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Change - It's Not What It Used To Be - Articles Surfing
It was the ancient Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus, who said, "nothing endures but change." That is certainly just as true today as it was in the time of Heraclitus, over 2,500 years ago. Change is all around us. In nature, in our personal lives, at work, everything is changing all the time. Sometimes the changes are subtle and we barely notice them, other times they hit us like a freight train.
Many of us have never heard of William C. "Billy" Durant, but he was one of the true innovative business thinkers in the early 20th century. He was the head of the Durant-Dort Carriage Co., the largest producer of horse drawn vehicles in the country in 1900. His company was producing around 150,000 vehicles a year in 14 factories, mainly in Michigan. He, of course, was aware of these new horseless carriages that were just coming into existence. Even though most people considered them just a toy for the wealthy, and they were somewhat unreliable, Durant embraced them. In 1904 he turned his company around and went into a joint venture with David Buick of the Buick Motor Company. From there he went on to form General Motors and the rest is history.
Now, I don't know many business leaders today who, at the height of their success, would turn their company around and go in an entirely new direction. More than anything that takes vision and courage, and the ability to embrace change before it becomes necessary. From today's perspective, this change seemed inevitable, but at the time there would have been no way to know that the automobile was going to be as wildly popular as it proved to be.
Ever since the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, there have been quantum shifts that have caused inevitable changes in the business landscape. When consumer refrigerators first were manufactured the writing was on the wall for the ice manufacturers, word processors and computers have made typewriters all but obsolete, steam powered trains were replaced with electric trains. There are hundreds more examples, and each one led to a major shift in business in these particular industries that caused many companies to go out of business - those that couldn't adapt to these inevitable changes.
It was Charles H. Duell, commissioner of the US Patent Office, who is famously quoted as saying back in 1899 "everything that can be invented has been invented." This was in response to the astounding number of patent applications received that year, about 3,000, which was then a record. In 2003, that number had ballooned to 355,000 applications received by the US Patent Office. I wonder what Charles Duell would think today.
Most people would agree that change is happening faster now than at any time in history. Things that seemed impossible just 10 years ago today are commonplace. We can watch videos on a cell phone, we can share photos instantly with people half way across the world, we can search more information than is in the world's libraries in less than a second, we can listen to thousands of songs on tiny little players about the size of a matchbox. These are all big changes and each one has happened so much faster than anyone predicted.
A 1980 model Cray supercomputer was the fastest machine of its day. It cost $12 million, weighed 10,000 lbs, consumed 150 kW of electricity -- and had only 8 MB of RAM and operated at a speed of 80 MHz. Today, you can buy a cell phone for $100 with more computer power than the world's most powerful computer of just 25 years ago. That is fast change. Technology is changing all aspects of business, and changing it fast. I don't know what the future is going to bring but I can guarantee you this; the pace of change is not slowing down any time soon.
Just because the world is changing fast doesn't mean you have to embrace all change. Just look at the dot-com boom of the late 1990's. Several hot shot entrepreneurs were convinced that the average person would prefer to shop for groceries or pet food online than at the store. Some people did, but the vast majority of us did not change the way we shop. For people to change long established habits there has to be a distinct advantage in doing so.
People saw the demise of newspapers, books and even television as we were all going to get our information and entertainment online. Now, I go to news web sites on a regular basis, but I still want to sit down and read my morning paper at the breakfast table. I also like to sit in a comfortable chair and lose myself in a good book. Just because I can do both of these things on a computer doesn't mean I want to. It is an unnecessary change because it provides few advantages over the original.
One of the biggest marketing blunders of the 20th century was the release of New Coke in 1985. The people at Coke saw the results of the "Pepsi Challenge" and "Pepsi Generation" campaigns from their arch rival and they decided they had to change. As we all know the results were disastrous; in only three months Coke was forced by consumers to reintroduce old Coke and admit its mistake.
The example of New Coke gets to the heart of the debate on change. If you have a core product that people love, there is no need to change it unless you absolutely have to. I often wonder why Coke didn't introduce New Coke alongside of the original formula. The people in charge must have thought that they just had to change. But most people like the familiar and they often grow an emotional attachment to a product or brand. As Coke found out it is dangerous to change a product when your customers don't see any reason to change.
Change is something all of us have to deal with our entire lives. In business, for a company to survive and thrive, it has to become comfortable with change. What this really means is that the people in the organization have to embrace and not resist change. Our famous Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, put it best 2,500 years ago: "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change."
Copyright (c) 2006 Peter Renton
Copyright © 1995 - Photius Coutsoukis (All Rights Reserved).
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