If you think that change is coming at you faster and faster each day, you’re right. That’s because the three change accelerators of processing power, storage, and bandwidth have reached unprecedented levels and are transforming everything, including how you sell, market, communicate, train, educate, and innovate. For example, over 40% of the revenue from IBM last year came from products and services that were impossible to do just two years ago. And that percentage is going to go up, not down, because of the transformational path technology is taking.
As we experience change, human nature is to hunker down because we want to find comfort. That means we spend a lot of time protecting and defending the status quo rather than embracing and extending the change. Why? Quite simply, because we’re familiar with it. We know how it works. We have an investment in it. It has made a lot of money for us. It got us to where we are today. Therefore, the mindset is that we have to protect and defend it any way we can, even if that means spending money to do so.
But when you have technology-driven transformational change, as is happening now, you have to realize one key point: If it can be done it will be done, and if you don’t do it somebody else will.
The Truth about Change
The general thinking is that people don’t like change. But that’s not really true. In reality, humans are born loving change. Think about it … babies cry until you change them. As a matter of fact, they prefer rapid change. Also, why do we take vacations? Because we want a change. We need to get out of our usual surroundings and see something new. We even assert that we need the change. In this case, change is a choice, and we like it.
But not all change is positive, and therein lies part of the problem. There is a negative side to change, and that is when the change affects you personally and you didn’t see it coming. However, did you know that most of those changes that come “out of nowhere” are actually very visible months or even years before the change hits? You just didn’t notice it because you were too busy protecting and defending, too busy in the status quo, and too busy putting out fires. In fact, you were so busy that you didn’t spend any time looking into the visible future—the part of the future you can see.
Think that’s not the case? Well, when do people typically get burglar alarms? After their house has been robbed. When do people typically start exercising? After the doctor tells them they have weight related health challenges. When do people typically start working on their relationships? After the divorce papers are filed. You get the idea. We are massive crisis managers.
It’s time to think about change in a different way. It’s time to become more anticipatory in terms of change so you can see it coming. Only then can you use change as an opportunity for growth rather than a crisis to be managed.
How to Be Anticipatory
There are two types of change that are everywhere, are very visible, and that tell you a lot about the future. The first is cyclical change. You’re in the midst of cyclical change every day, even if you’re not aware of it. Weather cycles, biological cycles, business cycles … these are all examples of cyclical change. In the United States, you know exactly when the next presidential election will be, when the next full moon will be, when the next tax filing day will be, plus many other key things that cycle with time. You know that if the stock market goes up, it will eventually go down. So there is the science of cycles; you just have to be aware of them.
The second type of change is called linear change. Once this type of change hits, you’re never going back to the old way. For example, once you get a smart phone you’re never going back to a dumb phone. Once the people in China park their bicycle and get a car, they will not go back to the bicycle as their primary form of transportation. Once the people in India get refrigeration for their home, they will not live in a home that doesn’t have refrigeration.
When you look around and determine what cycles you experience in your business and life, as well as what linear changes have been happening and then look out from there, you can see what’s next and can turn the predictable changes into competitive advantage. That’s how you can be anticipatory.
Let’s face it … decades ago no one said, “Don’t tell Kodak, Polaroid, or Motorola about digital technology. Let’s keep it a secret.” The future of technology was there for them to see (just like other companies saw it). However, Kodak, Polaroid, and Motorola were so busy protecting and defending the status quo that they completely missed the opportunity that was right in front of them. Protect and defend can get you into trouble.
New technology is only disruptive if you didn’t know about it ahead of time. Fortunately, it’s there for you to see. You just have to take the time to look. When you see it coming, you can transform it from the negative type of change that can blindside you to the positive type of change that fosters innovation and growth.
What’s Your Next Big Change?
Over the past four years I’ve given hundreds of keynote speeches and have had dozens of consulting meetings around the world with executives in just about every industry. In each speech and strategic meeting, I asked them to think of their biggest current problem. Then I asked, “Was your biggest problem predictable ahead of time, or did it come out of the blue?” Over 90% of them replied that their biggest current problem was 100% predictable; they just weren’t looking.
In other words, your biggest problem two years from now is visible today and therefore completely avoidable. So instead of experiencing another negative change, how about spending the time to identify the problem ahead of time and turn it into an opportunity? How about taking a look at those disruptions that are already heading your way and figuring out how you can be the disruptor rather than the disrupted?
Remember, change doesn’t have to be your enemy; instead, it can be your new best friend.