The Volatile Invariant: Death by Immutability

Each and everyone of us have moments in life that we are challenged on our most primitive beliefs. Those beliefs are the core of our beings and the guidelines that, consciously or unconsciously, drive our lifestyle, desires and aspirations. The more unshakeable they are, the stronger and resilient is the path we trace. Therefore, one might say that they should be invariant, as they are the core of all; and this core should never change, otherwise the premise we live for is broken.

The rationale presented by many on these aspects is not wrong, if you take the reference from where they are looking and making the inferences needed to layout the arguments. The hypothesis is pretty straightforward, in order to evaluate a situation X, the set of rules should be finite so you can provide an outcome that is predicable according to the factors in your belief. Predicability is important to keep consistency and standard.

On the same lines, many business and teams are built, assumptions are made and evolution is forecasted. Yes, you read it rightly, I said forecasted. The metrics stablished by any representative group is as good as the early assumptions made. That being said, the nice charts and inflated confidence on the beliefs used to write down the plan, draws a unilateral view of what the owner of it wants to see. The strong the premises, the more coupled is the numbers seen with the micro reality created to fit it.

This is the so called Business Invariant. A nice jargon used to limit the business and human capability to evolve. The strong desire to control the unknown takes exceptional companies, as well of extraordinary minds, to have the same restrictions of a genie in a bottle. They corner their momentum by the desire to regulate a rather volatile environment. As time passes, business struggles to surpass their goals, people stagnate in the most rudimentary state, where their craft becomes as good as Charles Chaplin’s factory work on Modern Times.

Henri Bergson has forged a nice phrase while talking about comedy and it goes more or less as:

The laughable element consists of a mechanical inelasticity, just where one would expect to find the wide-awake adaptability and the living pliableness of human being.
— Henri Bergson

The most important take I get from it is the ironical point that the built-in expectations are hard and inflexible, whereas it’s envisioned adaptability and extensibility. The incapability of changing results in the decay of the evolutionary mind. The root of innovative endeavour is based on the self-proficiency of challenge the so proclaimed consistency created by the narrowed-mind invariant.

Let’s take an example, maybe less laboured than the points above. Let’s say that as we are working on our day to day, we found an amazing opportunity to build a business. Our most valuable potential customers are bird cataloguers and their main focus is on being able to trace all types of flying birds.

What are the invariants we can find in there? It’s quite simple, our business assumption is that:

  • the animals we know are birds
  • the birds we know fly
  • A side business invariant is our customer uses our system for cataloguing these birds.

Ok, we layout our work, we prepared our whole company on the perfect grounds above. Nice charts are created and we can see amazing forecasts going towards then.

As times passes, the most valuable paying customer says that although his niche is birds that flies, around 20% of their business is actually with no flying birds like chicken. Moreover, these 20% are equivalent to 80% of their income. They would be willing to go an extra mile and invest more in your business as they find it extremely useful.

The dilemma now arises. What should we do? Let’s keep our so well defined business invariant? Maybe telling our customer “I’m sorry, you know, we have this immutable business invariant that says all birds must fly. We cannot help you.”

Fine, let’s say you turn down your customer up there. Now a new business partner, a reference from other using clients, says they love the platform, but they actually have a similar need for catalogue with squirrels that fake flying, by gliding in the air. Another difficult time for the Immutable Business!

There are so many ways of challenging the roots of a business. The same is true for human beings. The exclusivity of exceptions does not exist only to challenge companies, they exist to challenge entrepreneurs.

The word “entrepreneur” originates from a thirteenth-century French verb, entreprendre, meaning “to do something” or “to undertake.”

Limiting our vocabulary to a few handy definitions is the same of creating barriers for our own growth. Entrepreneurs are the entities of change that agnostically to the problem tries to solve the needs by adapting their understanding. By making invariants a core definition of your stream, it’s the same as diagnosing the death by immutability.

Fair, you might be asking now for proof that this is bad and why the radicalism against the radical invariant. Let’s go over a few historical cases. We all know about great business like Blockbuster, Blackberry, Nokia, Siemens. Let’s take a more detailed information from them.

Blockbuster was a major player in the 90’s. Such a huge company that had more than 90,000 employees over more than 9,000 video-rental stores in the United States. In 2010, they went bankrupt with close to 1$ Billion debt. What was the reason? Quite simple, the amazing Business Invariant! Yes, the raise of Netflix challenged the immutable core. How come video stream would be so popular?

Blackberry story is also quite fun. The Canadian company founded in 90’s was once an extremely innovative company. The early assessment on the need of phones to the new era paid off quite well. In the peak of business, the had the astonishing 3$ Billion revenue. Their strong beliefs on the way a phone should design and the operation systems they should use, culminated in their spiral downfall to Android and Apple, to a point that a once 146$ stock price, now worths less than 10$.

Does it mean that our fundamentals are wrong? That we should be volatile and throw away all our core values? The answer is a big fat No. The point on challenging oneself is not to break the grounds you stand for, but to demystify the trend created that invariant is the shield that protects you. A shield that struggles you is no good than announced suicide.

There are extremely good stories on how you can keep your core while you evolve. It’s not hard to find the examples Apple, Microsoft, Disney are classical cases of it. Let’s explore them a bit.

In a point in time, Apple decided that Steve Jobs was not a good fit as the CEO anymore. They then fired him and decided to take on different projects and expand their market. Apple created a myriad of different products, despite of them the company was soaring in debt levels. Meanwhile, Jobs was opening Pixar. Pixar had super hard times and the contract they purchased to create an animated movie was a question of life and death. To make a long story short, Pixar was a success. Their first movie Toy Story had a $373 million worldwide revenue in just a week. On the other front Apple was loosing money and barely finding a good product market fit. As Pixar popularity grew, Apple decided to go back on their word and called Steve Jobs back. What was his first act? Close all products that are not the core of Apples business. Steve Jobs literally killed tons of jobs and products to focus on the foundation which Apple was built. You will be wrong if you think he said “Let’s sell Apple 2”. No, he said, let’s do what we believe the best way, but let’s make it innovative again. It was the decision of reviving the spirit, not the invariant.

A second and super short story is about Disney. As 2Ds animation were getting to a deadline. Disney decided to invest in a new approach. Their most valuable core value was entertainment and classical cartoons like Mickey and group still makes a lot of money nowadays. However they pivoted their business to keep in business. The approach taken was exactly the first 3D movie done by Disney. Do you know which one? Toy Story! Yes, Pixar first movie was Disney most blustering success in pivoting their business.

The most important take on the facts history tells us is that there is nothing in this world that is Immutable, besides Death. Staying in a striving business means having guidelines that explicitly shares your values, but never being afraid of pivoting your assumptions. The most radical measure any entrepreneur can apply is strongly creating coupled invariants that shape one way of seeing the world.

As an entrepreneur, on your company or as a professional, accepting the world changes and you should change as well is the sole path to continuity. As Simon Sinek says:

The leaders who embrace an infinite mindset, in stark contrast, build stronger, more innovative, more inspiring organizations. Their people trust each other and their leaders. They have the resilience to thrive in an ever-changing world, while their competitors fall by the wayside. Ultimately, they are the ones who lead the rest of us into the future.
— Simon Sinek

The success is not measure by how hard you fight for designed patterns, but how capable in adapting you are. Do not allow that Business Invariant become the Death by Immutability.

A believer of human is capable of simplicity. A passionate of developing business. A dreamer of empowering people.

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