Huge Change is Coming: Prepare for Disruption


Huge change is on the way. We are living at a defining time in human history. We are at the beginning of a fourth industrial revolution and the future world of work is going to be very different from the past.

Yet, organisations and their employees are struggling to address or keep up with the pace of change.

When we consult on organisational change projects, we can meet a lot of resistance. This resistance is often borne out of fear. Fear of the unknown. There is a comfort factor knowing the road well-travelled, so why change?

The Kodak moment

The Kodak moment is a great example of why change. In 1976 one of their employees presented the Board with the future of Kodak by inventing the first digital camera. They rubbished his innovation and ignored the camera as a gimmick that would never catch on. At that time, Kodak were making lots of money out of the paper and chemicals business and wanted to protect the status quo. Kodak lost sight of their original mission which was about preserving memories in time.

In 1996, Kodak was worth $28bn and employing 140,000 people. But fast forward 16 years and, in 2012, Kodak had dwindled to 17,000 employees and filed for bankruptcy. The very same year Instagram (the digital version of Kodak also in the same business of preserving memories) was acquired by Facebook for $1bn employing just 13 people.

Inevitably, more and more business models will be disrupted by digital technology and more and more job losses will happen in the developed world.  Accounting, legal, administration, customer service, validation, sales, and finance are all being automated right now.

When we speak about this type of disruptive change in organisations, a minority get it but most hear it and ignore it. It’s like they are standing on the sea shore and won’t believe there is a tsunami coming unless they physically see hundred foot waves coming at them there and then. As we know seeing the tsunami there and then means it’s too late to survive. It’s too late to climb to higher ground and reach safety.

Our Brain hates Change

What we have learned from neuroscience is that there can be no behavioural change without structural change in the brain. Our habits or ways of doing things without thinking are simply a number of superhighways in our brain that were created to make it easier for us to remember stuff. These habitual ways of doing things, like driving the car to work the same route every day or checking emails each morning, all happen because we did them yesterday and the weeks, months and years before in the same way.

The brain hates change because it has evolved to build patterns for us to easily remember the way. The neural pathways are really memory maps with defined routes for us to operate on autopilot. This way we don’t have to stress each morning on how to drive our cars because we know how to do it. To create new pathways of thinking is harder and requires more energy. It means we have to travel a road into the unknown with no ground rules or guarantees that things will work out in the end.

 Organisations hate Change

Organisations are no different because they are full of people with well-developed habitual patterns of behaviour doing the same thing today they did yesterday. The management layers also hate change. They have risen to a certain level and want to play it safe, the less risks taken the less likely of making mistakes. Homeostasis becomes a management style.

Plus, organisations have well defined ways of doing things – usually described by organisational development specialists as culture. That won’t work here is what we often hear.

So, before embarking on change journeys, organisations and their leaders look for proven models and ways of doing things. They are looking for client case studies on how they handled change. They want the proven six step formula. They want the McKinsey report to say this is what you should do. They want social proof that they won’t be outliers and look foolish.

So why change?

Marshal Goldsmith in his famous book, “what got you here, won’t get you there” says it well. Many Executives leading businesses today all believe the criteria that got them here will get them there. They are wrong. Playing safe won’t get them where they need to go in the future. Resisting change and new ideas led to Kodak’s downfall. Many of the brightest ideas for the future are within organisations; we need to allow these voices to be heard.

I hear a lot of rhetoric in organisations that they want to build creative and critical thinking and they want to encourage innovation. But they allow no mechanism for this to develop in themselves or others. The brainpower and capability is in every person and every organisation to change. They just need to know why to change and be led authentically by a brave change leadership team that takes steps on the road less travelled rather than the road well-travelled.

Brain based Executive Coaching is hard work. It means a full interior design project, moving the furniture, fixtures and fittings of the brain around. But how many of us want to go through the torture of turning our houses upside down and embarking on a full interior redesign and living with the messiness of the change associated with it. The thought of it puts most of us off. It is easier to buy into the change when we have a clear picture of what it’s going to be like post the change. We see this played out in so many TV home improvement programmes.

The challenge with Organisation and People Change is that few have a clear picture of the future world of business or work. Without this clarity, organisations, just like our brains, are self-preserving under threat. This leads to many old traditions and habits being maintained. It leads to unhelpful behaviours in people who have most to lose in any future change. Disruptive technologies are and will continue to inflict pain at all levels in organisations for those who turn a blind eye.

Three key takeaway messages to Organisations, Leaders and employees today

  1. Disrupt yourself before you become a victim of the disruption, see this HBR quick video to generate more career growth ideas
  2. Decide “what got you here won’t get you there”, see a short video telestration review of Marshal Goldsmith’s book
  3. Become comfortable being an outlier in conversations and taking small risks daily to build new neural pathways. See a short video telestration review of Malcom Gladwells book

There is no clear picture of the future, only signs that we can read if we are interested enough to sense them. There are no certainties in life and we may need to turn the whole house upside down again in a few years’ time. This is the future of work – change, change and more change. So why change? I will leave you with this great quote about Change from Wayne Dyer “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”.

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