Change is not a Choice

This is not a news flash. We have always known that change is not a luxury of choice. Yet, we have never been in the position we are now––facing so much change all at once and at such a rapid pace. We are surrounded by it… technology, health care treatment (not insurance, an entirely different issue), generational transition, buying habits, and on and on.

Recently, I heard Harvill Eaton, president of Cumberland University in Nashville, speak of historical transformations. He spoke of the significance of the steam engine and the first man on the moon. Change was noted decade by decade. Not day by day.

Seth Godin has a new book out, called Linchpin. I read it because I like Godin’s blogs––short, to the point, presenting a single idea very effectively. His book is the same way. You get the message in the first chapter. And with all due respect to Mr. Godin, the point is obvious to all who are proactive participants in today’s world. We have no choice but to “be the change”. The book refers to it as creating “art”, regardless of your role, of doing it better than anyone else thought to do it or even better than you have been asked to. Sounds simple, right? So why don’t we? He asserts it is our “lizard brain” or highly trained resistance to being different and our fear that holds us back. Not being the best at what you do is simply not an option any more.

As leaders, we need to not only lead change, we need to encourage it in our teammates and seek it from our suppliers. Embrace change for all of the ways it can lead to new opportunities. In fact, if we can get ahead of the change and anticipate it, we can not just lead our companies, we can lead our industries. Here are two examples.

1. Mark Emkes, recently retired CEO of BridgestoneAmericas, determined that the leading economic indicator in his industry is commercial tire sales. If the transportation industry (or shipping of goods) is down, the consumer economy will follow. The company noted reductions in commercial tire sales in 2007, and by 2008 they had formed an economic response committee that sought productivity improvements that would drop margin to the bottom line. As a result, in 2009 they earned $349 million of operating profit while competitors barely broke even or incurred losses. The productivity enhancements will continue when the economy recovers, and they will be in an even stronger competitive position. Have you identified the leading indicator for your industry?

2. Companies which launch game-changing products have seen new levels of growth. Let’s think about a few new products which have accomplished that. Their genesis seems obvious in hindsight––they met obvious consumer needs. Calloway golf clubs brought new golfers to the industry as well as converting casual golfers to their big club heads. Some new products make the customer’s task more enjoyable, such as Swiffer dusters. And, some make it easier, like luggage on wheels. In retrospect, these seem obvious, and yet, they went undeveloped for years. What is the breakthrough opportunity in your industry that is there and no one sees?

Change is certain. Embracing it brings great opportunities. In our lifetime, here are some changes that I expect to see:

  • We will cure at least one major disease: cancer, diabetes, MS, etc.
  • We will see health care change with an emphasis on prevention instead of treatment, requiring large scale reforms in the health industry system and greatly reducing its costs while making our overall population healthier.
  • Insurance brokers will have a reduced or different role, perhaps as public educators and non-profits helping consumers navigate their health care plan requirements and development of their wellness plans.
  • We will see our educational systems transition from industrial-age models of rote learning to information-age models of stimulating thinking and teaching learning systems.
  • We will see more government functions privatized; for example more charter schools that contract with public entities.
  • We will see broad scale use of open sourcing and outsourcing as a way of doing business––the new norm.
  • We will see community-driven leadership evoke real improvements as opposed to (effective) government leadership in ALL economic levels.
  • We will see transformation of car companies, downsized, diversified, responsible and responsive–they can’t survive otherwise.
  • We will experience an evolution in the banking model (if we don’t make it a product of the government); the citizenry will demand that it be run like a business.
  • We will see more employers hire subcontractors than employees, because it is smarter for them to hire the right talent at the right time without a long term guarantee which just doesn’t exist any more; as younger generations come through without the expectation of 20 years at one company, they will prefer it.
  • Information technology management will be increasingly important, but it must be made simple, which has an inherent danger: just as the calculator made some forget math, we could allow ourselves to forget the roots of the data which is critical for contextual decision making.
  • This new emphasis on technology means everyone will know more about us than we know about ourselves. They will be able to compile reports on our purchasing habits, our health issus, and how we buy and spend, and analyze and predict our next purchases. Scary, but true.
  • Digital technology will continue to take us to new and amazing places, combining functions, miniaturizing tools, and running our lives by systems. Hold on to your values––you will need them!

Since change is inevitable, don’t run from it, embrace it. Be the first to find the next new thing in your industry and lead to the next level. That is what makes change an opportunity!

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