“The Challenge of Rapid Change”: some thoughts for young aspiring executives / entrepreneurs

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What is different about change in our era is not its presence but its pace — the rapidity with which ideas arise, are developed and applied, and the immediacy and degree of their impact on our lives.

Let me illustrate. It took almost 14 centuries to progress from the invention of paper to the Gutenberg printing press. It took just 4 centuries to move from Gutenberg’s hand-carved, hand-set type to the Linotype machine. And it took just over half a century from the first conception of the large-scale digital computer in 1937 to the wide use of personal computers by both business and individuals today. The Internet that has become indispensable to us all has taken a much less time span in its development and the changes it has generated could not be even dreamed of only a few years ago!

Despite progress in many aspects of civilization,

people have historically found change uncomfortable and even threatening. Change, especially rapid change, is often associated with disruption of stability. Since stability usually has connotations of security, dependability and order, which are perceived as positive, change tends to have connotations of insecurity, uncertainty and disorder, which can be viewed as negative. Examples of disruption due to change are all around us. A familiar instance in this state is job security. Until fairly recently, a job with some of our larger companies was considered a lifetime employment guarantee. Today many of these jobs have been shifted from such companies to their suppliers or other industrial sectors or sent overseas   due to technological and competitive changes.

However positive and productive the ultimate position may be,
the change itself can be traumatic, particularly when one is not anticipating and taking appropriate action such as training for new skills. And it’s being said that the average worker starting now will change jobs at least five times and perhaps even change fields more than once in his or her career.

Rapid change is associated with increased stress both physical and psychological. The on-going adjustment to new situations, the constant demand to master new skills, the increased need to plan for a future which is less clear if not less bright, all are part of this pressure. Moreover, technological change — in particular the introduction of computers — has been alleged to have a wide variety of negative effects. Some are personal issues such as tension from learning and adapting to new, unfamiliar and more complex equipment, or vision fatigue from constant use of computer video screens. Wider societal concerns include unemployment, invasion of individual privacy, computer crime and breaches of security.

Notwithstanding its drawbacks, which must be dealt with, rapid change is here to stay. And I believe that one of the critical challenges of our time is learning how to meet rapid change effectively.

With the above thought in mind,
I would like to share with you some of my experience with and perspective on change in the hope that, my thoughts may help you to use change to your advantage.

My life could be divided into three major periods. I grew up on the Greek island of Crete and finished high school there before coming to this country to attend MIT. Looking back, I’m astounded at how very casually such a major step was taken! An aunt who lived in Boston wrote that there was a good engineering school in town and sent me the application forms. I mailed them in and forgot about it. When M.I.T. admitted me, I said, “Why not?” and here I am. Change in this instance was sparked from the outside. I for the most part responded.

During the first 20 years of my career I worked for corporations founded by other people. In moving up the ladder, I learned that I had the opportunity to influence the course of change and so began to develop an entrepreneurial perspective. An entrepreneur is not only someone who starts a business, but also someone who has an idea that interrupts or supersedes the commonly accepted process or practice or belief – – and who is willing to make decisions and take well-calculated risks to get this idea to take root. Entrepreneurs make things happen. I learned to sort out goals and priorities, build skills, take on authority and responsibility, develop judgment in taking risks and dealing with their effects on myself and others, deal with success and with failure. And eventually, having successfully promoted other people’s ideas,

I decided to embark on my own ans start JPIndustries, Inc..
In this third stage – – when J.P Industries grew to a Fortune 500 industrial corporation, – – it was no longer enough to plant and cultivate. Now I had to anticipate the ramifications of my ideas in the context of the market and of society and map out alternative courses for change so that both I and my colleagues have continued opportunities. Some tasks I did earlier and enjoyed were not suitable for me when the company was larger. Others must take over these responsibilities while I assume new ones. For example, when the organization was smaller, I could be directly involved in the daily running of the business, line and staff. Later, I I should and did delegate large areas of the current business to others while I dealt with the future while kept in touch with the present” These experiences have generated several perspectives on change which I’d like to share with you.

My First observation was that change occurs not only externally but internally. Adjustment to environmental conditions is less personally disruptive than modification of our behavior and thoughts. Professor Eric Flamholtz of the University of California notes that among factors highly indicative of crisis in organizations is the amount of time spent dealing with the way that change affects each person’s role and Junction — that is, how they perceive themselves in relation to others and how they perform their tasks. No one is exempt. In moving to new corporate offices last month, we changed among other things the telephone system. Everyone including me has spent countless frustrating hours cursing that system not for the most part because it is any more complex or because of any mechanical malfunction, but because we the users must learn a different language of commands to make it work.

What can we do to overcome our own internal resistance to change?
We can view change as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. That is positive mental attitude at work. When you look at how you can do whatever you are doing better, you begin to take your future into your own hands and to set the stage for greater satisfaction in your endeavors.

Stay away from negative thinking – – it’s inhibiting. Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society in 1895, said, “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.” Not to imply that shortsightedness is confined to one side of the Atlantic, Charles H. Duell, Director of the U.S. Patent Office, said in 1899, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Fortunately some other people were looking at things positively.

An anonymous poet said in the poem: “A Thought for the New Year”:

If you think you are beaten, you are;

If you think you dare not, you don’t.

If you like to win but think you can’t,

It’s almost a cinch you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost;

For out in the world we find

Success begins with a fellow’s will:

It’s all in the state of mind.

My second observation is that change is not a single event — though that may be the way we perceive it — but a process.
The automobile did not spring unforeseen or full-blown from the mind of Henry Ford. It followed the carriage, the harnessing of steam and electricity, the development of the internal combustion engine, and the perception of the need for faster and more flexible overland transportation. Likewise, television followed the radio, which followed the telegraph, which followed electricity, and so on. If we realize that major changes are the result of smaller and at times seemingly unrelated occurrences, we can see opportunities to influence the course of events.

We can prepare for change.
Change does not break on us entirely unannounced. There are usually signs for those who can read them. The combination of the skills we have learned and a positive attitude will help us look for signs of change which will affect your work and interests. Keep up with reading in your fields. Continue your education both formally and informally on the job and off. Seek out other change-makers. Think daily about how to do your job better.

Timing is important. The earlier you spot new ideas, the greater your opportunity to consider and apply them effectively.

Think also in terms of alternatives. From any high urban location, you can see the pattern of streets. So it will be clear to us that there are several different routes you can follow to any given point. The same is true in life. Be flexible. There is usually another way to reach our goals if it is realistically suited to our abilities and we are determined to achieve it.

My third observation is that change is multidimensional.
The automobile did more than change the predominant mode of transportation. It changed the very fabric of our society. For example, it changed the perceived relationship between time and distance relative to personal mobility, thus affecting, among other things, the growth patterns of urban and suburban areas. It allowed people more freedom to travel away from their familiar neighborhood, thus providing the opportunity for greater knowledge of cultures beyond their own. And it had broader societal impact on the road construction, health care, insurance and energy fields, to name a few.

Furthermore, knowledge itself has multidimensional applications. For example, engineering advances are quickly applied in a variety of fields — such as the use of the laser in printing, anthropology and surgery.

The breadth of impact of today’s rapid change, including the sophistication of today’s communications and the Internet, greatly broadens the number of people who know something about and will be affected by new ideas. As a result, we are much more closely interrelated with and interdependent on other people than ever before. Thus, each of us, whatever our role, has to be more aware of other people as we initiate and adopt change, because they can either help or hinder our ability to succeed by their cooperation or resistance.

This will require that we have good interpersonal and communications skills. That we identify goals and priorities clearly so that they can be adhered to or adapted easily and communicated clearly. And that we be able to persuade others that ourviewpoint has merit and should be supported.

We applied these ideas about change through our J.R Industries corporate philosophy, “Better Makes Us Best.” Simply stated, I believe that if each member of a company tries to do his or her job better every day, he / she will become better individually, better as a company, and better than the competition, thus continually pursuing the ideal by pledging our best possible performance.

“Better” is a dynamic word that implies continual change. To put the concept of “being better” into practice, we encourage everyone to initiate change in their own jobs where they have more direct control, feedback and measurement. We should encourage people to think creatively, to discard preconceived notions and to consider how we could do things more productively. We must emphasize change as a normal, somewhat uneven process in the whole corporation over time so that people develop a level of comfort with evolutionary advances in organization and procedures. And must initiate a much higher frequency of communication internally, both formal and informal, so that change can be adapted more quickly and widely throughout the organization.

This dynamic applies to each person as well.

Whenever enter a new phase in our lives, we should remember this: In the final analysis, people are not exactly successful because of money, or glamour, or possessions, or intelligence, or education. Each of us is successful to the degree that we recognize and develop our inherent talents, the environments in which we are placed, and the opportunities we have to become productive and contributing human beings in whatever we do.

We cannot choose our inherent talents. We may have little control over our environment. But we all have extensive control over our attitude toward life and the responsibility we take for our actions.

We should realize that we can make a difference. In fact I say that it has never been more important that each of us realize that we not only can, but must make a difference wherever we find ourselves, if we individually, our organizations, and our nation are not just to survive but to prosper.

I believe that a keen understanding of human nature, intellectual integrity, and personal honor are the basic ethical elements of personal accomplishment, and

leadership of others. As you strive to do better and better, you will build on this foundation toward excellence in whatever field we choose.

I urge us all to commit ourselves to meeting the challenge of rapid change as an essential part of our quest for fulfillment as an individual and as a productive member of society.



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