Why would you ever want to be dissatisfied? As it turns out, plenty of good can come of the much-maligned state. In a recent article, Research Scientist George Westerman explains how dissatisfaction drives innovation and transformative change. Maybe the Rolling Stones were on to something, after all.
Enjoy the excerpt below, and read the entire article, "The New Digital Mandate: Cultivate Dissatisfaction" on the MIT Sloan Management Review website. (Emphasis throughout the excerpt has been added—it did not appear in the original text.)
What’s the most powerful driving force behind digital transformation? It’s not mobile or analytics or even artificial intelligence (AI), although those are enablers. It’s not fast-moving, well-funded digital startups, although they accelerate the pace and put pressure on incumbents. It’s something deeper and more overarching; something powerful yet underappreciated in management. The most powerful driver of effective digital transformation is dissatisfaction.
But wait. Haven’t management scholars and smart executives spent decades working to remove dissatisfaction? Their goal is satisfaction, not dissatisfaction. Experts in sales, operations, and innovation all argue to increase customer satisfaction as a key driver of revenues: Happier customers buy more and generate more referrals. Employee satisfaction gets similar advice: Retailers with higher employee satisfaction tend to have higher customer satisfaction, and satisfied employees in operations tend to have higher attendance rates, produce higher-quality outputs, and have less turnover. So why would we ever want dissatisfaction?
The problem is that employee satisfaction can be a double-edged sword. While satisfied employees are good for current activities, that very satisfaction can inhibit innovation. Transformative innovation is difficult. It is far easier to stick with what we know works and tweak the current process than it is to start over. People who are satisfied with the current way of doing business are not likely to transform it.
People who transform their organizations must be aggravated enough with the current situation that they’re willing to bear the effort and risk to change it. Leaders who want their organizations to continuously transform must not only look for dissatisfaction on which to capitalize, but also be willing to cultivate dissatisfaction in their employees.
Why Companies Need More Dissatisfaction, Not Less
The right kind of dissatisfaction is a mindset of constantly questioning the status quo and striving for more-than-incremental change. The wrong kind is constantly finding fault with the current situation, arguing that it is somebody else’s fault and assuming it’s somebody else’s responsibility to fix. Where the wrong kind of dissatisfaction (or the wrong kind of dissatisfied person) is demotivating, the right kind of dissatisfaction is highly inspiring. It’s also relatively rare, even among successful top executives.
However, dissatisfaction can be taught. Under the right conditions, it can be contagious.