Business as usual.

Is there such a concept in today's volatile and ever-changing world?

Any organisation that continues down the track of business as usual, especially a membership based organisation, is failing in its core responsibility and duty of care to its members.

It is just not possible to successfully operate any organisation in the mode of 'business as usual.'


Today it is critical to keep ahead of the game instead of relying on the things of the past. Human beings are creatures of habit and the conventions of the past can too easily lock us in to a rut . . . without even trying.

An old Hindu saying is "In the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you." - from the book Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson.

The saying could well be used with regard to organisations . . . organisations get set in their ways . . . habits or the way of doing things or believing things evolve and become set - hard to break away.

The world at large (and NZ with it) has successfully been through the most massive financial and economic crises in 80 plus years - yes, since the great depression - there are too many factors to outline in a short article. Yet I'm sure you are well aware of what I am proposing.

Change is all around us. Change is shocking many organisations to think anew or where they are and where they must be, for their membership. in many, many ways and things that we took for granted just a few years, or so, back.

As I thought of this I was reminded of a saying from the remarkable and insightful Nelson Mandela who said "The first steps in change come not on the grand stage of state affairs, but from committed people making decisions based on what they feel to be right."

Any organisation in order to gain and sustain their organisation, especially in the membership/club/volunteer sectors must be able to clearly demonstrate a clear distinction (in marketing it's termed 'differentiation') from others of the same - or similar.

John F Kennedy when US President addressing the Congress in 1963 (on ageing) said: "it is not enough for a great nation merely to have added new years to life. Our objective must be to add new life to those years."

And so it is with 'our' collective membership as citizens of our community. We must add new life to the years that are ahead of us - based on the rich tapestry of the life and lives of those who have gone before. And who have given so much to the success of 'our' community.

The book The Spirit Level states : "Modern societies will depend increasingly on being creative, adaptable, inventive, well informed, and flexible communities, able to respond generously to each other and to needs wherever they arise."

As a result of my background as a consultant and adviser in the fields of governance, strategy and analysis it is no surprise that my natural instinct is to look at areas, roles and the like in a strategic way - I can't help myself. And it is this underlying background that has given rise to what I believe is the key for 'our' future.

Firstly it is so apparent that the time is opportune for organisations to seize the opportunities to join together - that the most realistic way forward is for real collaboration - trying to stand alone in the present or future climates is not in the best interest of the organisations. And more importantly their members.

I believe that there is still a very real dependency on 'she'll be right' or 'it'll come right' evident in many membership organisations . . . this has led to what I've now termed depletion of vitality and vision . . . when organisations are too engaged in seeking out the past vision can get lost and vitality ebbs - very understandably - unwittingly organisations become enfeebled to the point of insidious sapping of energies of volunteers and leaders.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it' loses its charm as a guiding principle because it delays improvement until it is necessary to move. Imai (1986) points out that if we do not fix the 'unbroken', someone (or some other organisation) will - with predictable market advantage. Peters (1988) has altered the old bromide to 'if it ain't broke, you just haven't looked hard enough.' For 'broke' is not a property of the thing itself, but of its sufficiency in our ever-changing world.

The difference between a rut and a grave has been said to be 'just the dimensions.'

Ron Rowe has more than 50 years of active leadership in several community-based and volunteer organisations. A keynote speaker at the UN International Year of the Volunteer (subject Servant Leadership), he established the first NZ/South Pacific office for Lions Clubs International. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: