Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fueling the fires of change

It's almost appropriate that this, my last blog post of the school year, is being written while listening to "Innocent at Once" by Fat Jon, off his album Repaint Tomorrow. If you aren't listening to him, then click this link and get ready to fire up your music download service, because this guy will change your life.

But enough of this. It's been a great semester... academically, that is. I'm not one for meeting people and making lots of friends. With the summer comes new routines and responsibilities. I'm going to be working more, spending more time hiking (one of my favorite outdoor activities) and spending some time in Santa Cruz with friends. Yes, it's going to be a glorious summer, but before I can start thinking about summer, I want to talk a little about change, because it's all around us. Make sure you're listening to that Fat Jon track as you read this post. It'll help.

I know I'm a lot older than most of my classmates. I'm 24. Yeah, I'm an old-timer. I was born in the 80's, and I'm gearing up to graduate after next semester. We're all going to graduate, and we're all going to start careers. Some of us are going to get married and start families. Some will go on to be titans of industry. Hell, we may have a couple future congressmen in our midst. The point is that change comes at you fast. But the same can also be said for business. It's changing, and it's because of us, and we don't even realize it.

20 years ago, nobody had computers in their home. 15 years ago, the Internet was just sowing the seeds for growth. 10 years ago, cell phones were much less common. A lot has changed in our lifetimes. We are buying and consuming products at a rate unseen in history, and the products we are craving are so new and so unprecedented, that the entire business paradigm has shifted. In ten years, cell phones went from black and white screens, no SMS messaging, and a high price tag to tiny touch-screen devices that cost a couple hundred dollars. The average cell phone is exponentially faster than the ENIAC computer used in the 40's, at the time the most advanced computer on earth.

Why is this important? Because we are the first generation to ever grow up and reach maturity in an environment like this. 50 years ago, everything we take for granted today was science fiction. The Internet has changed the game. Forever.

And that fact, that we grew up in this world- the world of today- makes us valuable. We have a perspective, a worldview, that is so far beyond our counterparts born a mere 20 years before us, that business has no choice but to change to meet us at the gate. There is a lot of change going on in business. It's not happening because people want it to, but because people are beginning to realize that it's necessary. People are demanding more financial disclosure, codes of ethics are becoming more important to the consumer, and employees (especially those in our generation) are beginning to feel that they wield more power in the workplace than ever before. People are beginning to demand more of businesses, and the current economic downturn has brought ethics and organizational behavior to the forefront of consumers' minds. This is truly an exciting time. For us. The businesses are pissed.

Chapter 18 of our book has a section that touches up on this exact point: resistance to change. Companies don't want to change, just like people usually don't like to change. I used to have a problem with drinking and smoking too much weed. I didn't like the idea of changing those behaviors because I enjoyed them, and nobody wants to stop doing something they enjoy. But I ultimately decided that those behaviors won't serve me when I start a career and so I stopped smoking pot and I drink a couple nights a week these days (as opposed to getting hammered every single day). The point is, there is always a modicum of resistance to any kind of change, because it takes us out of our normal rhythm, and superimposes a different kind of routine on top of one we were already familiar and comfortable with.

The book has a whole section of chapter 18 about resistance to change, and all the points made by the book are legitimate and understandable, but there are three that I think are the most important things that contribute to a person's (or organization's) resistance to change. These three things are an individual's predisposition toward change, surprise and fear of the unknown, and disruption of cultural traditions or group relationships.

First off, people don't like change. It's traumatic, requires extra effort, and takes people out of the familiar comfort zone to which they have become accustomed. It comes down to where you, as a person, learned how to handle change. During your formative years, if change was often forced upon you without explanation, chances are that you don't trust change, and that you'd rather feel secure with the familiar. This describes me quite accurately. Many of the changes that I endured as a child were forced on me (not without good reason, mind you). As a result, I have a hard time adjusting to new environments, people, or routines. It's very difficult for me to open up in situations I find unfamiliar. This is a difficult problem for me, but I'm trying to work on it.

This pretty much goes hand in hand with surprise and fear of the unknown. I hate things I don't understand or know intimately. I pride myself on my logical mind and inquisitive nature, but nobody can know everything. Nevertheless, when I can see a change coming on the horizon, and I don't know how it will affect me, I tend to get kind of riled up. Businesses are resisting change for the same reason: they don't know what lies on the other side. Humanity as a whole is scared of things we are incapable of quantifying and measuring. We fear death, for instance, because we have no idea what it feels like. Unlike most changes though, death is inevitable. Nobody wants to die, but everybody gets to. Other changes, on the other hand, are sort of discretionary. Change comes to an organization largely by necessity or a strong feeling that the change will benefit the organization as a whole. those working IN the organization, however, may be scared because they don't understand it.

Lastly, disruption of cultural traditions or group relationships is another thing that people largely want to avoid. If you went to work for a company largely because you heard that the culture was really great, and then you got used to that culture, and then they changed it, you'd be upset. Obviously, this falls into the realm of change killing what's familiar. If you're working with a great team in your office, and then all of a sudden, management reassigns half of you and brings in new people, that could be traumatic and frustrating. At all levels of an organization, people make friends and get accustomed to the overall culture of their position, and when those things change, they will fight tooth and nail to defend it (sometimes).

Change is in the air as we speak. We are transitioning from the semester proper into finals week, which is already difficult enough for many people. We are also moving from the school year to the summer. This is a time of mixed feelings for some. They go home and see all their home-town friends, but they're leaving behind the great ones they met at school. Schoolwork is replaced by internships and working a crappy retail job for enough cash for summer and the coming year.

Change is inevitable. It will happen many times throughout our lives, and a lot of it may actually go unnoticed. If your employer goes from using 30 pound creme stock paper to 80 pound eggshell stock paper, you would probably only notice how much nicer the card stock feels, and it wouldn't affect your life very much; but, if your employer started replacing all the phones in the office with payphones, you'd notice. Oh yeah, you'd notice.

And that's it for the blogging for the semester. Ladies and gentlemen, good night and good luck.

1 comment:

  1. what a great ending to the semester. i really enjoyed reading what you wrote. change is inevitable, but the more one is exposed to change, the easier it becomes. once you stop worrying and realize that the worst that can happen is that you will die or get sick for a little while, then everything seems more manageable and do-able. if we let fear dictate our lives, change would be impossible to cope with and might never even occur in the first place. in which case, yes some bad things wouldn't happen, but a lot of good things and inventions would never have come about either.