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Opinion: Protecting the norm may cost your business

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Adapt or die. Or put more delicately: Without change, there is no growth. Without growth, the company perishes.

Change is how we adapt. One thing I’ve learned in the last 30 years is whether you’re in theatrical production, live events, facility renovations, management or leadership, adaptation is never a straight line. There’s always something that doesn’t go as planned. Maybe that’s why change seems so difficult.

As business owners and company leaders, we know that adaptation is imperative. Equally important is accepting change. This means not getting frustrated because things are different. It means adjusting plans when strategic company priorities shift, roles and responsibilities are altered, or new systems, technologies, process improvements or policy changes are activated.

It is human nature to want to protect the norm or “the way we’ve always done it.” But protecting the norm doesn’t always mean protecting the company. Case in point: Blockbuster video stores.

It may surprise you that the movie and television industry did not invent video streaming. They were too preoccupied with protecting their old business models, literally ignoring streaming’s “full-speed ahead” movement.

However, the CEO of Blockbuster – the behemoth of video rentals at the time – took notice of a small company with big ideas that was creating a new video streaming system using a subscription model. He went to his board and basically said, I think we should explore this subscription model because Netflix is onto something. When technology improves, they will be leaders if left alone. The board refused to change the business model. Why? Because 12% of company revenue came from late fees. Netflix became the dominant force in video entertainment, and Blockbuster is now a single-store location in Portland, Oregon. It’s all because they weren’t willing to adapt.

Similarly, the music industry fought to protect the model of selling albums in stores. They viewed the customers as Tower Records, Camelot Records, etc. That was how it had always been. Apple’s iTunes, however, saw a change coming and adapted to the needs of music listeners instead of record labels. The rest is history.

There are many more examples of how protecting what worked in the past can lead to the death of a company. We have worked to avoid those traps at Paragon 360, our largest company. What began as solely a live event production company in 2000 is now a full-integration model. We started as design only, but due to customer requests, we transitioned into design-build. As our audio, video and lighting services grew, so did client demand for custom rigging, acoustics, scenic and architectural fabrication, auditorium seating and other needs. Now, we even manufacture our own LED walls. The road has been challenging and full of change. We transitioned and diversified from one company into six, adjusting from three employees to over 70 and adapting from a 6,000-square-foot rented office to over 70,000 square feet under roof. The sky is the limit as we watch our market, stay open to change and find the right ways to adapt.

The same goes for your business. Every day you are called upon to adapt. Maybe it’s a staffing issue, product availability, supply lines, schedules, transportation delays or a plethora of other issues. No matter the problem, watch your industry and study trends in your market. Seek out new ways to improve. The goal is to be adept at dealing with change – whether process or environment driven.

Analyzation is a soft skill that easily adjusts to changing circumstances and keeps up with shifting priorities, projects, clients and technology. Don’t get flustered. This is why you are at the top. It’s the job of management. I know it isn’t easy. But, in the words of Jimmy Dugan (played by Tom Hanks) in “A League of Their Own,” “It’s supposed to be hard. If it weren’t hard, everyone would do it.”

Donnie Brawner is CEO and owner of Paragon 360 and Paragon Fabrication. He can be reached at
dbrawner@paragon360.com.

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