Embracing Change

by francine Hardaway on May 1, 2003

I own the domain name changeexpert.com, and I own it for a reason.
I spend all day telling clients and potential clients that the
timeline for whatever new product they are proposing will be twice
as long as they think it will be and cost twice as much. And then I
have to explain that the reason is the reluctance of human beings
to embrace change. Even when it is for their own good or their own
pleasure, if anything is “different” or “unfamiliar,” people will
adopt it only slowly. Books have been written about this. (Geoffrey
Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm,” for example.)

Change is frightening to most people. One of the biggest deterrents
to the adoption of new information technology is the threat of
change, and one of the biggest drivers of the dot-com meltdown was
the inability of new companies to force markets to change before the
companies themselves ran out of VC money. Everyone’s projections
were naively optimistic: the hockey stick ramp up to $100 million
in three years. It doesn’t happen that way. Markets move slowly.

But they do move. The market for broadband Internet access is a good
example. The pundits thought broadband would be immediately accepted
because the Internet was so groovy. But only after about five years
of widespread Internet usage have people become fed up with dial-up
ISPs and willing to spend more money for DSL or cable modem.

In general, people don’t change unless 1)they are forced to, or
2) the advantages are so overwhelming that they can’t ignore them. I
can’t tell you how many of my friends said they wouldn’t
learn about computers, wouldn’t get on the Internet, wouldn’t use a
digital camera. These technologies have now become so pervasive that
even Luddites have been forced to adopt them or risk losing touch
with colleagues or loved ones. But it has taken twenty years.

When things change too fast, we refer to the change as disruptive.
At the moment I write, the RIAA is trying to avoid change to its
existing business model by sending millions of instant messages to
users of Kazaa reminding them of copyright infringement. But the
model for the distribution of music is well on the way to permanent
disruption. The RIAA had better quickly find a way to build the
intellectual property costs into a piece of software, other
merchandise revenue, or live performances, because music over the
Internet wants to be free. The market is slowly but indubitably
changing. CD sales are down 15% over the past two years.

Rarely is disruptive change created by design, alhtough many
techniques have been tried to get people to change behavior. In the
lab, rats are shocked to retrain them. In the workplace, until
recently, change management experts accompanied every deployment of
enterprise software. But hundreds of abandoned CRM deployments
show the difficulty of forcing distruptive change.

SMS (phone equivalent to instant messaging) is another example.
Phone companies in Europe and Japan live and die on SMS. But
Americans have yet to adopt it. Smart cards, a simple way to
dispense cash and share information, have also been slow to catch on
in the US. Eventually, all of these will happen. So will HDTV. But
you can’t rush them; they happen in their own time.

In general, I consider myself open to change. In fact, I’m more
open to my own changes than the people around me. (Ask some of my
former husbands.) Last week, one hour before I was scheduled to
leave for South Africa, one of my dogs decided to bite a neighbor’s
dog. As the neighbor’s dog was being carted off to the emergency vet
with one ear bloody and hanging, I smelled change coming in my own
life. It was not the time to hop a plane for Capetown and tell my
neighbor I’d see him in two weeks. I took a deep breath and
cancelled the trip.

It was interesting to watch the reaction of my family and friends
when I announced that I hadn’t gone. It was actually easier for
me to change my plans than for them to accept the change.


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