I will be honest with you here. If I hear that hoary old chestnut “change is the only constant” one more time, I will saw my own leg off with a rusty spanner. It is so painfully obvious and overused that it has failed to have any meaning. It’s also untrue. But, of course, like many trite and annoying sayings and those pithy phrases that get posted on your LinkedIn timeline every day, it’s sort of true. The world is constantly changing. Society is. The world of work is. And we are.
Who we are changes. Who we were changes (or at least our perception of whom we were). Who we want to be changes. What we want to achieve changes. The circumstances of our lives both at home and at work changes. Constantly.
Curses. Perhaps they have a point after all.
We had better get used to it then. But it’s hard. And most of us don’t like it. Some do, and are actively searching for it, but most of us don’t – or at the very least, it makes us uncomfortable. Dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity is a life skill that most of us would rather not have to develop. It would appear, if the Leadership literature is anything to go by, that it will become increasingly important in this new technological age where Moore’s Law (computing power doubles around every two years or so) is still law after 40 years of it being posited. It changes everything. I use no more than about 20% of my phone’s capabilities (and that is pushing it) so I can’t imagine double the capability of the two-years-hence version.
I do have two favourite quotes about change though. The first is from AD10 from a not particularly insightful or forward thinking Sextus Julius Frontinus; “Man has run out of things to invent”. It is easy to make fun of our Roman though. In a way, many of us do this – as I said, I can’t imagine my phone having double its capacity. I am horrified that some say the email is dead and we will all soon communicate by social media alone. I’ve only just got used to it. It is so seductive to think “that’s as good as it will get” about anything because we are limited by our imagination.
Here’s another selection of change quotes. Let’s get them out of the way. Consider them a gift.
- Change imposed is change opposed. Anonymous.
- The universe is change; life is what thinking makes of it. Marcus Aurelius
- It is said that I am against change. I am not against change. I am in favour of change in the right circumstances. And those circumstances are when it can no longer be resisted. Paul Johnson in The Spectator
- They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom. Confucius
- You cannot step twice in the same river. Heraclitus
- Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better. Richard Hooker
Anyway. You get the picture. There are a lot of them. One I do really like though, and use a lot in my change workshops, is the classic Charles Darwin one; “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”. A powerful lesson. If we think back 65 million years to when a big lump of rock hit what would eventually be a Tequila bar on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsular, it wasn’t the biggest or strongest things like the dinosaurs that survived but the little warm-blooded mouse-type things that were flexible and adaptable and eventually stood upright and became us and created the need for the Trouser Press.
The corporate world often fails to heed this message. Let’s take three recent examples. In 2013, two companies announced that they were in difficulties; HMV and Blockbusters. One of the reasons given in the press was that they did not see the writing on the wall with regard to the downloading phenomenon; to some extent, they still subscribed to the “people want to go into stores and browse” model. Which, of course, some do. But not enough anymore. It doesn’t matter how big you are as an organisation, or how long-established you are (HMV had been going since 1921); if the business model doesn’t flex and adapt to what the people want and/or technological changes, then it’s curtains. HMV is in the process of reinventing itself. Not so Blockbusters, unless I’ve missed it.
So, I thought I would write a book about it. So, I did. I rather like it. This is the opening page. If you like the way it sounds, and want to know more about how our brains work, how to be resilient through change (and take your team through it at the same time), then you can find it here:
 Pedants amongst you will have already thought about Pi, or, of course, Euler’s constant; approximately equal to 2.71828, and is the limit of (1 + 1/n)n as n approaches infinity, an expression that arises in the study of compound interest. I looked it up. It’s probably not what they meant though.
 He patently didn’t see the Corby Trouser Press coming.