Survival is not a mandate

Statistician W. Edwards Deming once said, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” I think the question of change is as fundamental as survival, and only requires an acceptance that change will definitely happen. Therefore, what will our role in change be?Change swirls around our lives, be it business, politics or culture, often creating challenges that need to be overcome. It’s hard to imagine, quite frankly, that there isn’t a problem that can’t be solved, yet we find ourselves conflicted about what direction to take at all levels. At a macro level, we ask ourselves what wars should we be in? What is our society’s responsibility regarding health care? What is the role of government? At a more micro level, what will our business evolve to be? How do we compete in a global economy? What technologies do we adapt? What will I do with my career? We are all products of our own development path, the institutions we find ourselves in and the company we keep. Many of us were brought up to be patient and deliberate about making decisions and taking action, and our organizational systems are designed around this process. We carefully plan, build consensus and then act. It is hard to argue the merits of this strategy. However, have we found ourselves in a cycle of indecisiveness that is stopping us from any progress? Is our consensus-building method broken? One just has to look at government to see an extreme example of progress sacrificed at the price of process. Many companies who fundamentally understand that we are in a world economy refuse to engage in it. At a personal level, we may sense that our industry or job maybe changing, yet we plod along without action.Change happensThis month the Future of Everything panel considered how good leaders and contributors look at change and how they deal with it.Throughout history, there are leaders who share a basic approach to change. First, they recognize that change is afoot and begin by engaging with those who are commissioned to manage it. Once they quickly recognize that they are dealing with an entrenched system, they don’t just keep pushing. They think and work around the obstacle of institutionalized process and entrenched thinking. Bill Gates did this when he decided to sell software rather than give it away. Deming did this when he applied his skills in Japan. The average small-business person does this when they start their own venture. Change does not comfortably pass through the system in place — it works around it.Our panel agreed that change agents have the ability to not only think differently and faster about a problem, but the willingness to build their own resources, influence through ideas and accelerate action. Basically, since they’re not playing by some bureaucratic-prescribed rules; they are free to move and change at every turn. Time is not carefully measured increments to be planned. Rather, time is movement and action that is accelerated. Change agents just do something to move forward. Personally, I loved this conversation with the panel because it was so optimistic. I had the sense that anything was possible because of the panel’s matter-of-fact perspective that positive change would happen naturally. I also wondered what the effect would be if the institutions that change agents work around would include this kind of thinking. After the meeting, I wished that this kind of thinking was in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Russ Ouellette, managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership coaching firm, is project manager of the Future of Everything. Core project participants on this topic included Jeremy Hitchcock, chief executive of Dyn Inc.; Melissa Albano, president of Grapevine Marketing; and David Roedel, partner of The Roedel Companies. For more information, contact 603-472-8103 or