IPA Spotlight On … William C. Taylor, Fast Company

Name: William C. Taylor

William C. Taylor

William C. Taylor

Title: Founding Editor

Company: Fast Company magazine

Accomplishments:

  • Cofounder and founding editor of Fast Company Amazingly, 2018 is the 25th anniversary of the start of our Fast Company adventure
  • Author of three best-selling books on strategy, leadership and innovation. Most recent is Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways
  • Popular management blogger at Harvard Business Review online
  • Created and wrote the “Under New Management” column for the New York Times 

You’re known for sparking change in even the most traditional fields. Why is change so difficult?

Change is hard because originality is hard. You can’t do big things anymore if you’re content with doing things a little better than everybody else or a little differently from how you did them in the past. The goal is no longer to be the best at what lots of others already do. It’s to be the only one who does what you do. What do you promise that no one else can promise? What do you deliver that only you can deliver? What are you prepared to do for the clients you serve that other organizations simply can’t or won’t do? Those are the questions that drive change, and they are hard questions to answer.

Why do so many change initiatives fail?

I’ve always been struck by this quote from the legendary management guru Jim Collins. “The signature of mediocrity,” he says, “is not an unwillingness to change. The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.” That’s what I find at so many long-established organizations. Leaders shop for ideas about change the way they shop for groceries. What I’ve found is that the work of making deep-seated, long-lasting change succeeds when it comes from the inside rather than the outside, from the bottom up rather than the top down, and when leaders understand that slow and steady wins the race. That may sound odd coming from the cofounder of Fast Company, but there is no quick road to transformation.

If you were to give a slow-to-change business leader, such as a CPA firm managing partner, one piece of advice on how to create a more innovative culture, what would it be?

Change your colleagues’ mindsets about the definition of risk. What I’ve seen over the years is that the more things change, the more the objections to change remain the same. So the first job of leadership is convincing your colleagues, and perhaps themselves, that playing it safe may be the most dangerous course of all. Change begins when individuals and organizations conclude that the risk of trying something new is less than the cost of clinging to what’s worked in the past. That’s a big shift in mindset in most organizations – but it’s the mindset that makes a difference.

What is the central theme you hope readers take away from Simply Brilliant?

That there is no such thing as an average or old-fashioned business, just average or old-fashioned ways to do business. I am trying to convince leaders in fields that are nothing like virtual reality or self-driving cars or social media that the thrill of breakthrough creativity can be summoned in all sorts of industries and all walks of life – if executives and entrepreneurs are prepared to reimagine what’s possible in their fields. In fact, the opportunity to reach for extraordinary may be most pronounced in settings that have been far too ordinary for far too long.

Final Thoughts?

I’m looking forward to sharing a set of ideas and a collection of case studies about the future of professional services in general and the accounting profession in particular. One particular challenge I hope to highlight is what I call the “paradox of expertise.” Often, the more successful we are as leaders, the more accomplished we are in our careers, the harder it can be to open our minds to the changes swirling around us. Without ever intending it, we let what we know limit what we can imagine. I’d like to help these accomplished leaders overcome the paradox of expertise.

Bill Taylor will be a speaker at INSIDE Public Accounting’s 2018 PRIME Symposium conference. For more information contact prime@plattgroupllc.com.