If you are working with institutions or brands that have been around for a very long time, you are familiar with this dilemma. The only constant is change, yet it would be foolish to throw away everything you’ve built already. I call it the Preservation Paradox. What do you change? What do you keep? And how do you decide? Here are three factors that will help you.
1. Know and embrace your core values
What are you about? What difference do you make in the world? It is a cruel act of fate that the longer your history is, the fuzzier your raison d’être becomes. Every founder of a shiny new app can tell you exactly why the world needs it, but why do we need the Eiffel tower? What’s the point of the ballet? And why would we preserve the thousands of languages on the brink of extinction when everybody speaks English?
It is a really valuable exercise for institutions, legacy brands and traditions to question themselves and to get back to their core values. What would the world be missing if tomorrow you were gone? Finding the answer to that question is like finding the fountain of eternal youth.
2. Are you value-first or customer-first?
When it comes to value there are two very distinct ways of looking at the world. Do you start from your beliefs and are you trying to convince people of those values? Or is the customer king and do you adapt your product to their wants and needs? Simply put: are you trying to get people to buy FROM you or do you want people to buy INTO an idea? Understanding your preferred perspective is essential because it decides your strategy.
Are you trying to get people to buy FROM you or do you want people to buy INTO an idea?
A lot of the literature on business strategies and innovation is based on customer-driven organisations. If the customer is king then those strategies make a lot of sense. But if you are working with a value-driven product that good advice doesn’t make sense, precisely because your strategy works the other way around.
3. Organise for change
Change is the only constant. And value is built not by constantly wiping the slate clean but by building on tradition. The dirty little secret of the battle between innovation and tradition is that it isn’t a battle but a dance. Maturity isn’t a linear process. It is an often messy tug of war between what you have achieved already and what you can be tomorrow. You should actively organise for change.
Maturity isn’t a linear process. It is an often messy tug of war between what you have achieved already and what you can be tomorrow.
A tradition is an unfinished story. It never simply is. This back and forth between preservation and adaptation is what keeps the story alive. So go ahead and look at your org chart and your business model, your day-to-day and your five year plans and ask yourself “How do we actively organise for change instead of only passively reacting to it?”.
A product that meekly undergoes history doesn’t last forever. And a product that doesn’t care about its legacy will never have one. Only the stories that easily dance between innovation and tradition will have eternal life.