(Extracts from a recent lecture on change management).
Without change even time does not exist.
Without change life itself is impossible. Elementary particles could be here or may be there. Schrodinger’s cat may be alive or maybe not. Atoms vibrate. Chemistry happens. Molecules are built. Some reproduce. Life emerges. The earth rotates. The Sun radiates. Energy is transformed. Species appear. Species disappear. Evolution results. Continents drift. Climate changes. Energy is transformed. Radiation dissipates. Entropy increases. The Universe expands.
Before the Big Bang and the existence of time, all was stasis and maybe there will be stasis again. One day the Sun will die.
But till then we live – and die – with change. “Change Management” appeared as a new discipline in the 1980’s to try and manage our behaviour during such change. Mergers and acquisitions across borders and cultures has given impetus to the field.
Change makes us uncomfortable but some deny it, some run away from it and some embrace it, but we all have to cope with it. The key lies in how pro-active we can be. We can classify increasing levels of being pro-active:
- Deny the change
- Observe the change
- React to the change
- Manage the change
- Design the change
- Invent the change
In the commercial world I would claim that the greatest benefit lies in being as high up among these levels as possible. I suspect that this applies to all fields of human endeavour and not just to commercial enterprises.
Denying that change has happened generally leads to isolation and eventually to extinction. That applies as well to a species as to a commercial enterprise or to an individual. Change can be gradual along existing trends or it could be a change in the trend or it can be a discontinuity and the start of a new paradigm. Observing and forecasting the changes to come is where change management begins. But there has to be a caveat here. Denying or failing to observe a change is very dangerous but so is assuming that a change is happening when it isn’t. Merely reacting to change is the norm and this passive approach means that the level of control is generally low. What will be will be. If change has happened, passive reaction must be replaced by active decisions. Even a “do nothing” option should be an active choice.
Predicting market trends is the stuff of life for market analysts and commercial enterprises. It is an attempt to observe change before it happens and to try and manage it. Even a defensive strategy should be an active decision. Establishing new products or penetrating new markets are attempts to design and manage a change. While designing a change gives a very strong position, it is no guarantee of success. Subsequent management of the change created will not happen automatically. Inventing change is the most powerful way of handling change but carries inordinate risks. A new paradigm – if created – may be quite unpredictable.
Sony invented Betamax but didn’t properly foresee the changing market they helped create. But when they created the Walkman they shifted a paradigm. Nokia helped design the mobile telephony market but missed the switch to smart phones. Facebook and Myspace invented something new and a new paradigm of social connections ensued. But Myspace has not managed the subsequent change very well. The US invented the new Iraq but forgot to foresee or manage the change that they set in motion. The Indian electorate has invented Modi and it remains to be seen if he can manage the change and reinvent the country.
My message for all commercial enterprises becomes:
- Observe the changes around you (and try to forecast what they will be)
- Never forget to react to change
- Actively manage the changes which have already happened
- Aim to design or invent future changes but don’t forget to manage the change you create.