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Subvert The Dominant Paradigm

June 19. San Francisco. Atelier Laurent Studio.

It was a gathering of contrarians, a few hundred radicals hand-selected to come together to mash it up inside an inspiring art studio. These weren’t painters or sculptors. These were protagonists in the business world, protestors of the status quo – demonstrators, if you will, of a better way to build and run organizations. This was a gathering of change agents who drive new agendas all over the world – in big organizations and small, established ones and newbie’s. This event was called the MIX Mashup. Its stories can be found here.

As you’ve read many times before, I’m a believer in – and practitioner of – the power of transformation.  Done well it has the ability to rise above the noise, stand out amidst the clutter, and drive market growth while accelerating through opportunities that enable higher levels of sustainable value. A transformation agenda does this by providing the belief system and operating framework that aligns an organization around one agenda, integrates product, sales and marketing around one point of view, and speeds decisions and action around one overarching objective. Attending the MIX Mashup was as comfortable as a homecoming for me.

Author Gary Hamel, co-founder of MIX and co-host of the event, urged the audience to “be more aspirational”, to “be more angry”. He urged attendees to define thoughts and actions based on what you want versus what you’ve been.  He’s right, of course. Just look at what budget planning looks like at most organizations. It’s a derivative of last year’s plan and last year’s results.

What is in the way of a better, more meaningful future?

Without being too obtuse, the Nobel Prize winning author, William Faulkner, who wrote of life in the segregated southern part of America, captured it well. The south was mired in a case of what Faulkner called, “Was. Is.”, meaning the south was stuck because its past was always present. “Was. Is.” Is that why so many organizations are going nowhere fast? Is that why so many can’t align around a future-focused agenda? Is ‘the gravitational pull of the past’, to quote a lovely turn of phrase by Geoffrey Moore the drag on what can be? I firmly believe it is. “Was. Is.” should be more like, ‘Was isn’t relevant any more’.

How can you think and act differently?

Be like a challenger brand. Take nothing for granted. Challenge conventional wisdom. Challenge the status quo. Start with the end in mind. Figure out what you want then handle things that are in the way. Challenge the dominance of the Big Dogs and their grip on how things are. Challenge the primal forces that conspire to keep things comfortable and tidy and as it’s always been.

How do you inspire others to be help power transformation?

I have my phrases. Gary Hamel, Geoffrey Moore, and others have theirs. But the best rallying cry of all just might be a bumper sticker I saw one day. It certainly works in this context.


  1. Jonathan Opp says:

    Wonderfully said.

    It often takes something special to keep organizations from slowly reverting to past mindsets and the “way things have always been done around here.”

    You need big, bold, inspiring, challenging, subversive ideas. Or consider the alternative, to have a crisis force change for you.

    • Thomas Butta says:

      Thanks, Jonathan.

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