The Future of Change

Has the nature of change really changed? In her just released book, “Imagine It Forward,” former General Electric Vice Chair Beth Comstock points out that “what started out as seemingly isolated, episodic incidents has come to resemble an epidemic…the nature of today’s challenges cannot be solved by yesteryear’s tried-and-true expertise.” Our world no longer works that way. She writes, “The coming onslaught of ever more digitization, and automation, and artificial intelligence – it means virtually every industry is coming to its point of reckoning.”

Future of Change Sphere

Why does this matter? One reason is that human beings are bad at changing. Yet, they are surprisingly capable of adapting. Wait, what? Isn’t changing the same as adapting? Actually no. Adapting is becoming accustomed to new conditions, while changing is all about becoming something entirely different. It has been said that it is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent, that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Steps To Change

Have you ever noticed that special, warm, certain feeling you get when visiting with an old friend, a mentor, or perhaps that special member of the family? I got that feeling in abundance this week when I had the opportunity to discuss John Kotter’s work on change with a great group of leaders. Kotter is a favorite among business people. The quality and caliber of his thinking – the wisdom he has extracted from his experiences – resonates at so many different levels. His work is both thoughtful and profound.

Kotter, trained as an electrical engineer at MIT, earned his doctorate at Harvard, and joined the faculty of the Harvard Business School. In the universe of “publish or perish,” Kotter has excelled. He wrote one of the Harvard Business Review’s all-time best-selling articles and has, over the past 30 years, produced 18 books, many of which rank in the top 1% of sales on Amazon.com. His work speaks authentically to the challenge of leadership and change. So, what does it take to create real lasting change? Kotter offers a road map of sorts in his best-seller, “Leading Change.” Kotter says there are eight crucial steps leaders must take to assure success:

  • Establish a sense of urgency
  • Build a guiding coalition throughout the organization
  • Develop a vision and strategy
  • Communicate the change vision
  • Empower employees to take broad-based action
  • Generate short-term wins
  • Consolidate gains to produce more change
  • Anchor the new approaches into the culture

If you’ve ever undertaken a change effort, you know it is not for the faint-hearted. There are just so many opportunities for sabotage at so many levels within an organization. On more than one occasion – even in the face of certain collapse – individuals and organizations cannot and will not muster the necessary resources and energy to change. Need an example? Look no further than Sears Roebuck. Frustration doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.

Change is daunting. It is often thrust upon us – these days without much warning it seems. It is an enormous catalyst for expanding your success and assuring continuity. Unexpected change created by the actions and decisions of individuals or entities outside our control is the most challenging, oftentimes because it is so unexpected. Oddly enough, change you can see on the horizon is challenging too. Fear, paralysis and resistance often force poor choices.

Think about public and private colleges and universities for a moment. First, there was the rise of private, for-profit colleges and universities vying for students, financial aid funds and prestige. Then came the growth of the lifetime learning movement catching colleges off-guard. Both the non-profit and private sector took to the marketplace with fresh offerings. Then came online degree programs. With the fast rise in popularity and the benefit of education software, online payment systems and high-speed Internet access, public and private colleges were able to ride the wave.

MOOC Future

And now it’s MOOC – massive open online courses offered by leading colleges and universities such as MIT, Harvard, George Washington University, Rice, Emory, Brown and others. While still in its infancy, MOOC certainly suggests investments in “bricks and mortar” may be coming to an end. MOOC proffers a dramatic rise in quality, diversity and depth of educational content not seen outside the walls of the Ivy League ever.

Change from the outside. Adaptation. Small victories. Innovation. And now, change from the inside. It’s worth pondering your own organization’s future in the context of both types of change. It’s also worth thinking about the ways in which current business models no longer fit our collective futures. Bring your sense of mindfulness, awareness and imagination to bear on what’s to come. Be part of the future.

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