Leveraging Change.

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The rate of change is faster than it ever has been, it’s been around for a long time. Interestingly there are some great lessons in history, of leveraging change. People and businesses who completely revolutionised themselves, their businesses and their markets when change came their way. And although we live in unprecedented times, we can learn from them.

A past example of change

Let’s head back to Hollywood in 1927 when the world changed dramatically forever. At a time when Hollywood was in its prime and produced more movies than any other time in history (up to 800 per year), stars like Rudolph Valentino and Mary Pickton were considered Gods and Saturday Matinees were more popular than YouTube.

In 1927, great change was afoot when ‘Talking Pictures’ arrived. A major technological disruption. For many, the advent of sound was a major upheaval which created imponderable challenges.

Film Studios were forced to build new sound ‘stages’, clunky and noisy cameras were of no further use, directors and technicians needed to re-think and re-invent camera movements, microphone placements, all to accommodate ‘talkies’ and the new technology required to create them.

Many actors were less fortunate – with heavy accents or trill voices some simply didn’t manage the transition from silent to sound and saw their careers abruptly end. Stars such as Agnes Ayers, Emil Jannings, and Gilbert Rowland, (don’t worry I hadn’t heard of any of them either which just reinforces my case) saw their careers tumble from beneath them.

The advent of sound changed the Movie industry forever and with it the lives and careers of many. Some adapted got creative and thrived, whilst others didn’t.

Ignoring the opportunity of change

Take Charlie Chaplin. Now there’s a name you would have heard of. Chaplin was a Hollywood God. He entertained millions and influenced countless stars and actors (in fact still does). He brought vaudeville to Hollywood, co-founded United Artists, and is, without doubt, still considered one the Hollywood greats.

But Chaplin refused to have his ‘little tramp’ character talk. Of sound in movies, he said ‘action is more generally understood than words’. Chaplin obviously thought having the tramp speak would undermine and detract from his endearing, pantomime character. And who’s going to argue with that! Even though he added musical tracks to films such as ‘City Lights’ he only ever briefly spoke once in ‘The Great Dictator’ when he mocked Hitler.

No one would argue the legacy he left behind. Chaplin is synonymous with silent film. And there lies the rub.

The tramp didn’t or couldn’t make the transition from silent to sound. Chaplin failed to fully adapt to the ‘talkies’ and create an opportunity from them. He made countless films before the advent of sound but only a handful afterward.

Leveraging change – an example

In contrast, let’s look at someone who saw the dawn of sound not as a hurdle but as an opportunity and turned it to his advantage

In 1928, only a year after sound arrived, a small mouse made his debut in the world’s first talking cartoon ‘Steam Boat Willie’ and stunned the movie world and audiences alike. With Steam Boat Willies – Walt Disney had truly arrived. He saw an opportunity in sound and went with it.

And it wasn’t a once-off – Disney had a knack for sensing change, getting creative and turning it to his advantage.

In the 1950s, when another enormous change rocked Hollywood and the world forever – television, once again Disney was there ready to take advantage. Television, some said, would destroy the movie industry – why would people go see films when they could watch shows in their own home? But as one of Hollywood’s leading studios, Disney didn’t see television as a threat – he saw it as an opportunity to be used to his advantage.

Thinking differently to everyone else Disney had an idea. At the time he was creating ‘Disneyland’ and needed capital to get it up and running – he saw TV as a fundraiser and also as a promotional tool for his new project. Having done a deal with a major network, he provided an exclusive weekly show called ‘Disneyland’ and got the funding he needed. At the same time, as viewers all over America tuned in to watch, Disney would show them snippets of the park being built, exciting his potential guests.

Leveraging change is a game of inches

Talking pictures and the advent of Television were two quantum leaps beyond the control of most people in Hollywood. Some survived and some didn’t, some saw change as opportunity, got creative and took control.

What’s interesting is that Disney, as revolutionary as he was, didn’t invent talking pictures and he didn’t invent television, he adapted to them. A small change here, and evolution there. You don’t need to make a quantum leap or reinvent everything you do to be an innovative giant. It happens in step at a time.

In 2020 we live in radically changing and disruptive times. The question is how you will deal with it. Do you hide our head in the sand or will you see the opportunities it presents? Will you be Charlie Chaplin or Walt Disney?


Disney’s World -Leonard Mosley Scarborough House 1990

The Man Behind the Magic, The Story of Walt Disney – Katherine and Richard Greene, Viking 1991

Film History of the 1920’s – Tim Dirks

The Great Chaplin,

The Worlds Great Movie Stars, – Ken Wlaschin, Salamander, 1979

Related Articles:}
The Tasmanian who changed an industry or The Power of Incremental Change also Strong leaders don’t run, they walk fast in times of crisis

Have Nigel Speak at your conference or event. Find out more here.

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Change an industry

The Tasmanian who changed an industry

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Let me take you back to 1902, when an enterprising young man had an idea. J.A. Birchall owned a small stationery shop in Launceston, Tasmania Australia. Someone who would change an industry without being a juggernaut.

Back at the turn of the century, if you wanted to communicate with your clients or just keep in touch with family and friends, you couldn’t email or text them. You could jump on your horse and head off across town, or you could write to them. And unlike today’s world, when you bought writing paper you did so in large individual sheets, usually rolled up that you would then cut to size before use. 

Our young hero could see problems from his customers’ point of view. He noticed that if it was windy or raining his customers would leave the shop fighting to keep their paper rolled neatly without it getting crushed or wet or blown down the road. There had to be a workable solution to this problem and that’s when Mr Birchall had his idea.

He wrote to his suppliers in England and suggested they cut the sheets down into smaller, more manageable sizes. He then evolved the idea and suggested they place a firm backing board under the sheets, so you didn’t have to roll them. He took it even further and suggested they get some gum and glue the top edges of the loose sheets together, so people could peel them off, one by one, as they needed them. 

It took a while to convince his suppliers, but eventually, J.A. Birchall’s creative scheme came into existence. A Tasmanian from Launceston invented the writing notepad that we know today.

What I love about this story, and I tell it often when speaking at conferences, is that it demonstrates three important pillars to change an industry and for business growth.

Firstly, the need to find gaps. Not just market gaps, but small gaps in the way you do things, that solve customers’ problems. Continually look for areas that can be improved bit by bit, inch by inch.

It also demonstrates that creative thinking and innovation belong to everyone and not just the leviathans of industry.

And finally, there’s a spirit in the story you often see throughout places like Tasmania. One which we can all learn from. It’s the spirit of having a crack. It’s the ability and courage to have a go and make ideas happen.

You don’t need to be a juggernaut to change an industry.

Related articles

Is your ability to influence important in leading change?

How the McVikers cashed in on Change

Leveraging Change

Is your ability to influence important in leading change?

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To get people embracing change you need to become a master influencer.

I’ve been speaking and facilitating most of my life. Recently I read a magnificent article from HBR on the art of influence and persuasion. It was so compelling it got me thinking about the importance of influence when it comes to leading change.

People want and need to understand the importance of change and how it will be a benefit to them if they are going to embrace it. In fact, they will fight it. As leaders, it is paramount that we become masters at communicating the importance of change and what it means for others. Otherwise, change simply won’t happen.

It’s one thing to be the instigator of change but it’s a different thing to have change thrust upon you. According to McKinsey there is a 30% more chance of a change initiative succeeding if people embrace it and are invested in it.

Which is why this recent article by Carmine Gallo in HBR was so profound for me because its spoke of 5 keys that Aristotle wrote about more than 2000 years ago. What I find fascinating is that these ideas are still relevant today, more importantly, vital for anybody within an organisation leading and communicating new initiatives.

Let’s have a look at each of these 5 elements and how they relate to making change happen within teams.

1. Character in leading change

When it comes to change, we need to know the person leading us has the character and credibility to do so. Otherwise, we just won’t accept it. As leaders, if we expect our people to adopt change and act on it, we better make sure we believe in it and act on it as well.

2. Reason in leading change

A few facts and figures go a long way because they satisfy the logical part of our brain. Of course, not everybody wants to be overwhelmed with statistics but a few quantitative examples of why a particular change is important (such as an increase in real wages or decrease in stress levels) can make all the difference

3. Emotion in leading change

As humans, it is when we become emotionally connected to something that we begin to embrace it and engage with it. When trying to influence people as to the need to make change happen, finding ‘what’s in it for them’ emotionally is powerful.

4. Metaphor in leading change

At film school one of my tutors once said to me ‘we are genetically engineered to understand story. in the world of business, the storytelling is becoming more and more popular and for good reason. One of the simplest ways to use story is metaphor.

5. Brevity

No one likes changes because it seems too hard, too big and too scary. A great antidote to that is making it simple so it doesn’t seem overwhelming or complex. Keeping a message concise and clear isn’t easy but it worth the effort. Take time upfront to keep it short and simple.

Unless you can influence the people within your organisation to adopt new ideas and new ways of doing things the status quo will remain. And in a rapidly changing world, status quo is the nemesis of business growth.

Other related articles to read are Change Management requires Ownership not buy-in and The power of incremental change. Also Leveraging change and Strong leaders don’t run, they walk fast in times of crisis

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The Power of Incremental Change

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There’s an old zen koan (story) of a wealthy man who wanted to build a new house that illustrates the importance of incremental change. He wanted a three-story dwelling so he could look out over his land and marvel at the beautiful landscape for many miles around, and more importantly because the higher one lived the higher one’s status.

And so he contracted highly skilled builders to build his beautiful home. Being a busy man himself he then left them to do what it was he was paying them to do and set off on his business travels. Upon his return several weeks later he decided to see how they had progressed.

To his horror he found that they had only started on the ground floor. ‘Why have you not begun work on the top floor?’ he cried. There could be no status living on the ground floor and much loss of face.

The builders, of course, explained to the wealthy man that they must start at the bottom before they could begin to move up to the next floor and ultimately the top floor. But he wasn’t happy because he didn’t want the other floors, he only wanted and desired the third floor. The others were not needed.

Change is incremental and happens one step at a time

Many business leaders and entrepreneurs are like that. They want change to happen all at once. They set out with massive visions and write enormous BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and get miffed if it doesn’t happen fast enough. They want to jump straight to the endgame. Many managers are like that as well. They want the yearly budget done by September, or need the return on their innovation investment before the product is ready. The effect of incremental change is often overlooked

Yes having a vision is vital because otherwise how do you know where you are going. Having goals are vital because they make your vision a reality. Without either business doesn’t grow.


Business growth and change takes time. Meeting budgets takes time. Developing your people takes time. In order to get to the endgame, whatever your vision and whatever your goals are, you need to work meticulously on getting every stage right and complete before you move onto the next. Always remember that business is a ‘Game of inches’ and change is incremental.

Like the top floor, your business will only be solid, secure and lasting if you take the time to build everything correctly on the way up. Desired change can only happen in increments.

Related articles include ‘How the McVikers Cashed in on Change‘ and ‘Change Management requires ownership, not buy-in’. Also ‘The Tasmanian who changed an industry’

Find out how Nigel can help your conference delegates make change happen or about his executive coaching and other keynotes.

Take the ‘Change Survey’

cash in on change

How the McVikers managed to cash in on Change

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Sometimes the best ideas come when change is thrust upon us. No-one likes change, especially in the corporate world. But change brings with it opportunity. If you have the right mindset for it and take action. It’s change management on a very practical level which allows you to cash in on change.

No matter how hard you look sometimes the best and most profitable ideas have a habit of revealing themselves in the strangest of places and the strangest of ways. Usually when things change around us. We just need to be open enough, receptive enough and clever enough to see them when they arise.

When change management is thrust upon us

Take one evening in the dining room of the McViker family for example. The McViker’s owned a small business called Kuto Chemicals, which back in the 1950’s was in a tad of bother. They made a wonderfully ingenious product, a soft, clay-ish compound, which you would roll along dirty wallpaper and all the grime and dust would stick to it. Clever really and in the decades leading up to our infamous dinner date it proved a very successful product because it filled a gap – people wanted cleaner, less grimy walls. And because they were prepared to pay, it was also a good business model as well.

But the tad of bother occurred when the wallpaper industry was in turmoil and in decline because fashion trends meant more people were using paint. Fewer wallpaper sales meant less need, desire and as a result fewer sales for ‘Magic Wallpaper Cleaner’. The gap in the market the McVikers were filling was starting to disappear along with their fortunes.

Change creates opportunities

Enter a kindergarten teacher named Kay Zufall, a friend of the McVikers who had a completely different problem. As a teacher of toddlers, she was sick and tired of how messy the modelling clay was that kids used. If too wet the stuff would never hold its shape, and if too dry it became brittle and just crumbled under the pressure of a two year old’s hands. Either way, there were tears.

So back to dinner, legend has it that Kay mentioned her frustration to her good friends the McVikers and what followed was a conversation leading to one of the McVikers saying something like ‘try this’ and then handed Kay Zufall some a tub of ‘Magic Wallpaper Cleaner’.

It worked like a charm. Not too hard, not too soft, and held it’s shape. Through serendipity, a new gap appeared and ‘PlayDoh’ was born.

Fortunately for us, the tragic demise of ‘Magic Wallpaper resulted in the same product becoming an instant hit in a different market with a different application. It filled a new gap

Thankfully the McVikers were smart enough to accept change and run with it. Imagine if they were so narrow focused, so set on resolving the wallpaper issue that they had missed it. Children all over the planet would never have grown up knowing the joys of ‘Play Doh’, and parents all over the world would never have spent endless hours pulling the stuff out of carpet.

When speaking about change this story frequently gets a mention.

So how much money did the McVikers make? From the initial idea in the mid 1950’s Joe McViker sold Play Doh in 1965 for $3milllion. That’s about $22million in today’s money. Not bad for one idea over decade. If you can find a gap, you can cash in on change.

Related articles include ‘Change happens in increments‘. Also
Change Management Requires Ownership, not Buy-in. As well as ‘The Tasmanian who changed an industry’

Find out more about how Nigel can help your leaders and teams through his change management presentations, executive coaching or other keynotes.

Business Reinvention And The Town That Changed Itself

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I was invited to be part of the Northern Territory’s annual October Business Month, a couple of weeks back. to conduct a couple of ‘Game of Inches’ workshops. One of which was at a small town called Nhulunbuy (pronounced Nullanboy), which is situated on the Gove Peninsula in East Arnhem Land. A stand out of reinvention and a stunningly beautiful part of remote Australia.

As a town Nhulunbuy is built around a bauxite mine (which when refined a couple of times ultimately makes aluminum). A few years back it was decided that the alumina refinery was to be closed resulting in the population of the town dropping from 4000 to approximately 2200.

Think about this for a second, because the town practically halved in size overnight. What happens to local business, to those who own property, what happens to the local school and hospital? If your business lost almost half its clients, it would put you and your team in a complete tailspin.

Problems lead to opportunities

As one of the town’s prominent business owners told me, people got together and looked for gaps and opportunities, and for ways they could save their town. From adversity comes opportunity if you are smart enough and brave enough to try and find it.

Although the refinery closed, the mine itself remains open and so as a first step Rio Tinto stopped ‘fly in fly out’ workers’ so now if you work at the mine you must live in the town.

Then they found an opportunity in extreme tourism. Arnhem Land is one of the most beautiful, untouched and remote parts of Australia (if not the world) that you can visit. Although only an hours flight from Darwin and only 800 odd kilometres by road from Katherine, the drive will take you a least two days and as suggested to me you should do it in someone else’s vehicle. On top of that Arnhem Land is completely owned by the traditional indigenous owners and so to drive through it to Nhulunbuy requires a permit. When you get there if you want to walk on the beach (and trust me you will) you also need a permit because it is also indigenous land.

But here’s the thing. There are those who hanker for those off the beaten track, adventurous experiences, to go where the masses don’t and get that unique experience to see a part of Australia that is largely untouched. There is a market which is largely untapped and it’s what the people of Nhulunbuy are focusing on. They are ramping up their marketing, they are working with the traditional owners to make obtaining permits easier and faster. On top of this reinvention, they are looking into the possibility of creating glamping sites along the road. They found a gap in the market and they are filling it.

Reinvention leads to growth

Now obviously it is working or I wouldn’t be telling about this. From a low of 2200 people they, in a space of a couple of years are back to 3300 and looking at exceeding the previous population of 4000 in the next 18 months or so. Which by the way will mean building more houses.

I love this story and I fell in love with this town.

Things go wrong in business and life all the time. No matter how much you plan or how much your guru tells you they don’t. Someone, somewhere changes something and it can have massive ramifications for you. But here’s the thing, you have a choice. You can give up, you can stick your head in the sand, or you can do something. Nhunlunbuy took the third option.

They didn’t change things overnight and they are still in the process of rebuilding, but step by step, inch by inch. One small change at a time they are reinventing themselves. Individuals and businesses all over this country should learn from it because it’s a great reminder that when things change, and you look for gaps like the people of Nhulunbuy did, new opportunities arise. If you’re smart enough and brave enough not to panic, look around, think and act. Here’s another example of how finding a small gap made a massive difference to a small restaurant in Port Macquarie

So here’s to Nhulunbuy.

A big thanks to all the people of the town I met – you inspired me. And to the Department of Trade, Business and Innovation and Darwin City & Waterfront Retailers for having me as part of NT October Business Month.

I now find myself constantly speaking about the innovation of this amazing community and how they used change to their advantage.


Other similar articles to read are ‘The power of incremental change’ and Leveraging Change as well as ‘The Tasmanian who changed an industry’ as well as  ‘Ingenious Oz Project Reveals Secrets To Business Growth and Innovation’.


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