BETTER CHANGE THAN SORRY!
In a world of massive political, social, economic and technological disruptions, companies face the biggest imaginable challenges to ensuring their immediate survival and to laying sound foundations for their future development. In the emerging era of intelligent transformation, companies, systems and people alike will be confronted with the need for eternal and radical change; not just once, but forever. The best way and, we think, the only way to prepare for these unstoppable transformations will be through reinvention.
The bad news: To do this, you will have to leave your comfort zone. The good news: You can still leave it be. You can decide whether your resources will be used for caving in or for breaking out; for backing down or for catching up. The sooner you start, the better your chances of success. So, it’s best to start right now and right here.
Change is good – when it is understood.
Transformation is better – when it becomes a reality.
Reinvention is best – when it becomes a natural part of your company’s life.
A CASE FOR REINVENTION
Change is not enough. Digitalisation and globalisation create the necessity, but also the opportunity to reinvent yourself and your company – again and again.
1. Change is forever
Change is forever – like the arrow of time. You never enter the same river twice, as the ancient Greeks already knew. Every day; every second brings changes – we become thicker or thinner; smarter or uglier; we shop and drive around; we are happy or annoyed; we learn (sometimes) and age (always). But because we know that we can’t stop the change, we’ve learned to manage it.
In human evolution, change was almost always born out of necessity. Our ancestors did not set out for new shores to explore what might be hidden at the end of the rainbow, but to survive; not to starve in a famine or be killed by enemies. “Something better than death we can find anywhere”, was the motto of the town musicians of Bremen in the famous fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm – the shortest possible summary of tens of thousands of years of human migration history.
The idea that change might be something positive is much younger; just a few centuries old. It started in the age of Enlightenment, when science broke away from religion and became a motor of progress. “Standing on the shoulders of giants” (Isaac Newton), scientists allowed the giant to grow with each new discovery.
Capitalism also contributed greatly to the positive connotation of change – by producing massive incentives for technical progress. In sharp contrast to the static guild system of the Middle Ages, the best competitors could now vastly expand their market share at the expense of the worst competitors – and that’s exactly what they did. Steel companies such as Krupp or US Steel, chemical companies such as Dupont or Bayer, and consumer goods producers such as P&G or Coca-Cola all consolidated their supremacy through never-ending investment in research and development. Their customers learned to expect that each new product had to be better than its predecessor – and the companies learned to deliver.
This notion of positive and perennial change has been woven deeply into the fabric of the economy – other changes, not so much, though.
2. Transformation is a radical event
Transformation is cut from a different cloth than change. It is much more profound, more fundamental – and it is abrupt. At each transformation, there is one state before and one state after, and they can be clearly distinguished. At least, that’s how we learned it at school. Transformation is what happens to butterflies: the caterpillar transforms itself into a cocoon and the cocoon transforms itself into a butterfly.
This is also how transformations in business are seen and handled. They are literally the opposite of “business as usual” – they cut through a company and separate the Before from the After. Sometimes that transformation is a cost-cutting programme; sometimes it’s a restructuring of the corporate structure; sometimes it’s a major investment; sometimes it’s an attempt to conquer new markets, or to steer the company out of its founder’s shadow. Each of these transformations is usually associated with considerable stress, and once a company is through with it – once it has transformed from cocoon to butterfly – it’s best to let the entire organisation relax a bit, so that it can recover from the stress and become acquainted with its “New Normal“.
That’s assuming there is a New Normal, where you succeed in transforming from one state of “business as usual” to another one, where business as usual prevails once again. But what happens if you can’t achieve a New Normal? What if the cost-cutting programme does not end your financial stress? What if the new market cannot be conquered? What if you have no time to recover in a cocoon; if you have to transform into a new butterfly every week, if your sleepless nights don’t end? Then you have reached the 21st century. Transformation is a permanent state for now and forever. You will never be finished. Your new normal or, more accurately, your Now Normal, is not a state of stability – it is dynamic, flexible and surprising. It’s not about reaching a permanent position; it’s about finding a balance, and it never stops – hopefully.
You don’t learn that from nature; you didn’t learn it at school; you have to relearn.
Reinvention is a radical event – forever.
Digitalisation and globalisation demand something paradoxical from companies: permanent transformation. People with jobs that yet don’t exist will create products we can’t imagine, using technologies that are yet to be developed, and they – we – will have to find unknown solutions to still unknown problems. A maelstrom of change; and we neither know how long it will last nor what its goal might be; nor even what it is that will be changed.
There is no determined end; there are no clear parameters – as if not only a butterfly could emerge from the caterpillar’s cocoon, but also a mosquito or an elephant; tomorrow, next week or in ten years. Yet, what looks like transformation on steroids can be seen as a third state of change: reinvention. Reinvention combines the central elements of each of the two states mentioned above: the permanence of the change and the radicality of the transformation. Reinvention means being constantly open to new ideas, new concepts, new orders, new goals. Nature doesn’t work this way; it’s too chaotic and consumes far too much energy. Changes cost time and energy; and permanent changes cost more time and energy than most living beings can afford.
The same is true for most human beings. In our world, reinvention is one of the outstanding characteristics of great artists. The various, and very differing creative periods of artists, such as Picasso, Mozart or Goethe, demonstrate permanent openness. External influences interact with the artist’s internal forces (or demons) to create something completely new. All those great artists remain unmistakably themselves; each composition by Mozart sounds different from one by Bach; no painting by Picasso could be confused with one by Dali. But still, they reinvented themselves, again and again.
Admittedly, none of us could be a Picasso either. Permanent reinvention quickly overstretches one’s own resources; not to mention the lack of talent. But Picasso was no super-human: physiologically and genetically, there was nothing to distinguish him from his billions of contemporaries. Theoretically, therefore, the ability to reinvent should be open to all of us.
And just as for humans, reinvention should be open to every company. Every institution, and therefore every company, is, theoretically, able to reinvent itself time after time. No company is born as a world market-leader; none is forced by fate to fail or succeed; to rest on its laurels or to recover from its transformations. That’s what we’re here for: to make reinvention possible, not just in theory but also in practice. It is an effort to enhance companies; to make them fit for the 21st century, and to shape their own future. Period.