Competency Addiction – Don’t Get Lost In Familiar Territory

Mary O'Hara-Devereaux | | Future of Work


“Competency addiction” is the default use of old mindsets and behaviors that just won’t work as you navigate through the next decade to 2025. This pain presents itself when a company suddenly experiences unexpected pressures, either from without—such as a new technology, changed customer preferences, or a new competitor that threatens vital business operations—or from within, such as a young, innovative VP pursuing a radical innovation that could replace the existing core business or business process, threatening the organization’s powerful business leadership.

In instances like these, an organization plagued with competency addiction will respond to the feeling of being threatened by focusing more intently on the old ways and moving to stamp out new ideas.

Competency Addiction can also affect an entire industry like The American health care system.

Understanding Competency Addiction and its Effects

Mindless behaviors are part of our adaptive success as a species. We survive day to day by repeating behaviors over and over again in all dimensions of our lives. This process has been well documented by a number of researchers.

Our brain is set up to repeat behaviors, particularly if they are successful, but also when the brain doesn’t receive specific feedback that they weren’t successful. Unfortunately, these mindless behaviors tend to continue, even when they result in poor performance.

Current brain research and neuroscience confirm that we humans are as capable of changing our thoughts and behaviors as we are of repeating them throughout our lifetime, although not without conscious effort. We tend to let memory substitute for thinking until we get pushed – either by ourselves or others – to change gears and engage in active thinking and problem-solving.

Many companies persist in using obsolete methods and ideas because of the powerful people who defend them, in contrast to the relative tenuousness of innovators. Companies face double jeopardy because leadership hierarchies and corporate cultures tend to support the status quo as a default position, colluding with our human proclivity to competency addiction, creating a formidable barrier to innovation.

Competency addiction is at epidemic proportions in the early stages of the trek to 2025. In this next 10 years the relentless demand for innovation is far more important to survival and success in than the masterful execution of the day-to-day routines honed in the past. Leaders and organizations face an extraordinary challenge when they decide to break down their addiction to their competencies and try to replace it with a culture that supports innovation from top to bottom.

So how does competency addiction differ from run-of-the-mill mindless behavior in organizations? Competency addiction, for one thing, mimics other human addictions: it builds up unconsciously, is devilishly hard to beat, and if we stop being vigilant, we can relapse at any time.

Furthermore, just dancing around major competency addictions will not work. Given the continuing surge in new technologies; global competitors, particularly from the emerging economies; more-demanding, activist consumers around the globe who are self-organized into online affinity groups; and the emergence of new industries and hybrid industries, innovation is the name of the game.

Competency addiction looms as a huge barrier to the organizational readiness needed to achieve success in the journey to 2025. At the beginning of the journey, it is easy for companies to stay lost in the familiar territory of old successes. Left unmanaged, this can become fatal. Luckily, there are good strategies to resolve the addiction and create organizational readiness.

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Competency Addiction Article Series (Articles #1 and #2)

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Mary O'Hara-Devereaux

Mary O'Hara-Devereaux

Mary O’Hara-Devereaux, Ph.D, Founder and CEO of Global Foresight, is one of the world’s leading futurists, business forecasters and long term strategy advisors. She has over 25 years of global experience providing Blue Chip clients, Fortune 500 executives, senior policy makers and not for profits with reliable customized forecasts that deliver targets no one else can see. Mary is a leading expert in future trends, global business, the future of work, and the future of China and emerging markets.
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