Is Your Head in the Sand?

Marc Kermisch, VP & CIO, Red Wing Shoe Co.
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Marc Kermisch, VP & CIO, Red Wing Shoe Co.

I have often worked at companies where employees never pick their heads up and look beyond the four walls of their office. They don't recognize that many other companies in their industry or outside are solving similar problems on a daily basis. That they may be able to learn from a company even if they operate in a totally different manner. Frankly, it shocks me that companies would let their employees get this way, let alone the individuals that act in this manner. Though, even at the very top the C-Suite can get insular, setting a bad precedent for the rest of the organization.

I remember when I joined Target Corporation 10 years ago, part of my induction to the culture was that "If it wasn't invented here, it didn't matter" was a pervasive attitude. There was not an appreciation of the experience that new hires brought nor was there appreciation for how other companies approached similar challenges. Even when Target made attempts to look outside its four walls, often employees and leaders dismissed learning's with the statement "That won't work here". Have you ever heard that at your company?

This attitude of "Not invented here" or "We have always done it this way" are major impediments to change in a company and its culture. As employees get rooted to these tenants, innovation grinds to a halt and companies and their culture go stagnant. Only when a major market or external disruption impacts a company, will they wake up. Case in point, it took a major security breach to wake Target up from its slumber. They already knew their market strategy was under pressure, but it took a bigger event to wake up the Board, Shareholders, Leadership and the employees to start challenging the norms that had grown into the culture. Thought it was almost two years earlier that Amazon had released their "Price Checker" application that put all traditional retailers on notice.

  ‚ÄčThis attitude of "Not invented here" or "We have always done it this way" are major impediments to change in a company and its culture 

Finding inspiration is important to remain fresh, competitive and valuable. This must start at the individual, as companies are made up of individuals not departments or leaders. Without curiosity and a quest for inspiration the individual employee is no better than a legion of drones.

For me, I find inspiration in learning from others. This can be through a conversation, reading a book or an article, listening to a Podcast or experiencing a different culture. One of my favorite things to do is learn about adjacent functions from my own. I love learning about marketing, sales and supply chain. Each of these domains tackles problems differently. Supply chain organizations often are focused on incremental improvements versus marketing organizations who love to rapidly test and learn new ideas. I also am fascinated with start-ups and the financing that surrounds them. Learning from founders who can be cutting a new path (i.e. Virtual Reality) or disrupting an industry (Workday/ Uber) or simply riffing on an existing service or product is invaluable. These founders/ companies are trying to create something from nothing with little to no capital or even human resources. Battling it out every day against large behemoths from GE to Amazon to Wal-mart.

Recently, I read an article about how TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie realized he had grown stagnant and was drifting from what inspired him to create his company. He leveraged his peers, colleagues, coaches and family to rediscover why he started TOMS and after a brief sabbatical, returned to launch new product ideas with renewed enthusiasm. See, it doesn't matter what level you are at a company, each of us needs to find inspiration every day.

So get your head up out of your cubicle and take a look around. Figure out how to learn something new, study an adjacent function, take a break from work and rediscover what it means to play. Whatever gives you inspiration, keep finding it day after day.

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