Three certainties: death, tax and change

According to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.”

You probably already know that we change our living selves every few months or so. Every cell in our body, brain, skin, organs, and bones, is replaced by an entirely new one. Our whole body is changed, renewed, replaced, every few weeks or so. And this, of course, includes our brain cells.

An interesting semantic maybe, but it seems that we can grasp the issue of a new brain (cells and tissues) but can find it more troublesome to change our mind. For some this requires new information on a current situation, for others, their particular environment and company strongly influence their views. For others still, it seems, their mind changes with the wind. But is changing our mind even enough? I suggest not. I would guess that most of us change our mind occasionally (opinion, perspective, priorities, and assumptions) but do we change our behaviour?
Anthony Robbins, famous, successful and popular life coach and entrepreneur, has been quoted as stating that despite his fees (up to £15,000 per hour for corporate events) and the invariable enthusiasm with which his performances are received, less than 10% of the attendees will actually go away from his event and DO something different. It appears that we are open minded enough to consider a brave new world (when presented by a polished man on stage with an endearing smile and a penchant for the dramatic). We are even enthusiastic and profligate enough, to pay someone to tell us of how they themselves implemented change and became wealthy and wise. Far too frequently though, we lack the where-with-all to implement change ourselves. Is it that we just like listening to a good story? Maybe, but I suspect it goes deeper.

In a past life I was given responsibility for a corporate transformation project; the whole nine yards, processes, systems, roles, responsibilities, reporting, objectives, data/knowledge management and more. What was obvious before, during and after the project, was that the key to success of this, and I suggest all, change projects is not the latest software, not whizzy PC screens, mobile data tools or improved efficiency measures, but the people.
Changing people’s habits and practices. I should point out that the project was inclusive, drawing key users and support staff from all areas of the business. The project was supported from the highest tiers of management. The benefits (and intermittent pains) were known, recognized and effectively managed. We designed with the users, implemented with the users, tested with the users and handed over to the users. So, did it change practices? No. Well not immediately. People don’t like change! If I had a penny for every time that I heard the phrase “we don’t do it like that” well I would have a fat piggy bank full of pennies.
And this reticence is not restricted to the corporate beast. Time after time, whether sole trader or SME, I hear the same phrase. You can take the horses to water it seems but getting them to drink . . . .? And therein lies the challenge.

I am not a psychologist but I guess that resistance is a normal human reaction to external change. We like what we know. We are comfortable with the familiar. We have learned, been trained, maybe developed and personalised the work we do now and how we do it, so change represents threat. A threat to the status quo, a threat to position, a threat to knowledge, control, usefulness or value. I have never been supportive of those individuals that hoard knowledge although I do understand some of the reasons why. It usually boils down to power and control wrapped up in fear and past experience. This then, is why many people fear change in the work environment. Security is threatened.
However, I speak to you as an entrepreneur and enterpriser. So what is it that stops you from changing? Fear of failure? Fear of success? Fear of losing kudos, status or position? Fear of exposure? Fear of being usurped or replaced? All are understandable but all are equally untenable.

Change happens all the time. It happens around and despite us. The world (of business) is becoming quicker, more open and less predictable. Technology innovations abound, digital information and communication is virtually unlimited and often intrusive and never has the tenet that “time waits for no man” been more relevant, or so it would seem. So in this ever and more rapidly changing World, how can we deal with or even better create and manage change? I have three rules in this regard.

1. Know yourself. Before you commit to even investigating change in your work or business, be absolutely honest with yourself about what you are prepared to change, what you are not, what you are prepared to accept as the transformation period evolves and what you are not. Your commitment and invariably, your success (your sustainable success) depends upon this. Know your values, display your values, deliver your values.

2. Do Unto Others. If you are not prepared to accommodate and embrace the changes yourself then how are you realistically expecting to convince other people of its efficacies? Change is not just about methodology, systems or thinking, it is about effective, ethical, commercially responsible development and this requires, I propose, other people.

3. Engage and empathise. Engagement is the key. Not just communication or simple explanation but actual, authentic engagement which is why empathy is important. Business is relationships and relationships grow with empathy. Empathy will encourage you to listen and the more open and honest your empathy, then the more engaged, committed and supportive other people will likely be.

In essence, be the change that you want to see. (Thank you Mr Gandhi) If you want savings in fuel or are promoting a green policy, then don’t turn up to work in a Bentley.

There are only three certainties in life, death, taxes and change, and we have little or no influence on at least two of them. We may not be able to directly influence scientific, technological or even social change on the grandest scale but I submit that but we can effect economic change. It starts with us, ourselves. We see opportunities for this every day if we look.

Creative Commons (open architecture for software development without the need for ownership of IP) and Crowd Funding (community financing) being just a couple of examples. Online media tools (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) are also becoming integral and influential in almost all areas of our private and business life. I myself am currently working on new business models for asset ownership, which focus on the economic use of assets and their guardianship, rather than outright ownership, by a few, at the cost and expense of the many. I also believe that all companies should be measured on their Social Return on Investment not simply on their returns to their shareholders and that corporate directors should have a fiduciary responsibility for their community and environment.

So, if he who lives must be prepared for change then never has it been so true in terms of business and economics. 20 years ago I ran a design agency that used cutting edge technology to send data files across telephone lines. Ten years ago I implemented remote working tools and flexible-location working for sales staff. Five years ago we did not have Twitter!

The world will change around you so you may as well accept it, just like taxes and death. It is how you lead or deal with change that is the only issue worth your consideration and commitment. Simply, know your values, use the tools, find the people, lead the change. If you don’t you can guarantee that someone else will.

This article was published in the3rdimagazine on 1 February 2013

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