All of us encounter change in some way or other on a daily basis – the pertinent question is actually how it influences us. After all, each of us experiences change in different ways, and it crops up in varying frequencies as well. Some feel that the whole world is collapsing when their favorite yoghurt is withdrawn from sale, while others switch quickly to a different variety. Here at SoftwareONE, we faced the challenge of merging COMPAREX and SoftwareONE. Without wanting to sketch out the blueprints, I would like to relate some personal observations about adapting to change, which I believe are generally applicable. After all, we are not alone in experiencing change, as our customers are currently being asked to cope with some massive rearrangements as well.
Understanding IT and how it sees itself
Two things can bring about change: An external stimulus (for instance being taken over) or intrinsic motivation (for instance the desire to exercise more). The frequency with which a person has been confronted with change in the past appears to play a role as well. When all is said and done, IT people seem to have faced change more often than others. IT is in a constant state of flux. The permanent necessity to accept transformation is part and parcel of our industry: No day goes by without something new being released, new concepts yielding additional insight or external influences taking effect in the world of IT (home offices, for instance, require changes in the infrastructure). The best way to respond to these changes is by learning. People develop an individually constructed coping mechanism, depending on how often change arrives on the doorstep. Mostly they will accept the challenge and somehow look forward to it. In IT, though, the learning process never seems to end, and I am yet to meet anyone in this field who is afraid of new challenges.
There are two personality types in the approach to new and unfamiliar things in particular: Those that gladly rise to the challenge, and the others who shy away. After all, embracing change exposes us to the risk of failure. Change is easier if we know all of the circumstances and possess all the necessary information. But this is not always the case. When this happens, some say: "I’ll give it a go. And if I don’t reach my target, then at least I will have acquired experience to approach things differently next time." Others may feel fearful, which prevents them from engaging with an underlying learning process: "What will I look like if it doesn’t work? Would my colleagues even respect me then?" The term 'growth mindset' is used to describe the former type, while 'fixed mindset' characterizes the second group. To learn more about this issue, I recommend to read this book.
Learning is the key
The issue of how often a person applies the learning process seems to make a difference. Popular wisdom tells us that learning something new every day keeps us young. But is it even sensible from an evolutionary perspective? Why do we even learn? At a basic level, we learn to acquire experience and to standardize procedures. The latter aspect is particularly important, as we become quicker by approaching things in a uniform way. Take this example: Dental hygiene. Do we even consciously think about how to clean our teeth? Like me, you probably do it on autopilot and are finished in a couple of minutes, after having spent the time letting the mind wander. But what if I demonstrated a method that is more effective and quicker? Would you give it a go? I suspect that 75% of you would say: "Why? I learned it once and that’s enough for me." This response is completely normal and typical in an evolutionary sense. Youth is there to learn new things so that we can access and apply them later on in life. But this kind of rigid structure is not possible in all areas. Indeed, it is of existential importance in some places to refrain from living only in the 'here and now'.
If we take a look into the past, many companies have relied on their core competencies. Products were standardized and optimized, usually to cut the costs of production. The same applies to market prices: IT systems simply have to become cheaper. But instead of focusing on change (what new things and innovations are available on the market place?), the costs tended to be cut precisely in this area – and the market does not respect tradition. The core business of Kodak, for instance, was selling photographic paper. A mobile telephone with a camera – who needs a Frankenstein like that? Or another example: Microsoft. At a time when licenses for Windows and Office accounted for the lion’s share of revenue, a small project called Windows Azure was quietly launched. Now, Windows and Office are no longer as interesting as they used to be. In contrast, Azure, as a cloud computing platform, is currently one of Microsoft’s most important developments – and everything seems to suggest that this will be the future of technology. There are many more examples like these ones – and they show clearly that companies need to adapt to the market if they want to progress.
Change is difficult, tiring and expensive. But it is reasonable to ask whether customers can survive change if they neglect to embrace it. It follows, therefore, that not only must we be open to change, we also need to advise our customers, offer them a helping hand and accompany them along the way. This is, after all, the only way to truly be on the side of our customers.
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