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Discovery Newsletter: Perspective, Dave Robertson

October 1, 2018

min read

Five years ago, which was the last time Koch Industries updated its Vision, our world looked a little different.

There were no Apple watches, no Siri or Alexa, and no Bluetooth movies in the SUV so the kids could watch “Zootopia” (again).

Most of us would agree that those technological advancements — and countless others like them — have made our lives better. We like being able to see who’s ringing our doorbell when we’re not at home, driving cars that help keep us out of accidents, and getting accurate answers to questions in an instant.

What’s even more amazing is to think that the changes we’ve seen in the last five years will probably be eclipsed by what we’ll see in the next two. That’s how rapidly the pace of change is accelerating.

But now that our new Vision emphasizes accelerated change and the need for constant transformation — both personally and professionally — some people are worried. They wonder why we can’t just keep things the way they are. After all, this will likely be a record year for Koch Industries. If it’s not broken, why fix it?

I think we’ll all be in a better position if we look at change in a more positive and proactive way.


I believe there are three key concepts that will make or break our implementation of KII’s new Vision: mutual benefit, continual transformation and selfactualization.

To begin with, everything we do needs to be based on a win-win proposition, not a winner-take-all or zero-sum mentality. As simple as it sounds, this point of view is something that makes us fundamentally different as a company.

If you think about it, this is not a radically new concept for us. We’ve been operating this way for a very long time. That’s why Customer Focus was one of our Guiding Principles for so many years. Mutual benefit is what we want to accomplish because we always do better when we help our customers and other constituents do better.

Continual transformation is a more challenging proposition. We’ve all seen jobs, markets and even entire industries upended as new technologies take hold. To pretend that we can ignore those changes, or to think that creative destruction won’t ever affect us, is not reality-based.

We used to talk about the need for continuous improvement, which is still important, but transformation goes far beyond that. It doesn’t mean doing what you’ve been doing a little better or a little faster. It means doing things in entirely new ways, or maybe not doing what we used to do at all.

Technology can be a great tool for helping us transform ourselves and our businesses. Do you really want to settle for folded paper road maps or a new fax machine? I don’t. That’s why each of us should want to transform — both personally and professionally.

It’s exciting to think about the new roles that transformation could bring to Koch. Five years ago, we didn’t know we’d be recruiting and hiring cloud architects, data analytics specialists, digital marketing strategists or drone pilots. Five years from now, who knows?

The third key concept to implementing our Vision is also the most personal: selfactualization. This is now our culminating Guiding Principle — the one principle that the other seven rely on. Self-actualization is what will drive the success (or failure) of our company.

Charles described self-actualization in detail in the last issue of Discovery.

But I think his daughter, Elizabeth, also did a great job of summing up the concept when she spoke at Charles’ 80th birthday party with Koch employees. “Find the thing that brings you alive inside,” Elizabeth said, “and use it to bring others alive.”

The more you self-actualize, the more you will create a better life for yourself and your loved ones, and the more you help the company succeed by benefiting others. It’s a virtuous cycle that you set in motion.


If you view the pace of change and the use of technology-driven improvements as a threat, things are likely to not go well for you. Whether we like it or not, change is happening. And it’s happening at an ever-faster pace.

On the other hand, if you realize that technology-driven changes can make your job safer, more productive and less boring — or, even better, transform your role into something far more exciting and rewarding — what’s not to like?

Embracing new technology does not mean you have to lose your job. Accountants did not disappear when spreadsheets took the pencil-pushing out of tracking numbers. We still need cowboys on our ranches even though we can track the location and health of our cattle by using drones.

It’s up to us to have a positive, can-do attitude toward change and embrace our opportunities to improve. Only then can we contribute at a higher level, making each of us, our families, our businesses, our customers and our communities, better off.