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Re-invention re-examined

3 members of SCNetwork provide comments on a recent event looking at why HR needs to help guide reinvention in the age of disruption

Michael Clark, Karen Gorsline and Barbara Kofman of the SCNetwork offer their take on a recent presentation by Kate Sweetman, founding principal and chief client officer at SweetmanCragun in Boston. The original article in Canadian HR Reporter can be foundhere: Blindfolds.

Fine old wine, new bottle

By Michael Clark

The irony is author Kate Sweetman’s model of reinvention is not a reinvention. Her new book, Guiding Reinvention in the Age of Disruption, presented rapid fire to SCN, appears actually to be a repackaging of time-tested change heuristics and common sense.

Don’t get me wrong, common sense is, alas, not as common as we hope, so there is no real downside to drinking old wine in a new bottle, as long as it gets us back to drinking the good stuff. It remains disconcerting, though, when the design of the bottle — Sweetman’s reinvention framework — appears to lack logic and rigour.

For example, though Sweetman’s reinvention stifling “Six Blindfolds” are valid and powerful — and were just as valid and powerful when we studied bias — what distinguishes the six from each other is not clear. Doesn’t the blindfold “Arrogance” subsume the blindfolds “Dismissing Competitor’s Success” and “We know what’s best for the customer”? Even Sweetman mislabelled other blindfolds as “Arrogance” during her presentation.

Her reinvention model — the intersection of Vibrant Innovation, Change Mastery and Shared Energy — is so self-evident as to be reductive: “Do we want to be good at change? Then let’s be good at change!” Further, is there something about a 90-minute presentation that precludes any speaker demonstrating “how to” to back up her claims of “should do”? The elements of the model are all valid but if there was something new that Sweetman was bringing regarding execution, we didn’t hear about it.

Her Reinvention Formula provided for me the single powerful take-away; her formula is multiplicative, not additive. In other words, if any of the formula’s factors: Dissatisfaction, Focus, Alignment, Execution or Leadership, are missing, the reinvention effort is for naught. This goes a long way to articulate why even large-scale transformation failures so rarely leave even incremental change. Particularly laudable is how Sweetman has isolated Leadership from other factors, giving it due pride of place in change initiatives, or any initiative for that matter.

That fact that the formula’s Dissatisfaction is not syntactically isolated the way Leadership is, carries with it implications that are likely unintended. It oddly suggests that Dissatisfaction must be cultivated the same way that Focus, Alignment and Execution need cultivating. It provoked in me questions about whether Sweetman’s breathless rallying cry for re-invention is overwhelming the opportunity to ask ourselves if reinvention in our particular organization at this particular time is really a strategic imperative. Sweetman started her presentation with the vision of a future of perpetual disruptions, but is this truly the case for all of us, and, if so, to what degree?

She seems to be suggesting that there will be no status quo for anyone, and subsequently we all must direct resources toward change for change’s sake. Though she points out that reinvention only works when its multiplied factors are greater than the costs of reinvention, I hope her book comes with a warning to open only if needed, i.e. after some sober risk assessment versus jumping on a bandwagon.

 “If you take this very seriously, you will make change happen”, Sweetman exhorted SCN attendees. Yes, we do need to take this seriously, but we have been taking this seriously for some time now. If only someone could bring us some innovative new tools for reinvention. In the meantime, pass the bottle.

Michael Clark is director of business development at Forrest & Company, an organizational transformation firm with 30 years experience in developing the organizational and leadership capacity in organizations. 

Accelerating results in the age of disruption

By Barbara Kofman

The story of the race to reach the South Pole by Captain Robert Scott and his Norwegian rival, Roald Amundsen, as viewed through the leadership lens by Kate Sweetman, proved to be an effective narrative around which she built the case for the criticality of leadership and organizational "reinvention."

Why one man failed and the other succeeded will be woven into many future conversations with leaders along with the new leadership competency of reinvention, that aptitude for rapidly building and expediting individual and organizational change.

How does reinvention differ from competencies like strategic orientation? The key distinction is the timing and urgency with which this capability must be applied in today's warp speed world. Sweetman contends great leaders understand what worked yesterday won't necessarily work tomorrow a view that echoes that of one of the seminal futurists of the 20th century, Alvin Toffler, who asserted that “the rate of change has implications quite apart from, and sometimes more important than, the directions of change.”

Linked to this "new" leadership competency is a greater emphasis on the value of taking calculated risks and engendering a culture that accepts failure as a necessary step towards achieving organizational fluidity and the "survival of the species." Many leaders have failed to apply this Darwinian lesson. To illustrate Sweetman, focused on NOKIA, the Finnish company that dominated the early cell phone market only to fall prey to "Scott-like" thinking and become outdated due to ostrich in the sand leadership.

But how to make ideas like Sweetman's stick? Most HR practitioners "know" what needs to be done to bring about the kind of leadership required to create companies that are "built to last" but knowing, and having their leaders apply these best practices continues to be a challenge. Jim Collins used the metaphor of the mirror to make the point when things go wrong great leaders look into the mirror and sees themselves but when they go right they see everyone else.

Great leaders are willing to take risks. They're not complacent or content with the status quo. They approach mistakes with the question “What can we learn?” and when something goes wrong, they don't look for someone to blame.

A brief encounter after the SCNetwork session provided an opportunity to chat with Kate about her journey as a public speaker. She recounted the story of how she had learned to be an effective presenter, maintaining it was not a natural strength of hers, but that the single most important piece of feedback she received which helped her to change her perspective and become an effective presenter was from a coach who, after listening to her speak, told her the one thing that was crucial for her to change was her perspective, specifically to understand what she was saying was not about her but about her audience and how what she imparts will be of assistance to them. 

Many leaders suffer from a "me"-centred perspective. They are the ones who look in the mirror when things succeed and see themselves and when they fail see others. They are victims of one of Sweetman's six blindfolds

reinforcing the criticality when it comes to instituting change, that leaders begin by examining their own "mindsets,"  attitudes and beliefs and learn to be at ease challenging the way things have always been.

Its time to add to the list of core leadership competencies "nimbleness," the ability to swivel quickly, to understand the implications of global events, and to engage others in the opportunities they present, or as Sweetman labelled it "reinvention," and in so doing to ask our leaders some hard questions: Are they content with the status quo or seeking to champion innovation so their organizations can stay a step ahead of the competition? Do they view mistakes through the lens of, “What can we learn?” or “Who can I blame?” Do they see themselves as a Scott or an Amundsen?

Barbara Kofman is one of SCNetwork’s commentators on leadership and organizational effectiveness and founding principal of CareerTrails, a strategic coaching and HR Solutions organization focused on enabling individuals and organizations to resolve their work-related challenges. She has held senior roles in resourcing, strategy and outplacement, and taught at the university and college level. Barbara can be reached

Thumbs down, thumbs up: Reinvention as a cutting edge change mastery approach

By Karen Gorsline

Kate Sweetman’s basic premise is that companies fail or become irrelevant because they do not look far enough into the future.  Reinvention is seen as a competency both for both individual leaders and companies. Reinvention is defined as “quantum individual and organizational change accelerated.”

This competency involves learning “how to leverage and actually accelerate results when disruption hits”.  Sounds great, but here are three things that I don’t like and three things that I do.

Don’t like:

  1. While there was a passing reference to the Shell experience in scenario planning, The Living Company (1997) by Arie de Geus, Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?  (2002) by Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., and Agility and Mindset concepts, there was no clear acknowledgement that many people have been working on these issues for a long time. The world is not suddenly turbulent and disruption during change is far from new.  Hyperbole and snappy language don’t contribute to building on a body of knowledge and connecting with other great thinking on the topic.
  2. Using the words like “quantum,” “accelerated” and “disruption” which are used in physics and have found their way into idiom gives the illusion that there is science or measurement involved. Using these words and having a “reinvention formula” does not make conjecture into science. The “formula” is only a handy way of pulling thoughts together as to what comes into play to result in Reinvention.
  3. There is a claim that by following four strategies/intangibles outlined that companies can achieve “a widened economic moat, remarkable results, and a sustainable competitive advantage despite outside factors.” It sounds too good to be true.  The insights may be very helpful, but the claim oversteps substantive proof.

Do like:

  1. The “Six Blindfolds” outlined are: arrogance, believing a problem does not exist, dismissing competitor success, negative feedback not acknowledged, inability to know what we know, and belief that we know what is best for the customer. These are very helpful reminders of how ego and self-imposed views of the organization and the world can result in misinformed decisions which lead to inadequate or disastrous results. Probing these questions as part of strategy or decision making processes, introduce and acknowledge that there are potentially different scenarios or realities that need to be taken into consideration to produce good results.
  2. There is a focus on leadership “mindset” and behavioural models that incorporate innovation, mastering change and tapping into shared energy.  These point to a more proactive response where organizations change before they are forced to do so. If these are the cultural components, is scenario planning the infrastructure /tool used to organize knowledge and lay out options?
  3. The entrepreneurial feel of reinvention is appealing. Many qualities described are those that successful start-up or emerging companies have that somehow get lost as they grow bigger or mature. Entrepreneurial companies are flexible and adapt to threats in their environment, know who they are, recognize and build on opportunities, and have to be able to manage the financial aspects of growth. They don’t sit back on their laurels but look for the next challenge. It suggests that corporate reinvention is about successful evolution versus revolution.

When it comes to leadership and change, there is no silver bullet. Leaders and organizations need to constantly re-examine their thinking and assumptions. They need to think about where they are today and what will be required for tomorrow.  Reinvention, as a concept, offers a great deal to think about in terms of this reality check and reaffirms a belief that you can “teach and old dog new tricks.”

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork's lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives, a consulting practice focused on facilitation and tailored HR initiatives. Toronto-based, she has taught HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function adn directed a small business. She can be reached at

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