because of crisis or failure or mismatch, but rather because great success looms behind the change.

Replacing a good wheel to be a great one takes discipline, focus, and continuous commitment to learning.

Take time to step back and evaluate. Annual reports, board retreats, long bike rides. . .whatever works for you and yoru team.

Ask for and listen intently to feedback. Talk to your customers and your team. What do they say. . .and more telling, what do they actually do?

Always be testing. It works, great. Could it be better. What happens with this change, what if we break the box?

Have courage to change. It really does take guts to figure out what isn’t working and make necessary changes. You will have to solicit support from colleagues, board members, clients. You will have to advocate, market, and turn adversaries into champions.

Read books, blogs & articles. Continuous learning is the key. Don’t look only at yourself, look around you, in other fields. Read, read, read. Share, share, share.

Take classes or form necessary relationships to upskill. I’m taking The Marketing Seminar with Seth Godin — it’s amazing. I’m also looking into ALT MBA and Acumen’s East Africa Fellowship for future growth. I sit down weekly with my board chair John, and my entrepreneur friend Tony to talk and dream. I listen to Entreleadership and Masters of Scale podcast — they are like going to school.

How is your wheel broken? What do you need to reinvent about yourself or your company? And how to do you continue to grow?

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