Quiz: Fixed vs Fluid
Regardless of what the airport bookstore shelves tell you, there's no single future of work. There are multiple organizational futures stretching out in front of every company, and the road best taken is dependent on the environment around you.
Social organization, from the nuclear family to the limited liability corporation, is a problem-solving strategy. Animals hunt in packs to confront larger prey; people form businesses to take on bigger opportunities. In other words, since social organizations emerge in response to their environment, they should evolve in response to their environment, too.
The survival of the fittest is the ageless law of nature, but the fittest are rarely the strong. The fittest are those endowed with the qualifications for adaptation, the ability to accept the inevitable and conform to the unavoidable, to harmonize with existing or changing conditions.
– Dave E. Smalley
To help our clients think about calibrating the way they work to their environment, we have leadership teams complete the two-part quiz below and discuss. It's a simple tool meant to spark a conversation about your business and the market around it. Give it a try and share your scores and feedback with us in the comments.
PART ONE: YOUR MARKET
Consider a specific product line (e.g. men’s razors) or service segment (e.g. business credit card holders) of your business. Choose the number for each question that best represents this product/service.
Add up your score and review.
Score of less than 7
You are operating in an extremely fixed market, so fixed that it could be vulnerable to disruption. As a team, discuss:
- How might a startup eventually disrupt you? Could it be through a new technology (blockchain, voice, IoT, machine learning, etc.)? Or could it be by delivering value in a new way (subscription, freemium, bundling, etc.)? However you think you could be disrupted, start building that business within your walls today.
- Say you have incubated a new business. When will you know when to decrease or discontinue support of your existing product or service in favor of it? When the time comes, will your team have the courage to do it?
Score of 8-12
You are operating in a fixed market. Conditions may demand greater consistency, lower prices, and/or overall optimization. As a team, discuss:
- Where do inefficiencies still exist operationally? How can you improve these areas without experiencing diminishing returns or making yourself brittle to change?
- What elements of your business, if any, are dynamic and less predictable? How can you keep an eye on these areas in case the market shifts toward greater fluidity?
Score of 13-23
Your market is smack-dab in the middle of our spectrum. As a team, discuss:
- Which direction has your market moved over time (i.e., Has it become more fixed or more fluid in the last 18-36 months?) and why (i.e., What factors or players have driven the change?).
- What could happen to you if the market continues to shift? Start preparing now for the next stage of your market.
Score of 24-29
You are operating in a fluid market. Your conditions demand rapid experimentation and learning. As a team, discuss:
- Rank the aspects of your market (customers, competitors, partners, channels, resources, geographies, pricing, etc.) from least to most predictable. For the least predictable elements, how can you test and learn more effectively to reduce the uncertainty in your business?
- Are there elements of your business that could benefit from greater efficiency without harming your ability to test and learn?
Score of greater than 30
You are operating in an extremely fluid market, so fluid in fact that it might not become a viable long-term market.
Conversations worth having with your team:
- If you're, in essence, building a new market, what about it makes it new? A new customer segment? A new customer behavior? A new form of delivery?
- How can you keep your costs low enough to survive the time it takes for your market to mature?
- What measures and milestones will tell you whether you're making progress and when you should pivot?
PART TWO: YOUR WAYS OF WORKING
Consider the structures and systems that produce the product line or service segment you evaluated above. Choose the number for each question that best represents those structures and systems.
Add up your score and then subtract it from your score in Part One (meaning Score for Part One - Score for Part Two).
If you ended up with a difference of 6 or more:
The way you work could be too fixed for your market, especially if you feel that your market has been trending more toward fluid for the last 18-36 months. Work might feel frustratingly slow compared to the changing world around you, because inertia and/or fear is stopping you from changing.
As a team, discuss:
- Can you orient your teams toward a customer-focused mission that is broader than a single product or process? This will help you have both greater focus and flexibility.
- What processes can you implement to sense and respond to external changes faster? How can you incentivize your people to share their learnings and ritualize the act of sharing?
- How can you break down silos and encourage greater collaboration?
- How can you encourage greater risk taking, within boundaries of some kind?
- How can you delegate responsibilities and distribute authority down the hierarchy and out to the edges of the company?
- How can you hire new talent and develop existing talent to be trusted with greater authority and how can you promote a greater sense of inclusion and belonging among your teams?
If you ended up with a difference of -6 or less:
The way you work could be too fluid for your market, especially if you feel that your market has been trending more toward fixed for the last 18-36 months. Work may feel like constantly reinventing the wheel. You may still operate as you did as a smaller company or business unit, yet that way of working could be creating unnecessary waste and preventing you from realizing economies of scale and other efficiencies.
As a team, discuss:
- Is there a clear opportunity to double down on an existing product or service by increasing its quality, consistency, or affordability? How can you focus your people on this task while decreasing their explorations elsewhere?
- Can you free up valuable time and reduce uncertainty for your people by making more decisions for them?
- Should you formalize team structures to make it easier to manage your people and processes?
- Do you need to implement quality assurance processes to increase customer satisfaction?
- Should you be hiring with greater focus on expertise and/or spending more on developing the expertise of your existing employees?
If you ended up with a difference between -6 and 6:
Your work is likely well calibrated to your market. However, as your market shifts so too should the way you work. Re-take this assessment as a leadership team every six months and reflect on what might be changing.
Management books sell because they tell a neat, linear story complete with cherry-picked anecdotes. But businesses thrive because of constant, iterative pathfinding and self-reflection. The allure of a silver bullet all too often takes our attention away as leaders from deep investigation of our markets and our own organizations. With Fixed vs Fluid, we hope a simple assessment can focus our clients' attention where it matters most.