The latest installment on Al Hamilton’s roadside billboard in Chehalis, WA caught my attention during a recent trip to Seattle, to the degree that I was compelled to turn the car around to snap a picture of it. Known for his vitriol and sardonic commentary on government, I had to think hard about Hamilton’s latest quote as to whether it was intentional sarcasm or not. To be fair, Al Hamilton passed the reigns of roadside pea-in-the-mattress expression of free speech to his daughter and grandson some years ago. So, I’ll assume they’ve decided to keep the tradition of trying to provoke thought. In this case, Hamilton’s followers are either revealing an incredible ignorance to an inherent truth in human systems – that change is inevitable – or they are savvy to it. If the latter, then the sarcasm of the message is innocuous enough to goad some poor sap like me in to a reaction that found me pulling off to the side of the road to take a picture. Of more interest to me than Mr. Hamilton’s infamous one-sided rhetoric is that no organizational system has ever become great or sustained greatness without re-inventing itself. What if Hamilton’s forbearer, Alexander Hamilton and our founding fathers and mothers, had simply shrugged at the tyranny of the British Government at the birth of our nation? Change was palpable in the 1770s and real leaders did not ignore its challenges even if it meant their own death. Thomas Jefferson, one of our greatest presidents, believed that the tree of liberty must be pruned from time-to-time. And so, reinvention is part of the American experience. It’s what has made us a great nation and will continue to make us great unless the myopia of a road side pundit takes an unholy hold on us all. Great institutions are great because they know how to adapt to change. When we hang on too tightly to the comfortable and familiar, we stifle our ability to grow. Less than great companies do this when they attempt to adhere to outdated missions and visions and the axiom of “well, we’ve always done it that way, so why change?” excuse when confronted with challenges to their prevailing systems. They rest on their laurels even as the branches rot underneath. Every few years – or as the situation requires – companies need to revisit their mission and visions. In this process, they must seek to balance who they were with who they need to be to serve their customers. Purpose and values don’t have to be sacrificed in this process. They underpin everything that must be considered. But first there must be an honest acceptance that a change is necessary. Greatness is born from knowing and being true to oneself, standing up for what is right even in the face of personal peril, and having the vulnerability and humility to openly acknowledge when one has strayed from it. And yes, a willingness to change.
Greatness demands it.