#Transformers: Covid-19 can be a transformation catalyst — Mike Perk
by Charlie Mathews (@CharlesLeeZA) Transformation is slow. This was the prevailing business logic before the coronavirus altered everything we thought we knew and forced an overnight adaptation. “Change is hard; it is. It’s uncomfortable,” says Mike Perk, a speaker, facilitator and coach. He explains that, when business processes, flows and procedures shift, it’s unsurprising to meet human resistance.
“Transformers Transform 2020” is a special series produced by MarkLives and HumanInsight and sponsored by the Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA), running Jun–Sep 2020. Together with Lebogang Tshetlo, we’ll be profiling remarkable local #Transformers every other Friday until September, featuring Tshetlo’s photography. The objective of this an independently managed, journalism-driven research project is to explore and map new paths for brands and marketers to transform, adapt and build resilience while the world adapts to covid-19 and its resultant social, political and economic toll.
Transformation has clear stages
Evolution isn’t a linear process and pyschology, according to Psychology Today, shows that transformation has clear stages through which we struggle to progress. “The moment we say we are going to change who we are, what we do, how we do it, there is that natural aversion to move into that change. We are safe and we don’t want to move out of our safe space,” says Perk, who counsels brands such as LandRover, Riscura and Jaguar on the culture change needed for digital transformation. Perk is the CEO of WWC, a “people-focused” digital transformation advisory, and is a founding partner in Heavy Chef, an inspiration platform for innovators and leaders in the digital space.
“What we must remember, also, is that we are highly adaptable people,” he says, telling the story of Pedro Bach-y-Rita, a Spanish school teacher in New York who had a stroke that left him partially paralysed, mute and with little hope of recovery.
Bach-y-Rita’s sons, George and Paul, stepped into the breach and commandeered a useful path forward for the stroke victim, inventing restorative processes and practices where there weren’t any. As a result, Pedro miraculously recovered, and returned to his life of teaching, hiking and travelling for seven more years before he eventually passed away.
“Doctors and specialists had said: ‘That’s it; you’re never going to walk again or move again.’ But, in a year, Pedro was back at his school teaching Spanish again, where he stayed until he retired. What they had stepped into was neuroplasticity. All the working parts of his brain had taken over the function of all the damaged parts of his brain, and his brain had reconfigured itself, in essence. That’s how adaptable we are,” says Perk.
Change is daunting
Change is daunting but, if Charles Darwin has taught us anything, it’s that we’re more malleable and resilient than we think we are, and that adaptation’s the key to survival. “When our backs are against the wall and we’re pushed into ‘survival mode’, and as we’ve seen with the coronavirus, we can respond remarkably. There are certain moments in history when we see this motivation for mass transformation.”
Perk talks about the bubonic plague that quickly spread across Europe in the early 1300s, after starting in China and killing millions of people there: “The Black Death, as it was called, killed as much as 60% of the population in Europe but it also brought huge social and economic reform. In its wake, there was greater social justice reform and democracy in society and the workplace.”
Immediately after the plague, there was a decline in armed conflicts and an increase in the price of working serfs, which heralded a period of innovation as people tried to invent tools and hacks to combat rising labour costs. The market shifts also saw a decrease in economic inequality and improved living conditions for labourers, and the decreased population meant land was more accessible.
“What we’re seeing now is that the pandemic has made the fault lines of society more visible, and the inequalities more apparent. And again we’re seeing massive pressure to bring about both social and economic change,” says the transformation expert. “The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ has just grown too wide and we may just be getting to that tipping point where collectively the world says: ‘Enough is enough.’
“Tipping point for greater action”
“What’s important to realise about change is that it requires not just the reflection but action. And I think we’re at that tipping point for greater action. I’m hoping, like the Black Death, this collective trauma too will drive a greater consciousness that drives greater societal change. I am hoping that this is what is happening — that this is not just talk.”
Perk defines transformation as a substantial change. And it requires hope and the courage to take action, even when the outlook’s bleak. “In an organisational context right now, it is critical to transform in order to become future-fit. It is all about setting up a business to not just survive but to thrive. The harsh reality cannot be ignored; it has to be confronted. At the moment, the reality is covid but the key is to find hope in that darkness. Hope is the long-term fuel that will keep you and your teams going through the inevitable challenges you will face on that transformation journey. It’s the fuel that will drive your action.
“Every business starts with a hopeful genesis — it has to, in order to thrive. The very nature of starting a business is an act of rebellion, knowing that some 97% of beginner companies fail,” he says, talking about how Jack Ma started Alibaba by gathering a group of friends and colleagues and asking them to believe.
“The problem is that, as organisations get bigger, they become more complex. And then move away from this founding genesis which is this hopefulness — this listening to everyone, this movement of co-creation and collaboration with everyone that is so vital to improving the outcomes of a business. When you look at it, transformation is a radical act of converting hierarchies into democracies. Ultimately, if transformation is about anything, it is about this hopeful return to meaning where everyone has a place and a purpose. Transformation is about bringing better outcomes through diversity and inclusion. It is changing the world for the better, for the greater good, which also is better for business. It is more sustainable.
“Our greatest assets”
“What we’re discovering is that human attitudes and imagination are our greatest assets when it comes to transformation, which is not about technology. Change is human, which is why transformation is about hopeful reinvention. Ultimately, our greatest transformations are when we wrestle hope from despair, change inequalities and move into a future with better, more-sustainable and -inclusive outcomes,” says Perk.
Watch the full interview here:
- #Transformers Transform 2020 • Sponsored by the ACA
- #Transformers video interviews on transformation on YouTube
- #Transformers video interviews on transformations on Facebook
- Download the #TransformersTransform2020 pdf
- Heavy Chef: Mike Perk: 4 Things You Must Do To Digitally Transform Your Organisation
- WWC: Realising your Future Potential — The First Step by Mike Perk
As an entrepreneur, Charlie Mathews (@CharlesLeeZA) has worked in growth teams with Naspers, Microsoft, and Tutuka.com (the global prepaid card company). Mathews has also successfully founded and exited two marketing companies. Published in Rolling Stone magazine, Guardian UK, and SA’s Greatest Entrepreneurs, edited by Moky Makura, Mathews wrote for Daily Maverick during the title’s legendary startup era. Today, Mathews is the founder and CEO of HumanInsight, a research, insights and learning company that helps brands better understand, and serve — humans.