When James Dyson invented his first bagless vacuum cleaner, it took him 15 years and 5.126 prototypes. Many people would have given up long before the final product, cleaner number 5127, but he was convinced there was a better way to clean carpets. He was proved right. His bagless vacuum cleaner went on to sweep away the opposition, and Dyson has subsequently created a hugely successful worldwide business and is now worth over £20 billion.
Thomas Edison had a similar journey. He embraced failure in his bid to create the light bulb. He had multiple setbacks, but when a reporter asked him – ‘How did it feel to fail a thousand times?’ He replied – ‘I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.’
But we don’t all have the determination and tenacity of a Dyson or an Edison. And the more difficult the problem, the less likely we are to attempt to find a solution. It’s probably explains why as many as ninety per cent give up the piano after six months, or less. The process is seen as too difficult, and too time consuming to master. But, as any good music teacher will tell you, with the right attitude, the right methodology and the right learning tools, the piano can be mastered. Fingers can create music, and you will have a skill for life.
The problem with problems is that we often give up long before a solution is found. We are impatient. We want results now. In the commercial world we have a business to run, products to make, meetings to attend, mouths to feed, stakeholders to keep happy. The prospect of adding another problem to your ‘to do’ list is simply too scary.
Take the issues around ESG (Environment, Social and Corporate governance). Many business leaders would like to embed these three letters into their operation, but find the thought of combining commercial success with the demands of ESG simply too hard. It’s a seen as complex, costly, and will take far too long to fix. The end result is that they either give up, leave the problem for another day, or pretend they’ve solved it when they haven’t. Greenwashing anyone?
But ignoring a problem isn’t going to solve it. It’s going to make it worse. Stakeholders will see you’re not taking appropriate steps. Your inaction means that you’ll lose customers, employees, investment and damage your supply chain, as people realise you’re not living up to your ESG goals. Your reputation and brand will suffer. You’ll also find you’re not compliant with new legislation that requires you play your part in helping society and our planet. Hardly a recipe for commercial success.
So what can you do? The answer is to not ignore the problem, but to tackle it head on. The tools now exist that not only reveal what is holding your business back, but show the areas you need to address to deliver commercial, environmental and social value for your business. There are metrics that will reveal precisely your rate of success as you embrace ESG. They will ensure you stay on the right track to deliver your goals. These can be done quickly and cost effectively. The issues you face, turn from problems into opportunities. Like Edison, this could be your lightbulb moment.