Five Reasons Why a Burning Platform is Bad for Innovation and Change

Jun 03, 2019 • FeaturesJan Van VeenmanagementmoreMomentumBurning PlatformService Innovation and Design

A burning platform is bad for innovation and change because it focuses on an urgent necessity to change. This triggers a defensive attitude causing higher risks for failure, has a lot of collateral damage and does not drive fluid, continuous innovation for sustainable success. Jan Van Veen explains why... 

Quite often, when talking with business leaders and clients, I hear the problem that the organization and its people are not that open to innovate and change as they already have good performance and there is no clear threat visible yet. They experience it as a lack of “sense of urgency”: there is no “burning platform” for innovation and change.

A common approach is to either wait until the situation gets worse or construct a (mini)crisis to increase and maintain a sense of urgency.

However, the question is:
• Do we really need a burning platform to innovate and change? And;
• What are the downsides to building change and innovation around a burning platform?

In this article I will share five reasons why a Burning Platform is bad for sustainable innovation and change.

Why a burning platform is bad for innovation? 
1.You are too late
Typically, the trends which create threats or opportunities develop a long while before becoming an obvious burning platform. First, there are the first weak signals for a trend. At this time, it is still hard to accurately predict what will happen and when. Maybe different way signals are contradictory.

So often, these weak signals are being ignored by the majority. After some time, we see the first competitors moving, but actually also struggling to successfully address the threats of opportunities. Their initiatives seem to be failing. As a result, the majority still waits. Once the leading competitors are having their first successes and the trends become emerging, the burning platform becomes visible.

But now, the leading competitors have learned and built capabilities and can scale. While the lagging majority is still trying to find the right questions, let alone the right answers. They are dropping behind the leading pack in their industry. They are too late. 

2. You get a deeper performance dip
The urgent situation of a burning platform means there is a critical situation which requires a rapid response and rapid results.
The topic is becoming increasingly dominant in the daily activities of everyone in the organisations. All hands on deck!

It starts distracting attention from the daily work of running the business. The overall performance will suffer more and longer than if the urgent can critical situation would have been prevented by innovation and change at a much earlier stage.

3. You disengage your valuable people
In general, a necessity to change – the burning platform – will create higher stress levels which will impact altitude and behaviour towards change. The more critical and urgent the necessity, the bigger the chances are for stress levels which will trigger defensive reactions like fight, flight or freeze.

Too often, we see the stress levels resulting in internal fights, pointing fingers, pushing problems to other teams and the best talents moving to other companies.

These are negative sentiments, which can be transformed into a positive and bonding sentiment within teams for a while, but not for long.

4. You miss the best solutions
The defensive fight, flight or freeze behaviour mentioned above, also triggers short term reactive thinking and blocks constructive and creative thinking.

When solutions require deeper analysis, being open to new types of solutions and require collaboration between different teams or department, this reactive short-term thinking is counterproductive.

The high level of stress increases the risks of not seeing the real problems or opportunities, not finding the right solutions and not doing what it really takes to get the results.

"It starts distracting attention from the daily work of running the business..."

5. You increase the risk for failure
During the first attempt of implementing a new solution, we should expect hiccups. Instead of experiencing this as a failure, everyone should see this as learning.

They should be able to have a constructive and forward-looking mindset to collectively understand why it is not working yet and what interventions are required to get it right. With a flight, fight or freeze attitude, the chances are bigger people will blame others or the conditions, find reasons to justify the disappointing results and give up.

For sure, we know about success stories where companies successfully pivoted their business during a crisis, like IBM. We also now the examples where companies miserably failed during a crisis and did not survive. 

The better alternative: Purpose
The better alternative is what the leading and dynamic manufacturers do very well: the rally their employees, their clients and their partners with a strong and compelling purpose which makes continuous innovations and change the natural, logical and compelling thing to do.

Like everyone at Philips Healthcare is committed to transforming our healthcare by offering and developing integrated solutions (hardware, software, services) for people to live healthier, prevent deceases, be diagnosed quicker and more accurately, receive better and less intrusive treatment and receive the care they need at home.

Or like Tesla is accelerating the transition of sustainable energy and transportation with electric vehicles, better batteries and solar panels. This approach will be more rewarding for everyone, lead to sustainable success of the business and reduce the chances of entering periods of critical decline of performance. It will avoid you being on a burning platform.

The Essence: People Do change!
I believe that people do change and drive innovation, if there are compelling reasons and not too many obstacles. After all, that is the only reason the world is changing so rapidly.

Too many organisations do a bad job in providing compelling reasons and good job in creating obstacles. That is the reason organisations struggle in keeping up the high pace of changing world.

Leading, dynamic and innovative companies set themselves apart by maintaining a clear and compelling purpose, direction and strategic intent as well as e great environment for collaborative change and innovation.

Conclusion and recommendation
In this article, I described five reasons why the common practice burning platforms and sense of urgency are bad for innovation and change. I also briefly described the best practice alternative: build and maintain a compelling purpose for everyone to be proud of and to work on.

If you are on the same page and would like to take next steps, I would recommend you to:

• Assess what your personal view is on the reason your business or department should change and innovate differently or quicker.
• Assess to how compelling this is for the 1) shareholder, 2) boardroom, 3) employees and 4) clients.
• Evaluate and enrich (your view of) the purpose of your company or your department. What is your relevance for the industry, for your clients and for the society?
• Reach out to me for a discovery or sound-boarding session. I am happy to help and also curious to learn from your experience.

I am confident this will bring you actionable insights for your department - if not for the business as a whole. Good luck!

Jan van Veen is Founder and Managing Director at moreMoumentum.