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Breaking Through Complacency

January 12, 2009

According to Harvard Professor John Kotter, a sense of urgency is a desire to act on critical issues now - making real progress every day on issues that are central to an organization's success. And when an economic crisis hits (or any crisis for that matter), a sense of urgency in a business becomes all that more important if you want to come out of that crisis ahead of where you started.
Unfortunately, Kotter says the recession has created very little true urgency. Why?
He said: "People don't understand what true urgency is. The economic situation is creating a lot of false urgency, which is this anxiety-driven, anger-driven frenzy of activity where we all run in circles figuring out what to do. It is activity-focused not productivity-focused."
True urgency is also the opposite of complacency. Interestingly, complacency as defined by Kotter is not just content with the status quo. In his book, A Sense of Urgency, Kotter also points out that complacency can mean seeing problems - but doing nothing about them because you do not think that the problems "require changes in your own actions." He writes that complacency in the workplace often comes from success or perceived success, and even when things have hit a plateau, the complacency can live on.
He writes: "With sufficient success, the threats from outside are, or once were, conquered. With no need to focus outward, eyes shift inward to manage a larger and larger organization."
His book is available through Harvard Business Press.
Kotter spoke with me for an MDM Interview: Creating a Sense of Urgency. Read the interview here. (Premium content subscription required.)"

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