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#268: The New Normal

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, March 24, 2010
How can consultants take advantage of the the New Normal in business?

"New Normal" is defined as an equilibrium state in business or culture that represents a discernable change from a previous commonly recognized equilibrium. Equilibrium does not mean lack of movement, but a relatively stable set of processes, relationships and significant components of a system. A major disruption (e.g., economy crashes, demographic structure changes, new technology arises) affects so many aspects of our lives, that the combination of changes people and institutions are compelled to adopt to restore their effectiveness can create a new equilibrium around these new relationships and processes.

What does this have to do with consultants? Everything. First, in stable times, we need to be a step or two ahead of our markets and clients. In turbulent times, we need to be agile enough to be ahead in whatever direction our clients and their industries go. Second, our own business is built on the "Old Normal." As the world changes, we need to change our own relationships, processes and assets on which our practices rest. Third, there is no one "New Normal for business as a whole. Because each significant disruption affects industries and populations differently, the New Normal will manifest itself differently.

Tip: We never really know when what the media reports as "The New Normal" is done changing. Most reports describe what the change is, but do not recognize when a new equilibrium is reached. Part of our job as consultants and experts is to be able to see far enough ahead to help our clients adapt to what will become a stable, recognizable New Normal, not describe the bumpy ride they are already on - and can see for themselves.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting terminology  customer understanding  market research  planning  trends  your consulting practice 

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Mike Van Horn says...
Posted Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I like this notion of "new normal" or "new equilibrium."

However, one could also argue that "new equilibrium" is a slippery notion that can get people into trouble. A "new normal" equilibrium implies a more stable and predictable state than the preceding disequilibrium. It's not clear that's what we are having just now, or in the foreseeable future.

I get the image of a person caught in a raging torrent grasping a log and calling that "safety and stability." It's the "new equilibrium." Yet the log is being tossed on the current and the roar of the rapids is getting louder.

I'm trying to get this clear in my own mind. We go from one momentary state to another, always trying to stay on top and anticipate the next state so that we can prepare to transition to it. I envision someone in a river crowded with floating logs leaping nimbly from one to the next, keeping balance on one while gauging where the next one will be when he lands on it.

To mix metaphors, I want to call this state "surfing the envelope curve." There's a shifting sequence of momentary equilibria, the trajectory of which defines an envelope curve. Our new equilibrium is staying upright while surfing this envelope curve.

But this ain't floating on a duck pond!

Right now we're caught up in at least two huge forces that can pull in different directions: the whipsaw zigzag of the economy, and the onrushing upcurve of internet and social media. Where is this longed-for new normal?

How does one adapt and innovate in this environment? If I'm grasping my floating log in this raging torrent, I just want to keep my head down and hang on for dear life. Where do I get the oomph to reach out, grab other logs, and lash them together with vines, to create a raft with more stability, then grab a long pole for maneuverability?

One way to do this is to find other people on other logs and work together.

Several of us, including IMCers*, are doing this with social media. We've formed SMAG -- or "social media acceleration group" -- to help each other master the "big five" -- LinkedIn, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. We're trying to calm the raging social media torrent of change. Our challenge: Can we adapt and use it fast enough so that it benefits our businesses before it changes out from under us? We're not counting on any equilibrium.


*SMAG includes Rogene Baxter, Al Peterson, Roberta Guise, Marcia Ruben, myself, plus two others.

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