There are two kinds of change — incremental and discontinuous — that are taking place simultaneously and constantly in today’s business organizations. Incremental change is the process of continuous improvement — what the Japanese refer to as “kaizen.” Discontinuous change is the kind of large-scale transformation that turns organizations inside out and upside down.
Incremental change fits the Newtonian framework of a linear, progressive and predictable world. There is an unmistakable logic behind incremental change that makes it easy to communicate and relatively easy for people to adopt because it uses current practices as a baseline for the systematic improvement of a product, service or system. And we human beings like that. We can base our future success on our past performance.
But much of the change our organizations are facing today is not incremental. It is discontinuous. And, if leading incremental change can be compared to encouraging a group of joggers to gradually pick up the pace, then leading discontinuous change is like encouraging those same joggers to leap off a cliff and build their parachutes on the way down. Discontinuous change — restructuring, re-engineering, transformation, etc. — challenges our most deeply held beliefs about the past. It confronts the entire organization with the possibility that the very roles, actions and attitudes that were most responsible for past success will be insufficient, and perhaps even detrimental in the future. That concept is harder to communicate and much harder for people to adopt. We don’t like to contemplate letting go of the skills and behaviors that “got us here.” That’s understandable, that’s basic human psychology — it’s just not an attitude that helps an enterprise move forward.
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