Leadership, the Environment, and a New Twist: Profit Power

August 1, 2013 · by James P. Cramer

Rapid adaption increasingly important to achieve growth, competitive success

It’s true; the information gutter has outstripped the information highway. But that doesn’t mean you should slow down your active use of social media, and the new web technologies and tools to aid your leadership in today’s professional practices.

While not everything that passes as progress is ultimately forward motion, the latest research from the Greenway Group reaffirms how important rapid adaptation is to achieve growth and competitive success.  Part of this improved condition happens it seems because of the fast mesh of the social technologies and also due to rebellion and invasion of traditional borders in our design and real estate industry.

Leaders in our field tend to keep a perspective on change.  That is why the strength of an organization entering into the increasingly uncertain future, lies with its leadership — its talent to manage change. Some overly democratized firms or collegial firms with sloppy governance are frequently in denial about this and in these situations inertia can set in. The sober truth is that there is no room for status quo minded mid-fifty year old baby boomer generation types riding out time until retirement. Nor should firms be tolerant of those people of despair and cynicism who are toxic in professional practices.

Leaders in successful professional practices are optimistic in the face of change. They understand that without objective optimism they are of little value to their firms and certainly without value to their clients — no matter how intellectually smart they may be otherwise.

Successful firms today have leaders who understand that a rising tide does not lift all boats.  These leaders recognize that growing and profitable firms are not just lucky; performance doesn’t just depend on an improving economy.  Success in professional practice happens because leaders are willing to ask smart questions, take time to plan and set goals, make some sacrifices, and take risks.  The context for professional practice is changing along with new trends and shifts we talk about in our workshops and conferences.  Yet one thing does not change: Leaders are called upon to be resilient under stress.  

Leaders keep up their sense of humor even when they face days of disappointment; losing a key interview and then another, and another, and another. Tough stuff. The context for success is not only changing but evolving.  Those successful in the design professions are adapting synchronized to the pace of the evolution of our time.

Today there is an attitudinal and scientific culture revolution in the design professions. Paradigms shift — rapidly. Those wedded to the outgoing paradigms too often seek solace in denial and resistance rather than in exploration and testing of new visions.  In the end those in denial of change will be defeated; pushed aside to make room for new professionals who are more comfortable with the dynamism of our time. These leaders are people not of just talk but of action.  They often tell us that they follow the money along with their ethics and core values intact.

Based on what we’ve seen while assessing the condition of professional practices there are three principle attitudes driving leaders who are of most value to their firms.  

  1. Leaders understand that they must invest in and invent their own sustainable future and to be an entrepreneur within today’s changing context.  Moreover, there’s plenty of opportunity in this new context.

  2. Leaders understand that chaos and change are major forces in professional life today.  Love it or hate it, but don’t whine about it. Take advantage of the infinite possibilities now available to in a world of constant flow.

  3. Leaders understand that they need to design their professional and personal life to be lean and action oriented. They follow values.  They tune-up their vision annually. They understand that their values will give them on-going strength and integrity and their currency of vision will energize and propel them ahead to achieve their goals in this time of rapid change.

Indeed, the pace of change will never again be as slow as it is today.  We’ll have linear innovation to manage but also non-linear and unexpected change to puzzle through.  Here’s the dilemma today: Thousands of professional practices are selling the same thing and delivering services the same way. You could say that this is the organizational equivalent of inbreeding.  It doesn’t take long for smart clients to recognize when services go stale or become slow, or irrelevant compared to other innovative choices in the marketplace.  In the changing context of practice there will be new vertical delivery battles, horizontal competitive situations and increasing global competition across traditional industry boundaries. No market niche is a safe harbor, all are in flux. Nevertheless, we witness fresh competitive strategies that can produce new-resilient success.

Here’s the new twist:  The profit-making potential of “new-strategy” professional practices will be undeniable; the advantage is immense in part due to environmental changes and pent up needs following the great recession.  The trends of our age will not go away.  Smart firms can prosper.
Today’s evolution is swift. While it may not be fair — it is the new reality.


James P. Cramer is chairman and CEO of the Greenway Group, a foresight management consultancy. Cramer is president of the Design Futures Council, the publisher and founding editor of DesignIntelligence, and former chief executive of the American Institute of Architects.

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