We want to change things, it is in our very nature to want change. But change isn’t an easy thing. Managing change is so complex that you can take whole degree courses in it. That said, there are some fundamental principles that unlock it.

Argue to The New from The Old


Too often change makers expect people to jump from A to B on the basis that “B is better for all of these reasons about B”. From marketing materials to social innovators, from business managers to parents, that’s what you see. Here’s the thing: That kind of approach is highly unlikely to create change.

Switching to the new approach requires starting from the existing one. Many of the social media advocates I meet and debate with describe a wonderful utopia of conversation and information flow, based on its use. It’s great. However I don’t know of a single business that can “jump” to that spot. Whilst social media will definitely change the way that businesses interact with customers, and even how intellectual property is managed, businesses have to operate within today’s legal frameworks. As the old joke goes, “Well, if I was going to there, I wouldn’t be starting from here.”

You Must Get There From Here

I’m absolutely not saying that new methods shouldn’t be persued. Quite the opposite. They have to be, but within today’s frameworks. That means the transition isn’t always smooth. Ask David Schlesinger of Reuters. Recently he broke a news story via the Twitter service, posting it before it had hit the Reuter’s wire (see the story on Silicon Alley Insider – although David’s own post explains more):

I’ve been tweeting from the World Economic Forum, using the microblogging platform Twitter to discuss the mundane (describing crepuscular darkness of the Swiss Alps at 5 a.m.) or the interesting (live tweeting from presentations). Is it journalism? Is it dangerous? Is it embarrassing that my tweets even beat the Reuters newswire? Am I destroying Reuters standards by encouraging tweeting or blogging?

(These aren’t rhetorical questions – I’ve been challenged by many people who would answer those questions as No, Yes, Yes, and Yes! I answer them as Yes, Potentially, No and No.)

Although the example is based on twitter and journalism, it applies across many domains, and David illustrates it well. Effective change pushes at the barriers of the existing system. It doesn’t ignore them. It tests them, validates them, and then expands them where they are found wanting.

That kind of change is adaptive. It promotes growth. If you aren’t adaptating and changing, growing, then be sure that others are. Very soon you’ll be left behind. As David puts it:

If I don’t beat the Reuters wire with a live tweet because I deliberately hold back, someone else will. If I don’t beat the Reuters wire because I’m slow or inattentive, someone else will.

Taking No Risks Is The Best Way to Guarantee Failure 

Several times a week I have conversations with businesses terrified about using social media, “what happens if we let something out via a blog by accident?” It’s a valid concern, especially for a listed business (if you are in any doubt read the  SEC rules on Selective Disclosure – nothing like a multi-million dollar fine to focus the mind). Business do have to operate within today’s legal frameworks. However, many of the “barriers” that traditional businesses market and communicate under are not really barriers at all. If they are tested, they will be found wanting. The old rule was: “Appear great.” The new rule is: “Be great.” Actually, it isn’t a new rule, it is just one which mass media allowed to be bent for a while. Social media (generally) makes things more transparent. Are you ready for people to see inside?

The Best Way to Look Great is to Be Great – One Step at a Time

Here is the rub: This applies at the personal level too. Let’s say I want to be fantastically fit and wonderfully organised. It’s easy to see the benefits of the new system. The “position B” looks like a great place to be. I read the fitness books. I read the books on being organised. And what happens? Well, nothing of course. That’s not how you change from A to B. Start with A, find the boundaries and push them.

Maybe you don’t feel you can be organised? find a place where you almost are – a routine that exists already – and build from that. Every Saturday morning I drive the kids to a class, where I wait for them to finish. It was the perfect place to plan in a weekly review, looking back at my diary and planning the next week. I was there already, I just needed to push. I know I’m not going to make it out to a gym, but I know that I can choose to walk. Walk up the stairs. Get off the train a stop early (see this lovely post on the London Underground Tube Diary). Then I might even be ready to run too.

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