In Jacks first year as CEO of General Electric he visited one of the companies businesses which was a facility that built nuclear reactor plants in San Jose, California. The leadership team at that plant presented a rosy plan of how that they were going to build three new reactors a year. Looking backward, that was a reasonable assumption since General Electric had been selling three or four reactors a year since the 1970’s. However, it was 1981, just two years after the Three Mile Nuclear disaster in Pennsylvania. General Electric had not received an order for new reactors for two years now. Jack listened to the team tell him how it was now coming back and that the future is bright.
Jack told them that they should quit building reactors and instead focus on selling nuclear fuel and servicing the 72 active reactors that they have already built. The team was shocked and told Jack that he was crazy to think that would be a great model. They said it would kill morale and they would never be able to bounce back from attempting this new business model.
As great leaders do, Jack didn’t listen to them and re-staffed the business unit to do exactly what he had proposed. And the business went from $14 million to $116 in just two years. 20 years later when Jack retired not one new single order for a nuclear reactor was ever issued in the United States.
So what can we learn here? Here are my observations.
- When you are too close to a project, just like the leadership team at the nuclear reactor building plant, it is hard for you to see the bigger picture. You get so focused on trying to save what is gone, or eventually will be gone, that you try to save something that shouldn’t be saved. The culture at that time in the United States didn’t want to build more nuclear power plants. Sometimes you have to step away or have someone else come in and give you a reality check.
- A car on a flat street in neutral doesn’t move does it? Nope. The only way a car moves is if it is in drive or reverse. So that means a car can only go forwards or backwards. And that is just like us as well. We as humans can go only one of two ways. We are either looking forward and moving forward, or we are looking backwards because we are moving backwards. My advice is keep your eyes forward and always be looking out to see what is next and where you are going and where could you be going. That is what the leadership team should have been doing at the nuclear reactor plant.
- Don’t abandon what you are doing, instead pivot. Instead of building nuclear plant, GE started servicing them. Who better to service them then the people who built them? Nobody. They didn’t leave the core business they just did something different within it.
If you look at this example. The change that the leadership team needed to experience didn’t have to suck did it? As it turns out it didn’t. Nope they pivoted their business, saw the bigger picture and moved forward with a new business model that actually earned them a lot more money.
This is the same for you. Change doesn’t have to suck for you either. How can you pivot to something new in your life? What are the areas in your life that you keep looking back on? You should be looking forward. My hope is that you haven’t had something similar to a nuclear reactor plant blow up in your life, causing you great harm. This is very doubtful. But even if it has, pivot and use your skills and talents differently to serve or make changes that you know need to be made so you can live the life you want to live.
To your success and your future.