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Is Change Always Good?

Questioning the mainstream

13Mar

Change dominates today's business debates, and with merit. In a context driven by rapid technological advancements and global markets, companies need more flexibility to adapt to new customers’ behaviors, automation opportunities and business models.

However, there is so much talk about change and flexibility, that we often start to accept them as solutions to all business problems ('change is always good'), and even a recipe for individual and collective happiness ('change is good for you'). Is this really the case?

The purpose of this post is sharing four different positions with regards to common assumptions about change. I found them useful in the development of a more balanced point of view:

Assumption 1: Change is the only key to business success

In a recent issue of Harvard Business Review (Jan-Feb 2017), Roger Martin and A.G. Lafley challenge the idea that companies must continuously change their business models to keep their customers and competitive advantage. They suggest that, in fact, in many cases, you retain your customers by offering them an easy choice based on consolidated habits. What they call a cumulative advantage, a concept supported by interesting evidence and behavioral science.

Assumption 2: Change keeps the world going

While the world celebrates changes brought about by innovation, we tend to forget the work that is necessary to keep things going. Our socio-technical infrastructure needs to be proactively and constantly taken care of, repaired when it breaks down, and indeed, incrementally upgraded when we need to embed innovation into the system. So hurray for the innovators, but remember that 80% of all engineers work every single day to ensure the sustainable functioning of our cities, transports, software - you name it.

Assumption 3: Change makes society better

The great sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who sadly passed away on Jan 9, wasn’t sure about that. He created the term liquid modernity to describe a contemporary society where modernization has become an endless process and anxious people travel across life without a higher purpose, don’t build stable relationships and fear the future. Professor Bauman was an effective writer and a fantastic speaker.

Assumption 4: Change makes you happy

Let me finish big. In his 1929 essay, 'Civilization and Its Discontents' Freud is unable to find a correlation between individual happiness and what he calls 'power over nature' (today's disruptive innovation). While mankind is right to be proud of its exploits in medicine and telecommunications, he concludes that 'this fulfilment of age-old longings has not increased the amount of pleasure, (people) can obtain in life.'This is a thought-provoking conclusion if you look at the global social unrest and political discontent.

I hope you’ll find these different perspectives useful as much as I did.

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