Platt’s Perspective

Your Success Might Be Your Biggest Blinder
By Mike Platt

Mike Platt

Mike Platt

I was cleaning up my office the other day, and came across a book I was first introduced to more than 20 years ago. “Future Edge” was written by Joel Barker, a pioneer in the discussions of paradigms and their impact on how we all resist new ideas. The book, and the video training that accompanied it, focused on examples of successful businesses that were so caught up in their own filtered view of how the world worked that they missed major technological or process innovations simply because they couldn’t see the change happening in “real time.”

I started thumbing through the book and was reminded of the fundamental question Barker posed: “What today is impossible to do in your business, but if it could be done would fundamentally change what you do?”

The book has withstood the test of time. It discussed how paradigm shifts – both positive and negative – have evolved over the last few decades. But even after seismic changes that occurred as a result of The Great Recession, the fundamental challenge of seeing the world “as it is” versus “as you want it to be” is still an issue in American business in general, and I believe, in many accounting firms in particular.

We encounter firms every day that are quite satisfied providing the same services in the same way to the same clients using the same tools they have always used. The nose-to-the-grindstone approach may feel like you are working hard at what you are doing, but “doing things right” is not the same as “doing the right things” when it comes to client service and building your firm.

Let’s return to Barker’s fundamental question: “What today is impossible to do in your business, but if it could be done would fundamentally change what you do?”

Consider what the future of your firm would look like if . . .

  • Real-time auditing was a reality (and an expectation)?
  • Books could be closed and tax returns prepared within a week of year-end?
  • Just-in-time staffing was perfected?
  • Outsourcing of tax returns overseas overcame many of the psychological and security barriers that are encountered today?
  • Menu pricing were to replace hourly billing systems?
  • Partners were required to be re-elected after serving a three-year term?
  • An Orbitz-like website existed for buying audit and tax services?
  • Knowledge sharing among your team was absolute?
  • You paid staff for their results, not time worked?
  • Communication within the firm was clear and universally understood?
  • “Relationships” became virtual – no “face time” needed?
  • Staffing models shifted to people who chose to work for you for no more than four years?

What would these changes do to your selection of services?

Your pricing system?

Your staffing models?

Your physical space needs?

Your technology investments?

Your management style and structure?

For many of us, even contemplating these farfetched hypotheticals seems like a recipe for a massive headache. After all, things are going OK now, so why rock the boat? However, there are firms that are not only exploring these changes as possibilities, but have started making moves to bring some of these concepts to life. Barker said it 20-plus years ago but it still rings true today: “Watch for people messing with the rules, because that is the earliest sign of significant change.

As you start planning partner retreats to examine the future, consider posing Barker’s fundamental change question and let your imagination run wild. Recognize that innovation is happening everywhere by those who are willing to reject their filtered view of the world and ask, “What if . . . ?”  Shouldn’t your team benefit from that exercise too?