Q from Ed: It is one thing to embrace the idea of constant change as a compelling one for the future. It is another thing to actually practice constant change. What is the point of constantly change? Why should I change? And if I decide that I want to create change, how do I start.
Excellent question Ed! My book focuses on organizations. People individually know how to deal with unannounced, unexpected, unwanted change: we deal with this all of the time. For organizations dealing with unexpected change is much, much harder and what causes this to be hard are the relationships people have at work.
Most people take their jobs seriously: they don’t want to lose it, don’t want to get fired, don’t want to miss a promotion or pay raise, don’t want to … . As a result they put on their best behavior: they comply with what the organization wants, more specifically they comply with what the people at the top of the hierarchy want. This is why change doesn’t happen in organizations: you have to convince too many people to give up what they have now, and even when a few would be prepared to follow you most won’t.
Even when management runs with your proposals they’ll put it in the context of what is already known: they’ll beat it to death, put managers on top of it, and subsequent changes will be much harder to accomplish. My book doesn’t talk about changing for the sake of it.
The point is to create an environment where constant change is a given so that the relationships people have are based not on the nominal work they’re supposed to do but on the constant change they’re supposed to help achieve. Constant change is a good idea because customers are very, very bored with inflexible corporations that never listen to them. Constant change is required because if you don’t jump on it your competitor will and he will steal most of your customers in a hearth beat.
The idea of constant change is to put people at the center of everything: customers, employees, partners. People are the cause of all change, so the only way anybody will be able to deal with change is to focus on the people that matter to you, all of the time. This might sound like an absurd thing to do but it’s actually not. Barack Obama has understood how to set up such an organization, and many of the ideas in my book come from his campaign. The important things to realize about the Barack Obama campaign organization is this: everybody wanted to win, and nobody felt they were somehow giving up who they were or what they wanted to achieve.
This is probably a paradox for many organizations: people in an organization that doesn’t want to change feel stuck, and people in an organization that constantly changes feel happy. On the other hand, this is not so mysterious either because let’s face it: people like change. They just don’t like change to relationships that are very important to them.
Now, there’s plenty of evidence that switching to this kind of organization is not easy, actually it’s very hard. But then again nobody is claiming it’s easy. The rewards are very important however, and they go to those that take risks. The answer of many organizations will be: we’re not the kind organization that likes to take risks. Which is fine, but one day you’ll wake up and your competitors will have come up with business models that you don’t understand, could never have come up with yourself, and that attracts customers like crazy. This will mean that the revenue of your business will fall off a cliff and that there’s nothing you can do about it. The question then becomes: which company do you want to be in?
What’s special about today - compared to say ten years ago - is that change has been reduced to its core component: people. It’s now possible to get a awful lot done by small groups of people that care enough to figure out how to work together. The age of management is over, the age of leadership has started. It’s a reset, a reboot. And there’s only one change that has made all this possible: your customers don’t have an ounce of patience anymore for organizations that don’t care about them, don’t listen to them and don‘t treat them as human beings.
Question for you Ed:
So if I understood correctly the social context is the environment in which organizations work, and in which relationships happen. I'm assuming the dynamics of this environment is crucial as you've already hinted. How in your experience can the social context be conductive for change, or how can it oppose change? I'm thinking about journalism on the one hand, and the Barack Obama campaign on the other hand since they are for me to two opposites of dealing with change.