What Kodak, Blackberry and I have in Common.
Abraham Lincoln had little formal education, but he had conviction and a voracious intellect. He emerged from the shadows to become president of a country that was on the verge of civil war and were only 40% of the public voted for him. Times were tough, but he made it through for two very important reasons; he had purpose and vision. These were to reunite the nation and to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which would eradicate slavery once and for all. I felt that my experience during iweek was similar to Lincoln’s, I arose slowly as a leader whose vision and purpose shaped our final product and overall direction throughout the project. But I also learned something new about leading and that is to be flexible to change.
When finding the “perfect” solution to a challenge I constantly struggled with, I tend to narrow my perspective, to close my mind and to focus on that one thing alone. In fact, I end up loving that idea so much that I make others believe in it as well. I believe that my ability to envision gives me power as a leader, but it has its drawbacks as I then learned.
My “perfect” solution to the iweek challenge consisted on producing a newspaper that would truly benefit our audience, that is FDR high school students. So I turned that idea into our mission statement: to curate content that FDR high school students both want and need. In my eyes, that was the only way our newspaper could become truly desirable and ultimately successful.
Almost immediately, I communicated that vision to the whole group; the web-page designers made sections that would allocate to the students wants and needs accordingly and the content producers had the low-attention-spans of students in mind when writing articles or producing videos.
When everything is going as planned, as you envision, one feels this sense of satisfaction that surges from your stomach and then rises up to your lungs when taking a deep breath. It’s sense a peace, of tranquility that you don’t want to let go of.
But change happens, and it does so unexpectedly that it flips your world and makes your stomach churn. The group in charge of the name and logo had produced ones, which everybody agreed on, but only I disliked. In my eyes, in my beloved “vision” they did not fit. I thought; “if our mission is to produce content that students both want and need then the essence of our newspaper was opposite to that “of being out of uniform”.”
So I resisted, I put up a fight until the last day.
Time was against us, only a couple of hours were left and we were still searching for alternatives to change our title and logo. This was upon my initiative as I had made people notice the disconnection between our mission statement and our title. However, no good ideas came around and we were helplessly stuck.
This was until Bonicci came around and refreshed our perspectives; he made us understand that “out of uniform” did not need to have a literal meaning, that it could be more than just physicality.
That was when I realized how close-minded I had been, how stuck up to my perfect little “vision” I had become. It was fear, I came to understand, fear of changing what already seemed to work. And it was then when I let go of such fear, that creativity and good ideas started to flow between the team.
We eventually realized that “out of uniform” could be a phrase that built our identity, that rather than being out of uniform as in clothes, it could mean breaking what is uniform as in conventional. Because we understood that the conventional did not work: that the Monday Messenger and the Daily Bulletin failed to fulfill their missions because they were undesirable to the students. They delivered news in a conventional way and that was exactly what we wanted to change.
It was after this experience, that I was able to understand how vision, though crucial, can easily blind and absorb you, how it can create a fear to change.
It was then when I truly understood creative destruction; when I understood why Kodak never realized that the world around them was evolving and that they were falling behind and why BlackBerry waited long after the iPhone to start innovating, to start re-inventing themselves.
But most importantly, it helped me understand that I fear change, that I fear to change what seems to work and that I fear to be proved wrong. And this fear, as in iweek, keeps me from improving, from being creative, from being a flexible leader.
But, at least, I am now cognizant of it and unlike Kodak and Blackberry I am able to move forward.