Is “Change” Really What We Think It Is?

Part 2 of 3 (Originally published on LinkedIn on 10/19/16)

In my last post – “What Is Change, Anyway?,” I tried to explain why the concept of change is, if not misunderstood, then hard to pin down. People want it, think they need it, and ask or tell others to get it for them. So, let’s delve more deeply into what the concept of change means to politics, a company in need or to the American people – individually, in part or in whole.

You might recall that I said the concept of change means to make things better…to improve, if you will. And I said many people don’t know how or why they got into the predicament that made them seek to change. And that is the crux of what I want to discuss in Part 2.

You might remember President Obama’s mantra (or boast, depending on your political leanings) that “Change has come to America.” Was electing the nation’s first African-American President really considered change? I mean, he was different than our other 43 Presidents with regard to heritage and skin color, but was this really “change” in the classic sense?

I will eschew delving into the verb “to change,” as I find that the act of changing changes from one culture to another, whether it be geographical, physical, economical, or spiritual. So I will confine my remarks to the noun “change.” It would be easy to just follow the dictionary definition of change: A transformation or modification; alteration. A variation or deviation. A substitution of one thing for another. And there are a few dozen variations of the definition itself depending on the genre or aspect of life we’re talking about.

So what do we have here? Change means making one thing into another or replacing one thing for another. Nowhere does the definition regard “change” as making things better. Of course, the underlying sentiment of substituting one thing for another is to make the second thing better, more palatable, less costly, qualitatively better, ad nauseous, than the thing it replaced.

The dichotomy of, say, a CEO telling me he wants to make things better and the realization that he or she doesn’t know what “better” is – because he or she doesn’t really know or comprehend how bad off they currently are – is the true basis for wanting to make things different. One one side, you have people who say, “Well, what we have now isn’t working. Maybe somebody/something else would be better.” And then you have people like me who say, “Why aren’t you doing this or that? What is keeping you from doing this or that?”

Do you see where I’m going with this? Most of you have probably heard the time-worn Santayana quote of, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And that’s really the basis of exacting change. The real basis of change isn’t the desired result (better service, better product, better President) but the conduit to achieve these things.

THIS is the prime reason we’ve lost most every war or conflict we’ve engaged in since WWII. THIS is why we can’t find someone to be our President who is supremely qualified in every way imaginable. And THIS is the reason why companies fail (at worst) or ebb and flow with economic cycles (at best). I mean, come on – anybody who’s studied the Toyota Production System and their much ballyhooed culture of change (“everyone is a change agent at Toyota”) has to be scratching their head at how Toyota got into trouble a few years back with their Firestone tire fiasco and, more recently, the Takata air bag recall. Why didn’t their inbred culture catch this?

Therefore, we’ve seen that just wanting change won’t necessarily solve the problem. Secondly, I’ve shown you that change is just substituting one thing for another, not necessarily promising to make the outcome better. And thirdly, I’ve shown you that enacting change still won’t solve the problem. So what more do we need to solve the problem and keep it solved? In other words, what does it take to foment a full resolution of the problem?

In a nutshell: Why doesn’t change stick? Why doesn’t change always work? I will attempt to address these concepts in Part 3 of my post and provide a plan of action for anyone or anything to make the most of changing.