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We talk about change management. Change as a process. We tend to think of change in business as something that needs to happen once in a while, when the need arises. It’s uncomfortable, but necessary. There is a whole industry called Change Management that has built up over the years to help people through these inflection points. Change management is big business these days, because just about every organization knows they need to change. And the bigger the org, the harder it is to change.
The general paradigm and “message to the troops” in change management goes something like this:
We are in a situation that’s problematic. Our profits are declining. We need to make a change. The vision for our future is (whatever it is). We all need to band together and change our routines and processes to get from here to there. Once we have gone through this difficult period we will be over there, in our happy place, and everything will be great.
But change is changing.
The problem with this approach is that it looks at change as a difficult transition between two states. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that change is not a once-in-a-while thing so much as something that is going to be happening all the time.
Change is accelerating, to the point where it will soon be nearly continuous. Periods of sustained competitive advantage are getting shorter, and there are a host of studies that confirm that. It’s not just something that is happening in technology, either. It’s happening in every industry.
We need to change the way we think about change.
If change is a constant, then the only real sustainable competitive advantage is to be able to grow and evolve continually, to stay ahead of the competitive pack.
You can’t do this with the traditional business structure that we’ve inherited from the industrial revolution. This isn’t like redecorating a room in your house or moving the furniture around. This is a major rehab project that might affect the foundations, the plumbing and everything else. It requires some pretty fundamental rethinking of the way your company is structured, how you execute your strategy, and how you’re going to evolve.
What the world requires today is organizations that are capable of continuous creativity and innovation, that can adapt and evolve on a continual basis; organizations that can generate new businesses, that can sprout and branch into new categories and new industries; that can recover quickly from failures and move on.
This is not change management but portfolio management.
Portfolio management is not so much about taking big steps as it is about balancing risk with opportunity, planting a lot of seeds and nurturing them until they are big enough to succeed (or fail) on their own. Portfolio management requires a tolerance for risk balanced with some big expectations, and an expansive view of what’s possible.
The whole attitude toward change needs to change. It can’t be about leaving a rough patch and moving everyone to a happy place in some imaginary future. It’s got to be about the excitement of pursuing new business opportunities, not because it’s necessary to beat competitors (although that is certainly the case) but because it’s energizing to try new things, to explore new territories, and to experiment with new business ideas.
It can’t be change anymore. It’s got to be fun.