Is Change really that hard?

By on April 22, 2013

Change is much easier than we think. What makes it hard are the prescriptive ways in which we try to manage it, says Alastair Dryburgh.

Very often, the problem arises from unrealistic expectations: we think we can predict the environment, define the end result and control the process much better than we actually can.

Consider the now largely forgotten Friendster, one of the first social networks. Its users had no way of creating groups of people until one of them found an ingenious workaround: create a fictitious person with a name like ‘X college class of 93’ for others to befriend.

But when bosses at Friendster realised what was going on, rather than take the heavy hint that their customers wanted a better groups function, they started hunting down and destroying these ‘fakesters’.

Or Kodak, which really wrote the book on how not to manage change. Having invented digital photography in the 1970s, it then sat on the technology to protect its legacy film business – with disastrous, if entirely predictable, results.

Contrast these examples with an enlightened approach I encountered in an unexpected sector.

A chief executive of a UK bank was told that a banking app would take two years to develop. “It can’t be more than six months”, he replied. “But you don’t have to build it all at once. Do 60% and then we can decide what to add after we have some customer feedback.” It worked like a charm.

Predict, define, control. There’s nothing wrong with trying to do these things, except that we tend to massively overestimate our ability to do so, thus creating the very problems we are trying to avoid.

When it comes to managing change, flexibility and realism are your friends. If you are caught by a strong current while swimming in the sea, you swim with it, not against it, if you want to survive. I’d suggest the current of change around you is probably stronger than you think.

Use it or fight it, it’s your choice.

** Alastair Dryburgh is chief contrarian at Akenhurst Consultants and author of Everything You Know About Business is Wrong (Headline). More at www.alastairdryburgh.com

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