Bob Dylan and the accelerators of change

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LONDON – Last week they handed out ‎a special award at the Grammys in the USA. It was called the MusiCares Person of the Year Award. And it went to Bob Dylan.

His 30+ minute speech can be read here and is a good one for anybody interested in music and the cult of Dylan. But it’s got an interesting business angle too.

It’s not quite a man’s rendition of his own obituary, but almost. Dylan talks about change as a progression. He explains that he doesn’t think he did anything new. But indulges in the fiery anger of someone who feels misunderstood.

However, he’s not just anyone.

“I have to thank Jimi, too. I wish he was here.”

Surely there ‎aren’t many people in the music charts today who could say that and not have it sound ridiculous.

And while we can accept Bob’s view that he didn’t completely make up a whole new world of music, we have to believe that he was an accelerator. That he took the ingredients of change and mixed them into a more explosive brew. He sped up the progression and drove innovation. He delivered a whole new way of thinking about music and song-writing.

‎And the more time I spend talking to people in business, the more I realise the profound effect that the music and spirit of invention since the Second World War has had on many people. So here’s a chance to bring the thinking together.

I have heard CEOS and global Chairmen speak passionately about their fixation with The Grateful Dead, or their 300+ visits to concert halls to hear Bruce Springsteen.

So let’s work from Bob Dylan and think about how business can accelerate change in their organisations.

1. Set your ambition, meet it, then exceed it

That might seem trite. Obvious even. But it’s not.

‘Value leakage’‎ starts almost immediately. You know the stats about how many change programmes meet their targets for delivering value. It’s very poor. If any one of us has that kind of success rate — one in three — in our day jobs, we’d not last long. But it continues to be the norm.

We think that should change. We think that if you set a target ‎you should meet it, at a minimum. And if you are properly ambitious you should accelerate your plan and exceed expectations.

As Dylan says, think of it as playing ‘Roll the Cotton Down’ until you know it inside and out… and then writing ‘Maggie’s Farm’. (Make sure you really, fully know the task at hand and then ‎you can create something new, and bigger and more ambitious.)

We can do it. And you can too.

2. It’s not magic, it’s just hard work

There’s a lot to be said for the appearance of significant and unexplainable change.

Harvard Business Review is built on the idea that there are new techniques that can revolutionise the way you do things. And as much as we like to read about those too, long-term readers will start to be a bit sceptical.

Like Dylan says there are a few simple ingredients to bringing about the new out of the old. They include a real understanding of what went before, a clear mastery of what you want to do, and the ability to create something new.

As he said on Friday night:

“Times always change. They really do. And you have to always be ready for something that’s coming along and you never expected it.”

That’s got to be a key ingredient to successful change. It’s hard work. It’s the experience and the understanding built out of really knowing your craft and understanding your condition and goals, that results in seeing what others often can’t.

3. Start with a plan

At the heart then of the ability to deliver change and accelerate change is the idea that have a clear focus and an industrious plan. That’s where Able and How’s Year of the Plan comes in‎. In music and the arts great things — inspiration — comes about by the relentless pursuit of your objectives.

In business we often rush ahead without understanding and planning for those objectives.‎ The plan is missing.

Now you might want to argue that, as John Lennon said, “life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.” But life and work are different. Few of us have time or the mandate to relentlessly commit ourselves to simply ‘living life’ at work. We need to deliver results and complete projects. And we need to organise and work with others to complete specified tasks. To do that a plan is needed.

As you make your plans over time and use them to consistently deliver change, you begin to see the way forward more clearly.

Back to Bob Dylan:

“If you sung all these “come all ye” songs all the time, you’d be writing, “Come gather ’round people where ever you roam, admit that the waters around you have grown / Accept that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone / If your time to you is worth saving / And you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone / The times they are a-changing.” “

And that’s what the expert says. Plan your changes effectively. Implement change management techniques. And you can achieve great results. Get to know what is required inside and out, be clear about your goals, and you can accelerate change in ways unimagined by others.

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