Turn and Face the Strange (or the Strain) – Either Way, It’s Not Easy


If you're a David Bowie fan, you know the song "Changes." If you're not, it's easy to imagine what the song is about. In his unique style, Bowie moves us through some verses that culminate with a catchy chorus that includes:

(Turn and face the strange*)
(Oh, look out, you rock 'n rollers)

*Some lyric searches claim the word is actually "strain," and it appears that this question has never been settled. I have no idea which is actually correct, but they both work in this context.

This song recently caught my attention, particularly his warning to rock and rollers. And, like just about everything else, I started thinking about it in terms of business leadership.

When "Changes" was produced, rock and roll had solidified its place as king in the music world. However, artists like Bowie ushered in a new musical landscape that continued to stretch the boundaries of the familiar, delve into some social/political messaging, and break all the stereotypes. And I wonder how all those "rock and rollers" felt about this industry shake-up. Probably not good. Change will always be a tension to manage because we seem to have a default setting that naturally resists it.

But sometimes, we have to "turn and face the strange," especially in business, and this has definitely been true in my entrepreneurial, inventor, and leadership experiences! Just when I feel like we're settling in on something, the rules, the parameters, the circumstances, the fill-in-the-blank - change, and we're required to change with it.

Sometimes, that has meant a significant loss in revenue that was a painful but temporary necessity to bring about future growth. Other times, it has meant letting people go that I would have liked to keep, trimming budgets that felt impossible to cut, and trading comfortable and seemingly productive processes for the unfamiliar but necessary upgrades that would move us farther faster.

It would have been so much easier to stick with the status quo and not rock the boat. This constant bending, stretching, and pivoting can be painful, but not as painful as a stagnant, irrelevant business. So we change over and over again, doing our best to minimize red tape, leave nothing on the table, and banish all sacred cows.

I realize it's much easier for a small business to be this agile and open to change, but being a corporate giant doesn't negate the reality that change will always be a constant. Markets evolve, customer preferences shift, and technology advances at breakneck speeds. Businesses that remain rigid risk becoming obsolete.

So, let me ask you a few clarifying questions regarding the organization you lead or are a part of:

  • When was the last time a significant positive change happened?
  • Assuming anything is possible, what would be the first thing you would change?
  • What is stopping you from pursuing that change?

In a healthy organization, no one should ever feel powerless or stuck in irrelevant or unproductive systems and processes. Employees, you have the hands-on, everyday experience to speak to the things that need to change. Leaders, you have the power to direct positive change and the absolute responsibility to hear your people out.

Rock and roll was a standout music era and my favorite, but I will always strive to "turn and face the strange," or the strain, or whatever it is because I'm not here to simply put on my headphones and reminisce about the good old days. Like Bowie and the artists of his time, I'm here to challenge the status quo and shake up an industry.

Joe Altieri is the Inventor and CEO of FlexScreen. His product – the world’s first and only flexible window screen - was featured on ABC’s hit show, Shark Tank, where he hooked a deal with the proclaimed “Queen of QVC,” Lori Greiner. joealtieri@flexscreen.com

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Joe Altieri is a third-generation entrepreneur, inventor, speaker, and President and CEO of his own multi-million dollar company.

During his 20+ years in the window industry, Joe recognized the inherent problems with old-style aluminum window screens and dealt personally with constant customer frustrations. Always an outside-the-box thinker, he knew there had to be a better way, so he set up shop in his garage and got to work. After years of trial and error, FlexScreen, the world's first and only flexible window screen, was born.

Since its introduction into the marketplace, FlexScreen has gained international attention and earned multiple industry awards. Most notably, FlexScreen was catapulted to the forefront when Joe appeared on ABC's hit show, Shark Tank, in January 2020. Three of the five Sharks battled for a piece of FlexScreen with Lori Greiner, the Queen of QVC, ultimately winning the deal.

Joe is a firm believer in giving back, and he is generous with his resources and his time. Several years ago, he was honored and recognized as one of Pittsburgh's Volunteers of the Year. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife of 25 years, Alisha. They have four children, four grandchildren, and two very pampered Cane Corsos.


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