Creative pains

This blog had been silent for a long time, mainly because my creativity had dried up. Perhaps, it would be more truthful to say that it had been blocked by the frustration and torment caused by a slipped disc crushing my sciatic nerve.

I followed all the expert advice, trying painkillers, physiotherapy, osteopathy, mindfulness meditation,  gym, massage and pilates to alleviate the pain. Some of these helped prevent me completely lose my mind (the gym and mindfulness meditation), others helped fix problems caused by the problem (notably massage and Pilates). But unfortunately, none of these managed to remove the problem.

After ‘conservative’ treatment failed, I went through a relatively swift process of MRI scans, diagnostic pain relieving injections and then surgery at the hands of an incredibly talented Italian surgeon.

Some two weeks after the operation, I find myself sat at my desk typing this little missive, realising why my creativity had disappeared – I had been too wrapped up in dealing with the side effects of the problem, the pain, the tight muscles, the frustration… and completely unable to lift my head up away from the problems.

And as I read an article in Quartz it struck me that many companies are stuck in a similar position, desperately trying to maintain sales and income, while being unable to deal with the challenge of market disruption.

Occasionally, companies will be fortunate enough to find a surgeon that can redirect the course of that companies timeline. On his return to Apple, Steve Jobs (RIP) hacked back product lines, refocussed efforts and purposefully built an ecosystem that would disrupt both those competitors that had threatened Apple’s very existence and other companies in segments that no-one would have forseen.

Sometimes, companies can’t be saved – Blockbuster appears to have become too entrenched in its stores and even Carl Icahn couldn’t change the course of that lumbering behemoth as it sails nearer and nearer to the iceberg of irrelevancy. Thanks to iTunes, Amazon, Netflix and on-demand TV – the days of the giant movie rental store appear numbered.

So what? I hear you say.

Where do I find the right surgeon?

Well the answer, as any MBA will tell you is that “it depends”.

But the answer most of us need is far more subtle than that. What can I do about it?

The first thing is to acknowledge that there is a problem – and that it hurts.

The second is to keep questioning why the problem exists, and to never feel safe in the knowledge that you have an answer.

The third step is to spend time in contemplation away from the specific problem, trying to look at what is going on in the rest of the world and how that knowledge can shape a vision for the future.

Once the future vision is in place, try to look at the first steps along the path of how to get there. And then articulate that vision of how you want the world to be to others, let them see the big bright future you have envisaged.

And then, treat every problem as an opportunity to learn, grow and refine that pathway.

Right now, my future feels bright, I have regained my direction and self-belief despite the fear of having to take that step of having the root of the problem cut away.

Embrace the pain my friends, for it leads to a better future.

  1. How well I am able to empathise with this situation Matt. When I had a serious Spinal surgery 7 years back, I was always running for the next promotion and completely forgotten my life story and the long term goals, looking back the pain and the surgery that happened after are the best things to have happened to me (only beating the Cranfield MBA by a minor margin though).

    My thoughts are similar, except that this kind of a process is equally essential for every long term goal that the company may have, not just market disruption.

    Sometimes it is finding and focusing on strengths and sometimes it is finding a market niche, it could even be an entirely new Business like what WIPRO (Western India Products) did to move from soap and light company to software services, it all requires the same process of admitting the problem, questioning everything that you do and find solutions in every possible direction, well put my friend. Today in my business I realise that if the leader of the company is too involved in operations the possibility of the above happening are thin.

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