How do you see change?  Is change basically good, not so good, or depend on context?  Are you a changeophile or changeophobe?  Be honest.  What’s your sign?

changeIn the big picture and over time, it’s seems clear that much of change has been good – resulting in significant improvements for societies, cultures, and peoples around the world.  Innovation, change, and development is itself I think subject to ‘survival of the fittest’ pressure, so that useful change is embraced, while new ideas and actions that provide little utility are not sustained. Of course the value of some change is debatable.  For example, evolution in military strategy and weapons technology has benefited some societies, but often at the expense of others. In fact, much of change is this way –producing both winners and losers, particularly in the short term.

As individuals, each of us holds a unique viewpoint and perspective on change.  Some are quite positively oriented – changeophiles. Others have a strong negative valence, and are resistant (even phobic) to change.  In my experience, the latter (changeophobic) position is more common – including perhaps 3/4 of the population.  Still, neither position is right or wrong, superior or more beneficial. Our orientations simply are what they are, a product of our experiences, talents, and beliefs. I didn’t always believe this myself, and wondered for years why others weren’t more enthusiastic about the “obvious” opportunities afforded by a changing and developing landscape.  I long thought all changeophobes were simply “stick in the muds,” or Luddites. Over time I’ve learned to appreciate more the cautious, focused, and risk-averse nature of others. At times my interest in change has been an almost pathological distraction – always on the search for something new and shiny – but usually leading to an over-stimulated and unfocused chaos.  Truly effective leaders are skilled at both knowledge and action, both in understanding the changing environment, and in reacting to it was appropriate effort and execution. Extraordinary outcomes demand both knowing more and doing more than others.

Nor are we as individuals monolithic in our orientation to change. Instead, we are more changeophilic in some aspects of our lives, less so in others. Some are true change agents in the workforce, while stable and conservative in their personal sphere.  Others are strongly resistant to change at the office, while constantly developing outside of work. Additionally, individuals themselves evolve over time, and through this process change their orientation to change itself. Some become more resistant with age and experience, but this isn’t always so – the opposite happens as well.

Increasing our awareness to the diversity of perspectives, opinions, and orientation to change within the group is both enlightening and useful for the change agent and leader.  It’s important to understand how we see change ourselves, and how others around us either agree or disagree. Self awareness and understanding helps in improving our own ability and performance, and knowledge and understanding of others helps with communication, collaboration, and performance of the group. Both changeophiles and changeophobes exist in the enterprise, and both must be engaged and mobilized for organization success. A diversity of perspectives is healthy, and helps to balance out both the impulse to overreact and move too hastily, and the impulse to freeze with uncertainty and do too little with new opportunities. For the firm, it’s not about which sign is right or wrong, but about leveraging this diversity for better overall results.

The era of stability and predictability is over. Instead, the Fast Future – and a new age of near constant change, instability, and uncertainty – is here to stay. Moreover, the magnitude, intensity, and pace of change is accelerating – ever more quickly each day. Our business environments will thus continue to blur, becoming even less certain and predictable through time. In this context it is more important to focus on what can be understood, optimized, and (to a degree) controlled: the enterprise itself, and the organization’s vision, mission, strategy, and structure.  Bouncing along for the ride, with little group consensus and alignment, is just no longer good enough. The Fast Future demands much more – from changeophiles and changeophobes alike – to bond together in strong alignment, and in pursuit of extraordinary outcomes in growth, profit, and sustainable, 21st century success.



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