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How to capitalise on a changing industry

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Jonathan MacDonald, best-selling author, speaker and advisor to the likes of Google, IKEA and Microsoft, discusses how to use perpetual change in the hospitality industry as a mechanism to generate success

In certain legacy industries, hospitality being one, it’s tempting to feel that there will be plenty of time to adapt to change, but anyone who’s been in the industry during the last 10 years knows that’s not correct. Many disrupting changes have happened a lot faster than most hoteliers and hospitality providers ever thought they would. Today, change moves even faster. More than ever, it’s important to be curious, proactive and embrace perpetual change.

Largely, resistance to change comes from the comfort of existing models being very well-known, trusted and operated for years. This comfort-zone the industry sometimes lives in isn’t stable when disruption comes from the outside. It would be far better to be the disruptor rather than wait to be disrupted.

How the landscape is changing 

We live via digital devices more than ever before. There’s no reason now to use a magnetic hotel key when there is facial recognition and mobile-enabled room key technology. Similarly, why have hard-copy city maps in the room when people predominantly use maps on their phone? There is no reason to have experiences that are back in the analogue age with a consumer landscape that is strongly digital. Walking into a room with seven different brochures isn’t helpful to guests anymore; it’s irrelevant considering that over 90% of people who want information will use a search engine first.

Our travel and in-stay experiences will continue to become increasingly virtual. I’m interested as to the lack of hoteliers playing in the - considering VR is now taking a stronghold in many other industries. It appears that hospitality is, I would assume, still waiting for the change to happen before adopting.

Shaping your mindset for change

Everyone should have a willingness to try. It sounds super simple, but I rarely see it. If we are willing to experiment then we don’t necessarily need the skill or the understanding; we can learn those things, we can practice those things, but the will is what I see missing the most.

If we look at the hotel chains that are the slowest and most resistant to change it tends to be from the leadership down, whereas you’ll find a junior member of staff that’s extremely willing to experiment but their wings are clipped. It is those restrictions that stop innovation.

When you tell shareholders and stakeholders that everything is going to be fine, what you’re really saying is that nothing is going to change, which, sadly, is the most unrealistic mindset of all. If you don’t want growth, then just stick to your guns, but if you want growth you should be willing to try and experiment. For those willing to try but not sure which areas they should explore, my advisory services can help.

Phone on a book

Photo: Matt Seymour, Unsplash

One practice outlined in my book Powered By Change, is ‘The Windmill Theory’ - coined from an old Japanese proverb: “when the winds of change are blowing, some build a wall and others build a windmill”. Essentially, things are always changing and we can either resist or use it as a fuelling mechanism. The windmill has four blades that operate together - highlighting four key themes businesses should focus on:

  • The first is purpose and the way we adapt to change from the perspective of our purpose - meaning what it is we’re doing, why it matters and what it means to us
  • The second is people and how we are enabling the right talent to believe in our purpose and what we’re building 
  • The third blade is the product produced to the marketplace, and by product I mean service as well. How it is produced by the people with a cohesive link between them via the purpose
  • The fourth is all about the processes inside and outside the organisation that link everything together

Size doesn’t always equal success

Larger companies tend to innovate slower and be more resistant to change. They have a huge opportunity because they have the history, and often the budget, to support change but scale and finance are not the determining factors in whether we succeed.

The majority of the time, companies that are absolutely huge would be more likely assumed to succeed. But actually, historically at least, that’s not the way things happen. When Google launched it was two guys in a garage. Smaller businesses often tend to innovate faster and be led by people with agile mindsets. By choosing how we respond to change, smaller operations can create an enormous success that overshadows the companies that are huge in facade. Bill Gates said it best: “Success is a lousy teacher because it convinces smart people that they can’t lose.”

Ask yourself if you want to succeed. Because if you do, then you have to become very friendly with change and more so, become powered by it.


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More than ever, it’s important for hoteliers to be curious, proactive and embrace perpetual change
Largely, resistance to change comes from the comfort of existing models being very well-known, trusted and operated for years
There is no reason to have experiences that are back in the analogue age with a consumer landscape that is strongly digital
Scale and finance are not the determine factors in whether businesses succeed, response to change is often much more important