Tsunami of Change


Peter Chamberlain

People talk about the rate of change increasing, but there is something that they fail to understand.  You see, it’s not the rate of change that is causing issues with many organizations.  It is not the fact that 50% of the technologies that a student learns in their first year of University are no longer applicable by the time they graduate.

None of these things are the true organization killer.  None of these things have the potential to complete decimate an organization, private or public.  It is not the change that is important, it is how fast your organization can assimilate that change.

It used to be that there would be a change every so often and that you had plenty of time to adopt the change.  For instance, in the IT world, the IBM Personal Computer took a long time to actually become a force in the industry.  Having been around when the IBM PC was released I experienced the slow ramp up in person.  It took a long time, around seven years, before I saw the PC have a really meaningful impact on business.  Most businesses were still using IBM 3270 terminals a decade after the IBM PC was introduced.

If it took you five, eight, even ten years to implement the IBM PC you were on pace with everyone else.  Indeed, even after ten years, while the impact was growing, it was not the prevalent computing platform.

Imagine that today.

Just over ten years ago Apple introduced the iPhone.  Think of everything that has happened since then.  The smartphone, not the BlackBerry vision of the smartphone, but the Apple vision, has dominated the industry.  The Android phone came along and took the best of the Apple vision and incorporated their own changes.  In less than ten years the two app stores combined (Apple and Google) have 5 million apps.  Yes, a number of those apps are duplicates, but even if you just take the Google store you have 2.8 million apps.

Organizations have had to change and adapt.

Smartphones.  e-Commerce. Artificial Intelligence, Cloud computing. Blockchain.

Changes are coming.  We know that, it how quickly you can accept the changes that is key.

Some organizations never really accept the new technology.  Barnes and Noble couldn’t.  Sears couldn’t.  Toys’R’Us?  Another one that could not adapt to the changes around them.

But it’s not just one change that did these companies in, it was an accumulation of change that did it.  I’ve talked about technical debt. I’ve talked about cultural debt.  But there is one debt, kind-of, sort-of associated with technical debt that has such large ramifications for an organization:  change debt.

Change debt occurs when you have failed to implement a change before another change needs to be implemented.

Perhaps the easiest way to explain it is to watch this video.  I’ll wait.  Come back when you’re done.

Changes are those chocolates that are coming down the conveyor belt.  When the changes come far apart you can accommodate the changes.  You can implement the change (wrap the chocolate) before the next one shows up.  But as the changes come closer together it is difficult to implement the changes fast enough so that you have time to work on the next change.  So what do you do?  You sweep the change to the side and implement the next change instead.  That change you did not implement?  That’s your change debt.

Let’s alter the scenario a bit and put Lego bricks on the conveyor belt instead.  Each box needs to have specific bricks in order to make what’s on the box.  But as the conveyor belt speeds up you miss putting some of those pieces in the box and the box is essentially ruined.  The same thing happens with the changes.  A lot of changes are contingent upon other changes being put in place.  You can’t have change B until change A is implemented.  Not implementing A means that you can’t implement B.  And then when C comes along, dependent upon B, you are really behind.

The rate of change, the speed of that conveyor belt, is ramping up and there is nothing you can do to slow it down.  What you need to do is implement the change (wrap the chocolate) faster and faster.  You need to fundamentally change what you are doing.

Failure to change, failure to adapt, failure to find the people, processes and technology that will allow you change, is tantamount to saying that irrelevance is what you are aiming for.  This is actually a bigger problem for monopolies (public sector) companies than private.  At least private sector companies realize that competitors are at their heels and more than willing to take over when they falter.  Public Sector?  That’s not going to work unless you move.

Take a look around at the organization you work in.  Does it accept that change is happening?  Does it do whatever it can to implement that change or does it seem to flail in the wind like a lost balloon?  I think you know which one you work for … but does your management?

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