If you do not change direc­tion”, said Lao Tzu, “you may end up where you are head­ing.” I’ve been think­ing about those ancient words of wis­dom for some time now. The rea­son is real­ly quite sim­ple. Nextsens­ing is about what needs to be next for peo­ple and their organ­i­sa­tions — but what if peo­ple won’t change? Flash back to my ear­li­er post on “Is any­one safe from the future?” I report­ed there on a provoca­tive arti­cle in The Econ­o­mist deal­ing with “inno­va­tion pes­simism”. Here’s snap­shot of what that ear­li­er post was about:

What, then, is this arti­cle real­ly about? To me, it is a fas­ci­nat­ing study between the speed of new think­ing and the speed of organ­i­sa­tions. I, too, share the con­cern that too many firms are still try­ing to catch up with the great inven­tions of yes­ter­day. I’m think­ing of those com­pa­nies that still ask cus­tomers to reg­is­ter any com­plaints via the old ways (snail­mail or tele­cons). And then there are the organ­i­sa­tions that con­tin­ue to fly peo­ple around the globe to attend half-day meet­ings that could be done via the Inter­net. And let’s not for­get the large health care cen­tres that have patients fill out paper­work to pro­vide infor­ma­tion that the patient has already pro­vid­ed, per­haps sev­er­al times over, with one or more doc­tors or with some­one else.

As I scan cur­rent Inter­net knowl­edge, I see that oth­ers are struck by the same bat­tle between the need to change and the resis­tance to change.

Scott Brinker pro­pos­es “Martec’s Law: Tech­nol­o­gy changes expo­nen­tial­ly, orga­ni­za­tions change log­a­rith­mi­cal­ly” [link]. He does a nice job, both with graph­ics and words, talk­ing about “The great man­age­ment dilem­ma of the 21st cen­tu­ry is the rela­tion­ship between these two curves: tech­nol­o­gy is chang­ing faster than orga­ni­za­tions can absorb change.” And, thus, one of the rea­sons I would sug­gest you read Scot­t’s thoughts is that he stress­es the impor­tance of organ­i­sa­tion­al lead­ers adopt­ing an inte­grat­ed start­e­gy for both chang­ing tech­nol­o­gy and chang­ing the cul­ture in which that tech­nol­o­gy will be used.My Name Is Change

Bri­an Las­siter also has some sage advice for lead­ers. In his post about “Chang­ing the Way Organ­i­sa­tions Change” [link], he says, “Change is messy. It is non-lin­ear – it is usu­al­ly chaot­ic, full of emo­tions, and com­plete­ly counter to human’s sur­vival wiring. No won­der organ­i­sa­tions strug­gle in mak­ing suc­cess­ful change! So what can lead­ers do to more effec­tive­ly nav­i­gate change – or at least cre­ate a cul­ture that is more resilient to change?” He pro­vides 13 sug­ges­tions, tied to (among oth­er areas) con­trol, uncer­tain­ty, data and let­ting go of out­dat­ed traditions.

Sean Culey pro­vides an exten­sive dis­cus­sion of this sub­ject in his Euro­pean Busi­ness Review post, “The 7 Keys to Unlock­ing Organ­i­sa­tion­al Great­ness” [link]. He reports on for­mal research he has done and then illus­trates his team’s con­clu­sions with a dia­gram of a tree. Why so? He wants his read­er to under­stand that the great­est rea­son for any resis­tance to change may be below the sur­face (under­ground, at the root lev­el). Then he dis­cuss­es “The Curse of the Four M’s”:

Mind­set: The mind­set of the organ­i­sa­tion, its val­ues, beliefs and culture
Mon­ey: Whether the organ­i­sa­tion has a plen­i­tude or scarci­ty atti­tude to its finances
Man­age­ment: Exces­sive man­age­ment, scarce lead­er­ship; struc­ture over strategy
Met­rics: Exces­sive num­ber of func­tion­al­ly-focused met­rics, not aligned with the goals

I high­ly com­mend all of these thinkers and their posts to you. And I would add that per­haps one way to open the dis­cus­sion of change among peo­ple in your own organ­i­sa­tion is to think about the key role a sim­ple punc­tu­a­tion mark can make when added to the word “change”.

Change? If you add a ques­tion mark, peo­ple begin their think­ing about change with doubts. Why change? Why now? Who says so? Do I real­ly have to change?

Change. If you add a peri­od, peo­ple begin their think­ing about change as if it’s sta­t­ic, remote — some­thing “out there” that per­haps needs to be addressed by oth­ers but, as for us here, “if it ain’t broke.…”

Change! If you add an excla­ma­tion point, peo­ple can sense urgency, high impor­tance and, per­haps, some excite­ment and even a promise of improve­ment and, yes, innovation.

To be sure, Lao Tzu did not envi­sion the man­ag­er who has to wor­ry about chang­ing the way peo­ple do things today, whether those peo­ple are in front of com­put­ers or cus­tomers, in cubi­cles or on load­ing docks. But his words ring eter­nal­ly true. If your firm resists change, then the com­pa­ny and its peo­ple will more than like­ly end up pre­cise­ly where they are head­ing. And what com­pa­ny can afford, a year from today, to be exact­ly where it is now?

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