Where pace makes change obsolete

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Ever have the feeling that the current environment is changing so fast that even your change initiatives become obsolete before they are done? The world economy today is much more intertwined that when a giant like China sneezes, as it has been dong the past two weeks, the rest of the economies get the flu. And these changes come fast and furious, so there is no respite for economies like Singapore which gets buffeted from all sides due to its transparent borders and small market. Which makes one wonder, "Should we even bother to change, if all we do is just oscillate about the mean?" In this article we talk about the dangers of staying put, albeit oscillating, and what we can do to weather the "storm".

We cannot ignore what's going on

Last Saturday I gave a talk at the Lifelong Learning Institute's Open House on the subject, Solving MasterMind in 6 Steps: What that means to your self-development". At the end of the talk, several people came up to talk to me but there was a lady who was lamenting the pace of change, and told me that she shuns anything that had to do with technology. I reponded, "There is no way to avoid technology, no matter how much you dislike it. It is a way of life now." Avoiding change will not make change go away. Just like the ostrich that sticks its head in the ground when danger is in sight, it does not mean that it will not be eaten by the hungry lion. Avoiding change is not the right strategy. Even in law, ignorance is not a defence. Hence, if we ignore the effects of change in the wider ecosystem, we cannot blame anyone about its adverse effects but ourselves. And the effects will be fast and furious. Standing by and watching the world go by will make us obsolete even faster than moving with the times. But how do we go about it such that we don't find our change efforts ineffective? Here are three things we could do:

1. Focus on the centres of gravity

I have been speaking about the centre of gravity for a while now, and if it is lost on you, let me reiterate - the centre of gravity is the key driver of a system that has the ability to move the whole system at once. The solution to a complex, systemic situation is many a times, surprisingly simple. And applying that has the effect of creating a massive change. Because it is intertwined within the system, it is more resilient to change than drivers in the outer periphery. Hence, while it is not easy to move these, you will not see the impact of the changing environment as much. Hence, there will not be much oscillation in these efforts.

2. Make change bite-sized

To ensure that you are not exposing yourself to rapid change in the environment, make yours even more rapid! Chunk it down so that you can implement it within months, rather than years. Script critical moves so that they become embedded within the psyche of your people easily without putting much effort. Let the critical move pull the rest of the system along, giving people more confidence that change can work, sustaining further efforts for change. One critical factor for change is the people involved in it - if they are not confident in management's ability to steer the ship in the right course and to stay the course - change will not happen.

3. Embrace VUCA

VUCA refers to volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It explains the new normal of the world economy and to a large extent, makes each organisation's change efforts obsolete. One thing that management needs to do is to embrace this volatility, factor in flexibility and adaptability in plans, and to go about change not so much as a plan but more so as a hypothesis. By adopting a hypothesis-driven process, we are saying that we are not so much the captain of the dingy as we are a skilled oarsman. The difference is that the captain plots the course and heads for it, sometimes expending inordinate amounts of resources in meeting it, and the oarsman goes with the flow, conserving resources. By adopting such a flexible approach to change, we accept that all efforts are a work-in-progress, and that the goalposts will change. VUCA demands that of us.

So yes, the rapidly changing landscape will force us to be more adaptable, and will cause our change efforts to become obsolete even before they are fully rolled out. But that is the new normal, and we can either stand by the side to witness it all, going the way of the dinosaurs, or we could adapt and flow on top of the rapids, enjoying the journey. The choice is yours.

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