Imagine you are trying to climb up a mountain. Hard enough, as it is. Specially, if you have missed being regular at the gym or yoga and junked up more on Netflix and Swiggy.
Now, add this scenario. What if the mountain is gradually disappearing even before you realize it?
Or, even more stark, what if you could see the mountain crumbling? Would you call it out? Or would you just keep your head down and keep climbing up, because that's what everyone else seems to be doing?
Over the last few years of practicing data and strategy led storytelling, I have come to realize one startlingly common thing that many struggling firms share. Before their struggles translate to corporate underperformance:
They tell stories that are beyond their expiry date.
And if they continue to tell it too long, it finally shows up, in red, in the company financials.
The reasons could be simple. The market has shifted. Demand is no longer the same. The old customers are attriting. The CEO has changed her mind. The story has to change, or at least adapt to the new circumstances. We have seen this happen with multiple iconic companies from Kodak to GE. But, they keep selling the old story, in interviews, in employee townhalls, till, one day, the mountain crumbles and it's too late to save everyone.
The story is what failed first. Even if they realized that the old story is no longer working, why did the leaders and the employees not realize it?
The answer lies is another story called "The Emperor's New Clothes." Hans Christian Andersen in his famous tale, spoke about the greedy emperor who was tricked due to his love for new, shiny, clothes by clever weavers who claimed to have weaved an invisible suit - a suit that would not be visible to those “not fit for their positions or for those who are stupid.” Of course, the emperor and his cronies and subjects all claimed to be able to see this wonderful suit. It took the clear voice of a child to shout out the real truth, that the emperor was in fact, duped, cheated, and naked.
Various versions of this story play out in corporate boardrooms when people are too scared to call out the cloak of invisibility. It makes people not ask questions when the vision and actions are clearly not aligned. It makes them keep the same silence when the story being told and the true story are at loggerheads.
It keeps the fake story alive, bandaged in the same cloak of invisibility we hope no one will see through.
If no one has that courage to speak out, we will all be climbing up vanishing mountains in jobs, which, just like the lives Thanos (Avengers) clicked away, could soon be one click away from extinction.
Let's expire the false story first.