The world looks different from what it was yesterday. The product Coca Cola sold when it started looks drastically different from what they sell currently. Does it make the company less of “Coca Cola” and more of something else?
Has it turned out well for the company?
Businesses fear change, not because they are afraid to move on. They fear it because they believe it might lead to losing the originality which helped them sell their products before. This tendency has stalled the growth of organisations all over the world. It does not mean an absolute death sentence but the zeal to break free of the shackles of traditional practices goes into a coma.
Every time a company starts, the founders create a vision and a mission. These ideals help the company in staying strictly on the curated path. Come uncertain times, the foundation of all the ideals start shaking. That is when companies are bound to become something they never planned to be. Ones with flexibility fare through the turbulent times well, ones with rigidity face unexpected fate.
Startups, on the other hand, are born out of risk. From the very beginning, their life has been standing on the precipice. The best part is, they evolve every day. They become something new and start all over again throughout their entrepreneurial journey. The world does not exist in binary for them.
This is where I would like to introduce The Ship of Theseus.
Theseus was a greek hero who happened to own a ship. Now, this ship was a real work of art but, with time, the wood in it started degrading. The caretaker started replacing the rotten wood with fresh wood. Slowly, every piece of wood from the ship was replaced with new wood.
Is it still the ship of Theseus?
If no, at what point in time did it cease to be the same ship? Was it when the first piece of wood was replaced or when the last piece of wood was replaced?
If yes, how original is it now? Does it still have the same essence it used to have? Is Theseus comfortable anymore going on voyages on that ship?
A more fundamental question arises here. Do startups lose their identity when they answer the call of the hour?
This question is the root of all dilemmas leaders face when adapting to change. It lies at the core of all thought problems administrators face while figuring out whether to remain in the red ocean or create a blue ocean.
A few days back, I was talking to this highly experienced professional from the advertising industry. We were discussing risk-taking attitudes amongst startups. He told me about how he started his company years back in the advertising industry. Back in the 90s, when he came into existence, the competition was as brutal as it is now. Following the red ocean strategy was never the answer to make it big. Instead of trying to become a traditional advertising agency, he decided to create a whole different category and they have been evolving ever since. They are still an advertising agency, still growing strong.
Change is the piece of wood out of which startups are built.
Startup’s growth and the ship of theseus are very much connected. Innovative ideas need no old perimeters. They need an open field to become what they intend to. If you replace a piece of change with another piece of change, it will still be made out of change- the elementary material.
The vision and mission I mentioned earlier, should focus on being in business. Employees will come and go, your address will change with time but if you are still doing business, customers will find a way to you.
The caretaker decided to remove the rotten wood because he wanted the ship to exist over everything. Theseus believes in safety and he wants to reach his destination successfully. If he sticks to the old wood, his life, his existence could be at stake.
When you’re starting up, growth and existence are the only two things that matter. Keep growing, keep innovating and never be afraid of change!