Change Management: A Lesson from Picasso

Pablo Picasso was arguably the greatest artist of the 20th Century.  He also provided me with a valuable lesson about how to manage change in the work place.  ‘Huh?’, you say?  Allow me to explain.  For about 7 years, I had the pleasure of running a very successful business called Gatorade.  Gatorade was a rock star of a business, delivering terrific results year after year.  But, I knew there would be a day when that growth slowed or stopped…..when the business hit the proverbial wall.  But, how to prepare for this?  Eventually, Picasso came to the rescue, but not after a few false starts.

So, here is the situation at the time.  There was a very well laid out framework for how Gatorade operated, and this framework was clearly working well, with double digit growth in both sales and profitability over an extended period of time.  I could sense clouds brewing up on the horizon, and was just smart enough to know that we, as a team, needed to be prepared to change our framework to adapt to a changing competitive environment.  I decided to use an annual meeting of the team to introduce the idea of this needed change.

My first, failed effort, involved me sharing with the team the concept of ‘paradigms’, frameworks which are useful and necessary for organizing work and communication, but inevitably a problem when the world changes and paradigms don’t.  Think Polaroid and the emergence of digital photography.  Polaroid was so stuck in a paradigm that they failed to see that the emergence of digital technology would fundamentally alter how people took, shared, and stored photographs.  Eventually, long after Polaroid was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy not once but twice, they decided to enter the digital photography market.  In 2008, Polaroid introduced its first digital camera, which still spit out a small, 2X3 inch hard copy photograph.  Now think about your own behaviors around photographs.  Do you want a piece of paper when you take a pic?  No, you want a digital file which can be stored and shared electronically.  Polaroid was stuck in a paradigm, and if I had anything to do with it, Gatorade would not fall prey to such a fate.

So here I am telling the story of paradigms to a large assembly of people, and thank goodness there were bright lights in my face, because if I could see the faces in the room, I’d have seen eyes rolling back into their heads.  People left the room a bit confused, baffled, and wondering who this guy was that was supposed to be preserving the wonderful results we had been delivering.  Gatorade?  Paradigms?  Huh?!

Along comes Picasso to the rescue.  There is a story, probably apocryphal, about him in his later years.  He had a cadre of assistants who would desperately try to keep him out of museums that displayed his work…..because inevitably, they’d find him standing in front of his art WONDERING WHAT HE COULD DO TO MAKE IT BETTER.  At first, it just seemed like a cute story about an old man musing about what could have been.  But then, I realized that, in this story was the key to change for Gatorade.

In my second effort to rally the Gatorade team behind the need to change, I stayed completely away from ‘paradigms’.  Instead, I told the Picasso story.  Let me pick up my narrative to the team from here:  “So, what does Picasso have to do with Gatorade?  Well, we, the leaders of this fine business, have a choice.  We can put Gatorade into a museum, behind special filtered glass, with a red rope around it, and stand back and admire the masterpiece that has been created.  Or, we can take Picasso’s approach and wonder what we can do to make it better?  It’s our choice.  What do we want to leave behind for those that follow us in running this business?  That we preserved and protected it so that we handed over a business unchanged during our tenure?  Or, do we want to leave behind a business that is even BETTER than the one we inherited?  This is our question.  I don’t know about you, but our choice seems clear to me.  Let’s go be Picasso!”

Now I had gotten peoples’ attention.  And “Let’s go be Picasso” became a mantra of sorts.  Why?  For a very simple reason.  Paradigm shifts are very real, tangible, and utterly dull and un-motivating.  Leaving behind a legacy….making a real and positive difference….these are things that matter to people.  Paradigm shifts may appeal to the head, but to really rally people about the need for change, you also have to appeal to the heart.  Let’s go be Picasso appealed to the heart, and tapped into peoples’  fundamental desire to truly MATTER….to leave behind something of value when we move on.

Are you being Picasso in your work?

Stay tuned……

4 thoughts on “Change Management: A Lesson from Picasso

      1. Michael Livolsi

        A Lesson From Picasso.

        As a creative in the brand design/building profession, I think using art and the creative process as a strategic springboard is a great tool to get the” WHAT IF” on the table. Building a successful brand and allowing it to stretch is an exciting and scary task. It’s basically about asking unlimited questions and questioning the questions. Bringing doubt into the equation is good and very much needed. Yes, we must have a balance of “gut, love and logic”, but without the gut………..we may miss the unexpected and great discovery. This may sound obvious………yet I think this approach truly brings success to fruition.

        Michael Livolsi


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