Long Live Captain Obvious: How Basic Insights Can Affect Change


 

Three things happen when you spend a few days in a booth at SaaStr Annual. First, you learn that people can’t always tell what you do from your signs (even if those signs are extremely cool). Second, you realize that just because you think “everyone knows” something, doesn’t mean they do. The third thing that happens, of course, is that you learn how to entertain yourself when foot traffic is slow. 
 
But we digress. 
 
It’s the second thing we mentioned that really stuck with us once we’d departed San Jose, and then we came across an article in MIT’s Sloane Review, entitled The Surprising Value of Obvious Insights’. In this piece, Adam Grant writes of times he (and organizations at which he’s worked) have been able to leverage what seem like painfully obvious insights in order to get impressive results. 
 
In SaaS, and in life, the most value is placed on ideas that are considered new and innovative. This makes sense, of course, but it’s when we undervalue the so-called “obvious” so much that we completely omit it from the conversation that we can do a disservice to all involved. If we’re all being honest with ourselves, the tech world is full of know-it-alls. It’s a fake it ‘til you make it existence, and it’s impossible to tell who’s doing which. 
 
At SaaStr Annual, we were asked “So, what does Go Nimbly do?” dozens of times per day. We explained that we were a SaaS consultancy focused on revenue operations, then asked if RevOps was something they were familiar with. Around 75% of people said ‘yes’, though it quickly became clear that many were just hearing the words “revenue” and “operations” and making an assumption. 
 
Spoiler alert: They were not the only ones making assumptions. 
 
It was easy, for example, for those of us working in the booth to rattle off acronyms and lingo that have become commonplace to us; that is, those who talk about these things every day, and speak a common language as a result. Time and time again, though, we were asked for a more in-depth explanation of what we do and, most importantly, how we do it. Not only did this help them to understand and allow them to ask more meaningful questions, it allowed us to slow down and be more intentional in how we answered them. Instead of throwing out buzzwords and feeling like we were giving an endless string of sales pitches, we were able to learn more about the companies people worked for and how our skills and services could best help them thrive. 
 
In Grant’s article, he writes that “obvious insights are valuable in overcoming three obstacles to change.” One of these obstacles is resistance to change. Grant writes, “My runner-up for the most irritating sentence in workplaces worldwide is “But that’s the way we’ve always done it.” How did that stance work out for Kodak and BlackBerry?” 
 
Honestly, we feel his pain. 
 
While it’s true that revenue operations is becoming more widely adopted, there are plenty of seasoned operations professionals who have trouble reconciling the future benefits of overhauling the status quo with the work it will take to do so. Their thought is, this is the way we’ve always done it, and it’s worked.’ 
 
Our response: Maybe, but how well?
 
Yes, of course, legacy operations works, relatively speaking. Companies have and continue to function under that model, but at a cost. Whether they’re aware of it or not (and we’re willing to bet they are, even if they’d rather not admit it), these companies are less collaborative, less productive, and settling for less than maximum revenue. 
 
The next obstacle on the way to change? According to Grant, “The third barrier is the organizational uniqueness bias. Honorable mention for the most exasperating sentence belongs to “That will never work here.”” 
 
Honestly, we’ve heard some variation of that countless times. People running businesses know their process and their people, and it can be very hard to see things working any other way. In SaaS, success can feel precarious, and no one wants to be the one to upset the balance. Often, though, that fragility is an illusion. If going back to basics is what we all need to do to start chipping away at the reluctance and affecting change, then that sounds good to us. 
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