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BW Businessworld

Who put the Shark in my Tank!! Adversity fueling innovation and Growth?

Like in life even in business, it is believed that managers can build high levels of resilience in themselves and their teams by taking charge of how they think about adversity.

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Decades of research in psychology and human evolution confirms that humans have a distinct, consistent pattern of thinking about life and its pattern. There may be an unconscious reflection to look in the past at traumatic incidents to explain what could be happening in the present which is adverse in nature. Sometimes these strong negative emotions start to prevent our moving on.

Like in life even in business, it is believed that managers can build high levels of resilience in themselves and their teams by taking charge of how they think about adversity. Resilient managers move quickly from analysis to a plan of action (and reaction). After the onset of adversity, they shift from cause-oriented thinking to response-oriented thinking, and their focus is strictly on moving forward. 

A short story will illustrate this behaviour. The Japanese have always loved fresh fish. But the waters close to Japan have not held many fish for decades. So, to feed the Japanese population, fishing boats got bigger and went farther than ever. The farther the fishermen went, the longer it took to bring in the fish. If the return trip took more than a few days, the fish were not fresh. The Japanese did not like the taste. To solve this problem, fishing companies installed freezers on their boats. They would catch the fish and freeze them at sea. Freezers allowed the boats to go farther and stay longer. However, the Japanese could taste the difference between fresh and frozen and they did not like frozen fish. The frozen fish brought a lower price. So, fishing companies installed fish tanks. They would catch the fish and stuff them in the tanks, fin to fin. After a little thrashing around, the fish stopped moving. They were tired and dull, but alive. Unfortunately, the Japanese could still taste the difference. Because the fish did not move for days, they lost their fresh-fish taste. The Japanese preferred the lively taste of fresh fish, not sluggish fish. 

So how did Japanese fishing companies solve this problem? 

How do they get fresh-tasting fish to Japan? 

If you were consulting the fish industry, what would you recommend?

 How Japanese Fish Stay Fresh: To keep the fish tasting fresh, the Japanese fishing companies still put the fish in the tanks. But now they add a small shark to each tank. The shark eats a few fish, but most of the fish arrive in a very lively state. The fish are challenged. Have you realized that some of us are also living in a pond but most of the time tired & dull, So , we need a Shark in our life to keep us awake and moving? 

Similarly, in business Sharks are new challenges to keep companies and ventures active. The more intelligent, persistent and competent you are, the more you enjoy a challenge. If your challenges are the correct size, and if you are steadily conquering those challenges, you are Conqueror. You think of your challenges and get energized. You are excited to try new solutions. This works well for start up’s and also in a way galvanize big corporates to restructure and look at their processes and reinvent to remain ahead of the race.

Making adversity a friend and working to find a solution helps. However as per normal human tendency many of us tend to fall into the emotional trap of victimization. Many of us assume the role of helpless bystander in the face of an adverse event. We start believing that “Other People are responsible “and have put us in an unfortunate position. You see many corporates suffer from this. They dismiss both criticism and helpful suggestions, and go out of their way to affirm that what was being done by them in the past has been right and any new change is wrong, and not welcome as no one understands or has the experience to match their time-tested solutions. Meanwhile, they feel hopelessly constrained by circumstances and play the blame game which may eventually lead to their downfall. For example, you may find traditional sales resources finding it difficult to embrace the challenges faced by Online channels. There could be a feeling of resentment, competition and initially even ignoring the new change. This eventually leads to anger and mistrust which is detrimental to growth, whereas for the company the right approach would be of acceptance and working complementary to each other to garner growth.

If we take the current crisis faced by us, which is the pandemic. Even this adversity has given us some opportunities like the positive effect on the environment.  Carbon emissions are down globally and the planet has had a chance to rejuvenate. Also, many businesses have had to reinvent themselves with a new 'business as unusual' philosophy. Another positive outcome is a rejuvenated sense of community and social cohesion. Self-isolation challenges us as social animals who desire relationships, contact and interaction with other humans. People all around the world are finding new ways to address the need for interconnectedness- could be social media, video calls, Facebook etc. COVID-19 is a major market disruptor that has led to unprecedent levels of innovation. Due to the lockdown, so many businesses have had to reinvent themselves with a new 'business as unusual' philosophy. This includes cafes turning into takeaway venues and  distilleries now making hand sanitizers. Many businesses have had to undergo rapid digitalization and offer their services online. Some could use this wave of innovation to reimagine their business model and change or grow their market. Home-schooling is becoming the new way of learning, exposing many parents to what their children know and do at school. Coronavirus is driving a new wave of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The global pandemic has become a litmus test for how seriously companies are taking their CSR and their work with key stakeholders: the community, employees, consumers and the environment. The other big positive outcome is massive transformation in education. True, most of it was not by choice. With schools closing down all around the world, many teachers are digitalizing the classroom, offering online education, educational games and tasks and self-led learning.

We could list many more positive outcomes and examples of great work and progress seen in these times of adversity

So are you ready to face the shark in your fish tank!!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Tags assigned to this article:
business growth innovation and technology

Vikas Chadha

The author is a Financial leader, Hospitality expert, Executive director and CFO With strong experience incorporates like Tata Global beverages, Thomas Cook, Berggruen hotels, Bharti Airtel Group, Marico ltd, Ampersand education. Vikas is also Founder and Director at First Equals LLP

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