Powered by Change: How to Design Your Business for Perpetual Success
July 24, 2018
Jonathan MacDonald teaches companies how to harness the energy of perpetual change rather than resist it.
Jonathan MacDonald, bullied as a child, made his way to the stage. One very literally led to the other, as he signed up for his first play at the age of eight after running into a school hallway to escape his bullies, and found the crowd gathering for the audition a safe place to hide from them. "I got the key part," he explains, "and from that moment onward I auditioned for every play that my school produced, because nobody could bully me on the stage."
The idea of being on stage terrifies many people, but he made it his safe place, a place where no one could touch him. Of course, from there, he could touch others, "make people see things in a different way and expand their thinking." Eventually, he leveraged that passion into a professional speaking career, and today he is an internationally acclaimed speaker, a sought after thought leader who has worked with global companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, P&G, Unilever, Nestlé, Lego, Heineken, and IKEA. Those are some of the largest companies, and most recognizable brands, on the face of the earth. And he puts the lessons he has taught them in a new book, Powered by Change: How to Design Your Business for Perpetual Success.
In business, it often takes a lot of work to unearth what differentiates you from others, and how to navigate the perpetual change that exists as a byproduct of existing at all. In everyday life, especially in early life, it is more in your face—or in Jonathan MacDonald's case, in your hair:
On my first day at school, I was noticed at once for my frizzy hair, taken aside by two schoolkids in my lunch break, and stabbed in the hand with a pencil.
He was five years old when that happened. The bullying would continue for the next eleven years, resulting in multiple broken bones (his nose was "fractured so many times that there is no cartilage remaining in it now"), eleven stitches in his face, and a permanent bump on the back of his head. It would apex, and finally end, when he was sixteen.
The last day that I was bullied in school was when I was 16 years old. I was stabbed in the stomach with a barbecue fork.
He would recover, and make changes in himself and his life that would put a stop to the bullying he endured. But it wouldn't be the end of his struggles. He made and lost millions in his twenties, would become the youngest-ever chairman of the British Music Industries Association, and found out that you can also be bullied in business—even, or especially, once you've thought you've made it:
After working in my family’s gift shop and eschewing my previous ambition to become a barrister, I opened a music retail outlet and moved into the nascent online music scene by setting up Mmusic.com in the late 1990s when there was only one other music retail website in the UK.
The company amassed a dominant share of this new market for a very short period of time, making me very wealthy in my twenties; and I had also begun to believe that everything in my business career would always go exactly to plan. Three years later, I was the youngest-ever chairman of the British Music Industries Association and was persuaded to put a million pounds into a TV channel called The Musician’s Channel, which would teach people how to play and sing music on television. I became chief executive, mortgaged my business and property, and put everything into this new company. For a moment in time, we attracted a million viewers per show in a period when MTV was only being watched by around 100,000 people in the UK. Working with the BMI and politicians, we also succeeded in getting British law changed to enable all state secondary schoolchildren to study music without sacrificing another subject. However, things did not turn out as I had envisaged, as a clause in our legal agreement entitled my business partner in the Musician’s Channel to dilute my equity ownership of my stake in the firm, allowing me to be bought out extremely cheaply.
I ended up losing everything I had put into the business except for £12.67. Married with two children aged three and one, I even ended up living for a while behind a pub in a Nissan Micra, which was the only major possession that I didn’t have to give back to the bank.
He would, once again, recover. He would, once again, be strengthened in the process of recovery, would once again get better. Jesper Brodin, the Chief Executive of IKEA, focuses on the word "better" in his Foreword to the book:
“There’s just an incredible power in the word “better.” Whether good or bad, things can always get better. “Better” inspires movement. There’s a tremendous dullness and risk in the word “best.” Best is so often the beginning of the end.
And the end often comes quickly when you resist change. “Quite simply,” MacDonald writes, “more than half the top businesses of today are unlikely to survive.” Looking at MacDonald's own life story, you might think it unlikely that he survived. He has not only survived, he has thrived, and he will teach you how to do so, as well—by harnessing the power of change rather than resisting it.
There’s an ancient proverb that states: “When the winds of change are blowing, some build a wall; others build a windmill.” It’s a saying that’s thousands of years old, but it could not be more relevant to what’s happening all around us today.
The organizational windmill he suggests for harnessing change has four blades: Purpose, People, Product, and Process. The book is dedicated to teaching us to how use those four elements to power our organizations in a world where the only real constant is change. What he does throughout is help you view change as an opportunity rather than a threat, teaches you how to see harness it for improvement rather than let it lead to your demise—how to keep trying rather than give up.
Now that you know a little about Jonathan MacDonald's life story, I hope you'll agree that what it has taught him can change the life of your company, and extend it. Because the only way to perpetual success in anything is being able to perpetually change, to keep trying, to allow evolution to take place and use it as a force for growth. Powered by Change is practical guide to building a business based on those higher aspirations.
We have 20 copies available.