Many founders today are fundamentally averse to risk. It makes sense. Part of managing a company is assuming responsibility for the livelihood of a lot of people. Attempts at semi-radical innovation or at adopting unproven internal strategies increase your risk for creating negative outcomes, losing customers, or purging profit. It’s natural to opt for the tried and true.
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The reality, however, is that success of the lasting and disruptive variety is most often a product of embracing change – of being willing to try new things and appreciating the value of evolution.
Founders who play it safe hardly ever impact the world.
Evolution and adaptation make companies stronger.
To try new things, embrace new opportunities, and address new challenges is to make your company more resilient, unique, and dynamic.
To fight change, meanwhile, and insist upon abiding by a once-proven status quo, is to render yourself stubborn and, ultimately, stagnant.
This is something my team and I at Skylum learned first-hand. We started as developers only of iOS photography apps. Then we moved to creating Mac-only apps and became very successful at it, as proven by thousands of loyal customers and awards from Apple for 6 years in a row.
But as we grew, we saw a need in the Windows market for similar functionality. So we took the risk of expanding, evolving into a multi-platform development company. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and we ran into a variety of roadblocks along the way. But persisting through that adversity and adjusting things internally to overcome those roadblocks made our teams stronger, our products more effective, and it improved our bottom line.
Last year, we grew our user base by over 200%.
In life, growth and self-improvement are products of pushing your boundaries. The same is often true in the startup world.
And it’s for this reason that we maintain our belief in the importance of evolution and adaptation.
At the end of December, for example, we launched Luminar 3, the long-awaited update to our flagship product that included the Library, which allows users to manage and edit their images in one place. Most folks were happy with it, but some still preferred their old workflow. What they needed was a tool that allowed them to stick with that if they wanted but which also utilized our new AI-powered features.
Therefore, we decided to launch a new product, Luminar Flex. It was a change and a new direction for the product, but it was what our people wanted.
We also recently launched a new product called AirMagic – an automatic image enhancer for drone photos. This was a totally new niche for us. Even though drone photography is still, of course, a popular style of photography, it requires different approaches to editing and image manipulation. We had to invest in figuring that out.
In other words, we’re exploring new directions to expand the business and not simply sticking with our proven products and solutions. We believe this has made us stronger.
Evolution also allows for education.
Learning new things – acquiring wisdom and awareness – is just as important as becoming logistically stronger.
It’s how you as a company leader, for example, will equip yourself with the market knowledge and expertise to steer your company strategically. It’s how you’ll be able to identify important trends and opportunities in the future.
But to tangibly educate yourself, you have to be willing to not only take risks, but to also fail.
It’s a bit like skiing. You’ll never teach yourself what you need to know in order to brave the entire mountain – nor identify your existing weaknesses – until you force yourself down its steeper, unknown slopes.
Much of what we learn, both in life and in business, we learn through trial and error.
Now, there’s a difference between losing focus and embracing change.
You as a founder should only embrace change if it makes sense for you to do so.
To help you make this determination, turn to your company’s big goals. You’ll find that they act like North Stars: they’ll help you decide which unproven roads to try, which new paths to brave.
In other words, if you know your company’s preferred ultimate destination, you’ll be able to better identify which new strategies to try on your way. By being properly informed and ideologically tempered, you’ll be able to distinguish the risks which most realistically promise to further your progress toward that final location.
More broadly, to fear change is to induce paralysis.
Much of the change I’ve discussed so far pertains to purposeful, strategic change – big-picture risks.
But the truth about change is that, on a smaller scale, it’s fundamentally inevitable. As you’re growing a company, things will break. What can go wrong will go wrong. And the only real way to deal with that kind of change is to embrace it and take each new challenge one step at a time. If you’re constantly fearing it, meanwhile, you’ll never be as nimble as you need to be – not just at a high level, but on a daily basis.
Understanding that change, adaptation, and evolution makes you stronger, then, you should position your people and design your core values so as to champion things like education, flexibility, and making adjustments. If you do that, you’ll be in a much better position to take the big risks and make big changes – the ones that truly take you down roads less traveled and that actually accelerate your progress. The companies who are capable of doing that are the ones that leave a unique imprint on the world.