Change or Else!

by Greg Phillips

Two caterpillars are conversing and a beautiful butterfly floats by. One caterpillar turns and says to the other, “You’ll never get me up on one of those butterfly things.”

What is the moral of this tale? Change is unavoidable whether you want it or not and will involve you even if you don’t know it now.

Change in life and in business is inevitable. Resisting is as futile as it is frustrating.

Success in business is often determined by how effective an organisation manages change. The need for change is increasing and organisations must be capable of effective change in order to succeed in the future.

“Only in growth, reform and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found.”
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Charles Kettering, when Chairman of General Motors was once asked about why he put such an emphasis on planning and considering the future. He replied, “My interest is in the future because I’m going to spend the rest of my life there.”

Markets are changing so rapidly that many products that successfully met the needs and tastes of consumers a few years ago are obsolete today. Here’s just a small sample:

Carburettors. Replaced by fuel injection. Carburettor manufacturers have either converted to fuel injection production or disappeared.

Business franchising. What type of business isn’t franchised today? Consider the effect that Jim’s Mowing and VIP Home Services have had on garden equipment sales – I personally know many people who no longer own a lawn mower. What about the printing industry? Snap Printing has single handedly forever changed the face of commercial printing. How about the restaurant industry? What is the price of a pizza today and where are most of them eaten now? Do you recall the time when you went out to eat and doctors made house calls?

Computers. The effects are dramatic, of course. Let’s consider a seemingly unrelated industry, signwriting. Traditional signwriters have almost disappeared to make way for those who only need to be able to use some simple computer software to produce stick-on signage.

Imported cars. The quality and quantity of imports has forever changed the Australian car industry.

Island farms. In Australia, in the 1800’s and early 1900’s there were a large number of island farms. They were cost effective due to the much cheaper transport costs of sail boats compared to land transport. Then the industrial age brought efficient road transport and island farms have disappeared.

Internet. Just 25 years ago, there were only 133 websites. Now there are over a billion. In 2002 top 100 futurist, Frank Feather stated that the internet will be, “The sun in the galaxy of shopping.” It has been said by economists that in the next 10 years the internet will be responsible for, “The greatest shift of wealth ever in the history of the world.”

I could go on and list hundreds, probably thousands of examples like the one’s above. The simple fact is that it didn’t matter that the carburettor manufacturers didn’t want fuel injection. It didn’t make any difference that signwriters, after completing a 4-year apprenticeship to learn the art of signwriting and a significant number of years building their business, didn’t want to learn to use computers. Mama’s Pizza Restaurant couldn’t change the fact that Pizza Hut was coming to Australia. The island farmers couldn’t stop the industrial age. All these things happened anyway! And all the retailers in the world cannot prevent the internet from selling products. The question is, “How is your organisation preparing for the future?”

No one and no business is immune. What is the most talked about business model in books and at conferences? The answer is McDonald’s, who is legendary for that fact that worldwide they almost never close a restaurant and that their profits were continually rising. Well, in 2002 McDonald’s closed 630 restaurants and in the last quarter of 2002 had a deficit of almost $US344 million. This was the first ever quarterly deficit in the history of McDonald’s and was previously unthinkable. The following is extracted from an article I wrote in 2003 on this subject:

“I certainly don’t pretend to know what went wrong but a post mortem might raise questions such as, “Couldn’t the challenge to maintain sales be predicted given the amount of information around about people, particularly Americans, changing their eating habits?” It might be suggested in fact that the eating habits of Americans couldn’t result in increased consumption of hamburgers and fries – at the current level of consumption it has only one way to go. I reiterate that I have no knowledge of the causes and do not suggest that the issue I outlined had any effect at all. I merely wish to use a hypothetical example to demonstrate how it is often so easy to see what went wrong after the fact.”

Unfortunately, this is too late. Perhaps what I wrote in 2003 was fairly accurate given that since then, McDonalds and indeed other restaurants have added healthy eating options to their menus. Changes and threats must be anticipated if they are to be avoided. Of course, you already know that, right? I assume then that your organisation is committed to planning future change and that personnel have been fully instructed in the skills required to think creatively and achieve the required goals. Is this so?

“The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them.
– Albert Einstein

You may have heard of the incident related by Frank Koch when serving in the U.S. navy:

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on manoeuvres in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities. Shortly after dark the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.” “Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain asked. The lookout replied, “Steady, captain”, which meant we were on a collision course with that ship. The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees.”

Back came a signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.”
The captain said, “Send, I’m a captain, change course 20 degrees.”
“I’m a seaman second class,” came the reply. “You had better change course 20 degrees.”
By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send, I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.”
Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”
We changed course.

Do you need to change course?

In a Harvard Business Review article, Diane L. Coutu wrote:
“ Recognising industry patterns and anticipating change are core competences for today’s executives. The ability to grasp complicated phenomena and discern possible trends from seemingly random events can be a source of competitive advantage, allowing managers to capitalise on opportunities before they are apparent to others.”

Some reasons why people and businesses do not plan change:

Attitudinal. The future is unpredictable. What is happening now is more important than what might happen tomorrow.

Comfort Zone. The present is comfortable so why change anything? Dislike for new methods.

Inhibited Perception. The inability to see what needs to be done to ‘stay ahead of the pack’ or indeed survive.

Unwillingness to Learn. We’ve always done it this way so why change?

Inflexibility. A lack of interest in the views and collective intelligence of others.

Impossibility Thinking. It can’t be done. Not willing and therefore not able to move beyond their limited vision.

Time Management. The business is running them rather than them running the business.

Fear. False Evidence Appearing Real. Incorrectly believe that safety comes from the status quo.

Have you ever felt powerless about the need to make decisions? Has the fear of change created concern, or had an adverse effect on you or your business? Many people experience various forms of anxiety or fear while attempting to make decisions or create change.

Often, people find making decisions or dealing with the implementation of change a difficult process and outside their comfort zone. It may be useful to know and therefore acknowledge that effective decision-making and dealing with change are learned behavioural skills.

Harness the power of your team. Start everyone thinking about the future and further opportunities. Challenge current beliefs and practices. Change is inevitable. The only question is, “Are you prepared for change?”