OPINION: Do you still fit in that round tin?

DEBRA ALLCOCK TYLER, is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

Sainsbury's has reinvented the baked bean tin. In a moment of Zen-like introspection, the supermarket chain asked whether a bean tin needed to be round. It isn't the most obvious question to ask, but ask it it did.

And, in fact, Sainsbury's realised, a square tin would be far more practical: more economical, efficient and better suited to today's methods of packing, shipping and storing. If consumers go for it, the company will soon sell all its baked beans in square cans.

Asking yourself fundamental questions about why you exist, why you exist in the form that you do and how you want to exist in the future, can reveal important truths, as the Industrial Society - relaunched recently by the chancellor Gordon Brown - has discovered.

The Industrial Society has sold off its training and publications businesses and renamed itself the Work Foundation. But, more significantly, as its chief executive Will Hutton explained, it has gone back to the core of what the organisation was about when it was set up in 1918, and reinvented itself to be relevant to today's working world.

A new future for the organisation became possible partly because two years ago the society lost about a third of its staff through redundancies - I was one. Many of those who left were senior and had worked for the organisation for a long time. Three of us on the senior team left on the same day and our combined length of service was around 54 years. And in this case that length of service was probably preventing the organisation from moving forward because some of the people who left would have strenuously resisted this reinvention.

For organisations to remain viable and relevant, they need to constantly test themselves and their raison d'etre against changing social and economic backgrounds. Thinking about who you are and what you are trying to do does not necessarily mean making changes as radical as that of the Work Foundation. You may find that it simply reinforces your belief in your mission. But you should always be asking the question: should we remain a round tin or become a square one?

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