Change has changed

Sometimes you uncover the most interesting things when you are cleaning your closet. I stumbled across a post by Dave Gray that he wrote in October 2011 while I reopened a bookmarking tool I haven’t used in a while, in which he made the case that change is changing.

Dave Gray, Change is changing
The general paradigm and “message to the troops” in change management goes something like this:

We are in a situation that’s problematic. Our profits are declining. We need to make a change. The vision for our future is (whatever it is). We all need to band together and change our routines and processes to get from here to there. Once we have gone through this difficult period we will be over there, in our happy place, and everything will be great.

But change is changing.
Change is Changing
The problem with this approach is that it looks at change as a difficult transition between two states. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that change is not a once-in-a-while thing so much as something that is going to be happening all the time.
Change is accelerating, to the point where it will soon be nearly continuous. Periods of sustained competitive advantage are getting shorter, and there are a host of studies that confirm that. It’s not just something that is happening in technology, either. It’s happening in every industry.
We need to change the way we think about change.

Dave goes on to make the case that this sort of rethinking, moving to a ‘nearly continuous’ state of change means that continuous experimentation has to become the norm, on new products, new approaches to satisfy customer needs, and new ways of working. Dave suggests thinking about this as portfolio management, with a large number of small experiments going on in parallel, instead of one big binary change.
However, I think we have moved even farther along than that, we are already in the time of continuous change. This may require a wholesale rethinking of the indices of success, which will no longer be a simple performance X time scatter plot.
As companies become more fast and loose, as more individuals gain the autonomy to try new things, to experiment with new ways to delight customers, or change production plans to increase quality, then there is a fracturing of the frame of reference. The individuals chose what is important, they decide what is the factor to improve. The context becomes more subjective, and less corporate.
Each individual trying a new way to do something is focused on that experiment, and they don’t necessarily perceive it as one more experiment in a portfolio.
When we think of the portfolio approach as a sort of marketplace of ideas, we tend to downplay the motivations and thinking of the individuals involved. But people don’t think of themselves in a depersonalized way: they are deeply invested in what they are doing. They don’t see it as some external change: they are changing themselves, how they do their job, how they think, and what they value.
Perhaps I could turn this around and connect it more directly with social software: we need social tools that empower individuals to experiment continuously in new ways to deliver value to clients and customers. And, along the way, to change themselves.
Sadly, I think our tools are still too grounded in supporting established ways of work, as opposed to innovation of this sort.