The speed of change

There is a belief that business is changing so fast that you need to be extremely agile and responsive to cope.

If you can’t respond you’ll miss the window of opportunity.

Is this true? Yes and no...

Yes – when you look back over 10 years, many things have changed and whole new opportunities and technologies have emerged. And the pace of this change is increasing each decade.

But not everything has changed out of sight.

In fact, most things have hardly changed. The programs on TV may have changed, but the delivery of programs via TV has not changed for 50 years. Cars have more gizmos but they still mostly run on petrol as they have done for 100 years.

What is important is that while change is fast and accelerating, we are not in a sea of wholesale change with few stable aspects. The change elements are ‘sexy’ but they don’t change the world every year.

So we have to take a more realistic perspective.

Yes change is happening. But no, not everything is changing.

So we need to be responsive but not necessarily totally dynamic. If you want to respond to change effectively you need a high level of change capability – a level much higher than exists in most organizations today.

Entrepreneurial, constantly changing companies are the rare exception. Some technology start-ups have this level of dexterity but then tend to become fossilized and lose their responsiveness (think: Microsoft).

Dexterity = failure?

Mature dextrous companies are very rare. They need to have a high ability to adapt and change, realize the result or fail fast and then keep going.

However, most organizations are set up not to change. They want repeatability and certainty – which is the opposite to change and makes implementing change high risk. Most organizations have a low level of value delivery capability - the capability to change effectively.

We’ve found that the key characteristic of a dynamic responsive organization is the acceptance of failure. You can make mistakes (but not the same one twice). They identify mistakes early and act to remedy them as fast as possible. No blame, just remedial action.

Failing fast is the key to responsiveness and agility.

This may sound strange as the expectation would be to focus on succeeding. But if your culture cannot tolerate failure it cannot tolerate fast change.

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Topics: Capability Development, Strategy Execution, Change Management

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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Aug 2011) as "The Speed Of Change"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections