Monday, January 25, 2010

Resistance to Change: Does It Doom Us to Failure?


I am reading a book by Jared Diamond, called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. I find it to be a stimulating read, and if you click on the link you will find it has been reviewed 444 or more times, so others have found it stimulating as well. I am not really going to get into the nature of the book, but I did want to talk about the resistance to change. Diamond shows that a society's resistance to change, its unwillingness to change, can lead to its downfall. It is not a sole determiner. The use or misuse of resources, climate change, and competitors also contribute societies disappearing. As I read this I was struck at how well this can be applied to companies and business as well.

We have seen an number of companies go out of business. They have been overwhelmed by a competitor, or they have borrowed too much money (the equivalent of cutting down all their trees), or the climate has changed (recession as ice age?) and they have not adapted. But the other big factor is resistance to change. Diamond, on page 275, makes the following comment ".... the values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs over adversity." Most of us can think of examples of companies that, as things change around them, they redouble their efforts to keep doing business the same way they have been rather than adapt to the new environment. A software company I worked for did something along those lines. Selling a mainframe based software, business started to suffer as midrange software became available. Rather than adapt the management tried to keep competitors from appearing and redoubled the effort to sell mainframe software. Unfortunately, clinging to this technology and ways only led to the demise of the company and today it is only a distant memory.

So Jared Diamond's warning to societies can also apply to companies as well. Is your business adapting? Or are you too resistant to change? Is your management team clinging to what had been successful or moving to what will be successful? How often do you hear "Well that is the way we have always done it"?

I think it is interesting that humans can, at the same time, have resiliancy as a hallmark and also resistance to change as a hallmark. Reading Diamond's discussions of societies long past shows that we are not so different than our ancestors. We do many of the same things, we just may do them faster and on a larger scale. What is the old saying "Those whom ignore history are bound to repeat it?"

So I recommend Collapse as a stimulating read for HR professionals for the business lessons and societal lessons that can be learned. You want to be proactive and knowledgeable then grab yourself a copy.

1 comment:

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