“What is Endurant 5.0?” people often ask. “Why is your blog called this?” they inquire. My answer is simple and — like most good stories — complicated. If you’ve followed the past eight seasons and recently concluded blockbuster AMC hit series Mad Men you know what I mean.

Like the chronicles of Don Draper and the other “Mad” characters, our story is simple on the surface but also reflects a constantly changing and increasingly complicated world. During the past 25 years, we’ve adapted and changed and grown. We’ve learned many lessons along the way. And now, in our fifth iteration as a leading business consulting firm, we are privileged and delighted still to be working with organizations that understand the importance of adaptation as well.

In my previous post, you’ll find a full description of Endurant and our 25-year track record. I won’t recount that again here. Sharing stories from the past should not be confused with “living in the past.” Just the opposite: by understanding what has come before, we are able to envision new approaches. We have learned what did and did not work and, like the Mad Men team, have evolved how we work in ways that make sense for the times we live in now.

What I’d like to do today is share some of lessons we’ve learned in our experience through the lens of the Mad Men saga, which dramatically illustrates a changing social and business world and the continuous adaptations of those operating within it.

Theme #1: People matter most

Early in the Mad Men series, a few old and powerful men (white of course) called all the shots. They ruled the Madison Avenue ad agency world like arrogant or benevolent gods, depending on their mood. Those working for them had to accept the unfair and repressive environment (especially the women and people of color) as a fact of life. Despite it all, creativity found a way to thrive and smart people found ways to succeed. We’ve seen this time and again in our business experience and it’s the reason we put culture transformation at the top of the priority list in Endurant 5.0. Passion is ignited when culture is aligned with the brand (and, no, I’m not talking about the kind of passion for which Don Draper was most infamous).

Theme #2: Make change manageable

As the agency “rules” kept changing, the original core group of employees – Don, Pete, Joan, Peggy and a small cadre of writers and media buyers – decided to band together and strike out on their own. They reinvented the agency on their own terms, using a hotel room as work space until enough accounts made a real office possible. The surroundings didn’t matter though; they had Joan to make sure the organizational change was seamless for clients.

Theme #3: More sophisticated problems require more sophisticated solutions

The (m)ad men went from one-note pitch men with a logo and a slogan to marketing professionals who helped shape the customer experience of their clients. They also advised on pricing, packaging and distribution strategies. They expanded their knowledge and partnering skills as their clients’ businesses became more complex. While the series never explicitly made a point about how this happened, I’m willing to bet that strategic planning or strategic position as it is known in Endurant 5.0, was behind it.

Theme #4: Technology increases effectiveness

Even though the mechanized hum of the firm’s fancy IBM computer drove poor Michael Ginsburg insane, the business changed dramatically with the introduction of computer technology. Not only did this tool take the guess work out of market analysis and media buys, it elevated the importance of certain roles and people. In other words, technology increased organizational effectiveness. (Or, as Roger Sterling once wittily noted, “We’re getting a computer. It’s gonna do lots of magical things, like make Harry Crane seem important.”)

Theme #5: New Ways of Doing Business are Inevitable

Women on Mad Men evolved from sex objects and pampered pets to serious professionals and people in their own right. Even secretaries started taking themselves more seriously over time. When a woman (Joan) wasn’t respected professionally she said “I’m out of here” and started her own media business with a Rolodex and a telephone. Can you see the parallels to all the dot-com and social media businesses and new careers that have sprung from the Internet since the mid- 1990s? Sometimes new organizational designs are inevitable, especially when things change radically due to culture and/or technology shifts. Smart companies anticipate and even leverage such shifts for maximum advantage.

Theme #6: There are no final endings, just new beginnings

The ambiguous ending of MM’s final episode is a perfect metaphor for business challenges: there are no “final endings” or perfect solutions in the “real world” either. We simply need to keep adapting as the environment continually changes.

Did Don Draper come back from his spiritual breakdown/wilderness retreat to cynically create the most famous and beloved commercial of all time (Coke’s “I’d like to teach the world to sing” on a mountaintop) or was the commercial meant to convey something else? It doesn’t matter: the world keeps changing and we must keep adapting. And no matter what changes lie ahead—for Don Draper or your business—it’s people who hold the key to success for it is they who must adopt the new ways of doing things.

Next time: Thoughts on aligning culture with your brand promise!

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