Thriving On Chaos – The New Normal

In 1987 Tom Peters, bestselling author of ‘In Search of Excellence’ published ‘Thriving on Chaos – Handbook for a Management Revolution’.

This was the state of the US economy then:

  • In 1986 138 banks failed, the largest number in one year since the Great Depression
  • The national saving rate, long the lowest in the industrial world, continued to decline
  • IBM was declared dead in 1979, the best of the best in 1982, and dead again in 1986

Peters summarized as follows: “In 1987 and for the foreseeable future, there is no such thing as a solid or even substantial lead over one’s competitors. Too much is changing for anyone to be complacent. There are two ways to respond to the end of the era of sustainable excellence. One is frenzy. The second strategy is paradoxical-meeting uncertainty by emphasizing a set of new basics: world-class quality and service, enhanced responsiveness through greatly increased flexibility, and continuous short-cycle innovation and improvement.”

We need to take Tom’s 1987 prescription – dosage – three times a day – (and perhaps a spoon full of sugar) if it feels like medicine to you. I keep hearing business owners attempting to find words to describe our present economic situation. People keep asking me if I think things are improving. It’s as if we’re waiting for something magical to happen to take us back into a time when things were “easier”. I think it’s a waste of energy to live like this. I think that what is required is that we seek to constantly improve all aspects of our operations and to really embrace and not just pay lip service to the fact that the only thing constant is change.

Exceptional customer service is the backbone of any business. Everyone knows this. Yet we have complaints regarding our health care sector –practitioners only care about the money and not about the patients. That those housing healthcare services also put money first before service and that even after forking out hard earned dollars that the service provided is below customer expectations. In the financial services sector – with “financial supermarkets” offering one stop shopping for all financial services – again little care for the customer – just about the money. And of course the retail sector where everyone gets to complain – we can find a long list of what’s wrong there as well.

My questions are:

  1. How difficult is it for any company or organization to put their efforts into providing excellent customer service?
  2. Why, if this is the area from which revenue is generated that so little attention is given EVEN in the wake of customer complaints?
  3. Why would a prescription – that is so obviously simple AND cost effective – be ignored in favour of a complex solution that is not only going to cost more but take longer to master and implement?
  4. Is it that we have been so conditioned for things to be hard that we are making it harder than it needs to be?
  5. Or is it that we are ‘doing the Ostrich’ and hoping that business will just pick back up to the point where we would not have to worry about anything, including service, because the money will be flowing again?

For those who want to bask in la-la land waiting for the tide to turn – be my guest.  For those who are sick and tired of being sick and tired I have the following two suggestions:

The first is to take back control of your business and your life. Quit the blame game and climb out of victim mode. Ascertain those things which you have control over. You have no control over the economy and you cannot chart your course based on someone else’s predictions. Take 100% responsibility. Dr Robert Resnick (a psychotherapist) taught this formula: E +R = O. Event + Response = Outcome.  You can blame an ‘event’ for your lack of results but that’s not going to change the results is it? Instead you can change your response to the events – the way things are – until you achieve the outcome your want. In other words you have to regain control of your thoughts, your dreams for your business and your own behaviour. Everything you say and do needs to be aligned with where you say you want to go.

The second is to adopt a ‘possibilities’ mindset. Resist being a pessimist. You do not have enough information to be pessimistic. Refuse to allow yourself to have low expectations about what you are capable of creating. Be open to everything. When someone suggests something to you that conflicts with your conditioning, rather than responding with “That’s ridiculous or that’s impossible” say instead “I’ve never considered that before. Let me think about it.” Let go of those things that you’ve believed about what you are capable of and what your business is capable of achieving.

And above all – remember Tom’s advice: cherish impermanence and learn to thrive on chaos!

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