We’re all enormously influenced by the stories we heard as children, even as adults. Psychological theory states that we are, perhaps, more influenced by the stories that we have forgotten than the ones we remember; more in thrall to our unconscious, the stories from our very earliest years, than from the myths and tales that we can remember.
In 2010, there was an increase in girls under the age of 10 being taken to hospital for salmonella after the release of The Princess and the Frog led to children kissing frogs in the US. (Not only did the children get ill from this, there were absolutely no princes reported.)
The old story tells of the transformation of a frog into a prince as the kiss of the princess undoes the curse of a wicked witch. Those children who became sick would have learned a lesson about transformation that will useful in later life. There are no guarantees; there is little certainty. Your best efforts might deliver a prince; probably they might deliver only a slightly moist frog.
Every business is undergoing disruption. Even the disruptors from the past two decades now fear disruption. It is crucial to have a transformation programme that gets ahead of the consequences of change – change in consumers, tech and competition.
Consumers’ expectations keep growing, so it isn’t possible to stick with traditional practices. Jeff Bezos famously said that Amazon’s role is to serve the beautifully dissatisfied customer. Everyone’s expectation of customer service is now as high as their best-ever customer-service experience. Even if it is in a different sector. Can your business transform and give the customer more than they currently expect before someone else does?
Business models that have relied on heritage revenue that has been in decline need to embrace new models of growing their income. Relying on cuts to protect the bottom line is short-term. Every business needs a transformation work stream that looks for and commits to innovation for growth.
Media habits are continuing to change quickly and the norms for the under-25s are vastly different to those of their elders, as the new IPA TouchPoints survey illustrates. It is not enough to hope that change will stabilise. Media planning must protect the brand’s saliency among this cohort for the future.
With transformation comes some uncertainty – more than some people want to have to deal with. It means trying out new things before you know the outcomes. Being agile and flexible in the business plan. This can be hard, especially for those who don’t like change.
One way to deal with this discomfort is to understand that some of the desire for a certain happy ending comes from our childhood influences. Everyone is influenced by the stories that they heard as children. In The Loudest Duck: Moving Beyond Diversity While Embracing Differences to Achieve Success at Work, Laura Liswood explains that many of our deepest beliefs come from early years and from our families. She suggests that a time comes, however, when we all need to "tell grandmother to go home".
We all take our unconscious selves to the workplace, bringing beliefs, perceptions, understandings, misunderstandings and importantly archetypes – or, indeed, stereotypes – of other people, based often on very deep-rooted understandings picked up from our parents and grandparents. So there remains an expectation that if we kiss the frog it will transform into a prince. That a bloke on a white horse will ride up and slay the dragon. That whatever the difficulties, it will all end happily ever after. That the superhero will win the day and make right what is wrong.
Transformation isn’t this simple. Change is necessary. It can be clear what we need to change from; the specific outcomes that you will get are sometimes less clear. If you’re waiting to press "go" on transformation, until you have the "from/to" nailed then you will probably be waiting while your competition overtakes you and a disruptor takes your business model from under you.
Life isn’t like fairy tales and childhood myths.
Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom
Picture: Getty Images