Who killed the boob tube?

Every now and again an experience alters the way we view the world – our paradigm.  In 2001, I was part of a conversation which altered my understanding of how change occurs.

I was at  Deutsche Bank in Germany,  leading a day-long training workshop.  My clients were mid-level Credit Risk Managers, responsible for granting lines of credit and capital loans to clients within a given industry.  One manager recalled a recent decision which impacted his portfolio of cathode tube manufacturers.  He made a bold (and unselfish) decision to decline long-term loans to his clients on the grounds that flat-screen technology would render cathode tube televisions obsolete prior to loan maturity.  A long-term loan was a bet against new technology, and against change.  Deutsche Bank agreed with his decision, and was quickly followed by several other banks, greatly accelerating the world’s transition to flat screen technologies.

Every organization hopes for a leader with the vision to make transformational decisions. Instead, we should ask leaders to foster organizational cultures in which a larger range of individuals (such as my client at Deutsche Bank) are given the authority to speak up, utilize their expertise and make decisions.  Those organizations will find themselves shaping change instead of reacting to it.