Lyris Connections Blog

Understanding What is Truly Possible

Jan 22, 2014 by

As long as I have been at Lyris (six months and counting), I have focused on the transformation of our organization in order to become the company we aspire to be.

Fundamental to that transformation is our move from an Applications company to a Platform company, which is in no way trivial and an effort that impacts everyone – at every level and both inside and outside the company.

In that time I have explored different ways of telling our story in an understandable way, to our customers, partners, investors, analysts, press, the market in general – and ourselves –  so that everyone can appreciate the progress of our transformation  and why we are on this journey.

It is challenging. There is much being reported in today’s tech news about the broad and important move to platforms. We hear that ‘Integration is the new Application,’ ‘Email is the new Email’ (sic), and… and… and ….Yet, somehow the most important things get ‘Lost in Translation.’

As such, any understanding of what is going on is limited by the audience’s  attempt (howsoever sincere)  to understand the ‘New’ in the context of the ‘Old.’ This, by the way, is not unique to Lyris – it is an eternal problem that has traveled through time with us.

Consider the unit of horsepower, a term adopted by James Watt in the late 18th century to explain the power of his steam machines in terms understood at the time: what can a horse pull. Later, as the internal combustion engine became popular, the same comparison was made. Long after horses were used in any real way for load pulling, the term lived on and still does, albeit informally these days. Any car enthusiast today will have an idea of his or her car engine’s horsepower – it is relevant – and still understood – though few of us have any clue how much load you can in fact put on a poor old horse.

My point is that we live in reference frameworks of understanding that help us understand the ‘new thing,’ and I contend that this results in limiting our understanding of what is truly possible – and what is really going on.

I had lunch last week with my long-time friend, Stuart Robbins. As usual, we solved many of the world’s problems – and then moved on to business. Stuart shared examples of the work of two people whose careers are helping me discover a new way of thinking how to explain what we are doing.

Example 1:

Andy Goldsworthy is an artist whose raw material is the nature that is around him – but who also pushed the boundaries of how his art should be viewed. To quote Andy, “My art is an attempt to reach beyond the surface appearance.”

Goldsworthy domeThis is no better exemplified than in work featured in his documentary “Rivers and Tides,” which includes film of building a perfectly formed dome made out of driftwood (in itself a masterpiece of art). But then as time passes, the tide comes in,  slowly lifts the dome up and moves it out into the ocean. This creates a second art form in the ocean, which of course morphs with time. At once Andy has created an art piece that lives in three dimensions – and then changes through the fourth dimension to another piece of art.

As Stuart described it in a white paper he wrote 10 years ago, when advising another company striving to introduce very new concepts in the marketplace:

“The natural assumption is that the illustration portrays the end result of the sculptor’s efforts, however, it is only the interim phase of the project. As the sea approaches the beach, the oncoming tide slowly lifts the entire stick dome and it floats independently out to sea, where the swirling tides slowly uncurl the arrangement to create an immense, dynamic spiral that is entirely in sync with the complex water currents that support it.”

Example 2:

Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain researcher who, according to  her short TED bio, “got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for.” She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions – motion, speech, self-awareness – “shut down one by one.”

Her talk can be found here and her book can be bought here.

Fascinating  though her talk was, the telling part to me – one that, alone, merits watching – was her comment that a “single step to the left can totally change your perspective.” Dr. Taylor’s life was changed, in a moment, by a single, pinpoint-sized air bubble – a moment that led to a very different appreciation for everything “she already knew.” Hers was an immense personal transformation enabled by something quite small.

It is the scientific viewpoint that, like Andy Goldsworthy’s art, tackling an idea does not have to be constrained by old thinking, but does require the audience to be open to that new idea. And if that happens, it is just a small step to view something from a totally new vantage point, creating a totally new and different perspective that opens out whole new levels of understanding.

The challenge, it seems to me, is not simply having that new idea (new product, new technology, new perspective) but finding innovative ways of helping our customers, partners, investors, analysts, and the press – as well as our colleagues – not only be open to that new idea, but helping them take that one step to the left to start unraveling the meaning and implications that are emerging.

The constraints of New vs. Old, and how we might possibly take ‘one step to the left’ are themes that apply directly to what we are doing as a company. Applying those themes, in useful ways, will be the topic of my next post, not to mention ‘exploring some cow paths.’

In the meantime, I would love to hear from you. Does this resonate? What makes sense to you? How do you ‘explain the new?’

John Philpin

About the Author: John Philpin

John Philpin is Lyris CEO, overseeing the company’s global leadership, business execution, and growth. A British national and U.S. resident, he has a wealth of experience in business transformation, software, and technology. John’s ultimate passion is the customer and considers this focus to be core to success.

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