Change Is Good, But It’s Also Really Hard

71 thoughts on “Change Is Good, But It’s Also Really Hard”

  1. Great post Om…

    Been expressing (Tweeting/Commenting) the same about Google, they’ll never get a right-brain, it’s not in their DNA, it’s not in their hiring test, and no matter how many creatives they try to hire it won’t help. Their products will always trail Apple and others. In fact, they wouldn’t be as good as they are if they hadn’t had Apple show them their way.

  2. Beautifully written. Can hardly disagree.
    It is true for every industry – CPG brands to software service providers to product companies to retailers.
    There a so few examples, if any, of radical shifts that have worked for organizations.
    Cash rich companies (MicroSoft, Cisco, Google) can landscape their environment by buying out innovators. But it is a race that is hard to win.

  3. Hard – yes. But as you point out, not impossible – right? In order to survive companies have done made radical changes, but when not in concert with the “DNA” (ala the Spindler era at AAPl) the body – i.e. corporate DNA/culture rejected the new executives “from the body”.

    Seems like it works early on when companies are a few people who take the time to become self-aware and determine what they both love, and are good at. Those “second business model” stage when so many took a quick pivot and took off.

    But your central theme – that it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks – is spot on.

  4. This seems a great analysis to me, but I wonder if it misses one critical point.

    It is really hard to change a corporate culture or DNA, but so many of the corporations you cite have been successful as a consequence of their ingrained cultures. The culture fits the times brilliantly for a while (Google and Nokia’s engineering and manufacturing; Facebook and Apple’s focus on social and experience) and then competitors capture something new.

    Yes, it’s very difficult to change DNA, but it’s also tough to really succeed in the way these businesses have without that deep cultural mindset.

    1. Trevor

      I think it is my point. However if you are a company like Cisco whose core competency is sales, then you know how to build your future around that. Selling switches, routers or data center servers — it is merely an extension of that. That is one of the reason why they are failing at consumer — it is not in part of their DNA.

      Apple on the other hand has stated true to its mission and found ways to apply its DNA to newer opportunities, that are parallel to its core. Nvidia is another one. Broadcom, I would argue is another good example.

      Company that is failing completely – Starbucks. I think they have not quite thought through their whole “offering” just yet.

      1. I agree entirely that it’s a about the clarity of purpose for the brand – what value they bring to customers. For tech companies, that’s often missing – they are built on technology that happens to coincide with a consumer need, rather than being born in response to one.

  5. Great post. I think you basically set out why Stephen Elop needed to send the “burning platform” email.

    He needed Nokians to accept the need for change. The response from former Nokian Tomi Ahonen exemplified, at length, why that memo was so necessary. He set out why there was no need for change, why Nokia was actually winning, why the CEO was wrong.

    To embrace change, you have to stop denying that you need it.

  6. Great article, Om, but I have to disagree with the House remark: “Almost dying doesn’t change anything. Dying changes everything”. I’ve been there and things do change when you realize you have a second chance at life.

    1. Same here. I think being able to change because of near death experience is much harder in the long term, though in short term we all make radical changes. Anyway glad to see you are still here and making changes.

  7. At lot of people think big brains (mammals) equates to smart. Well Magpies are visually self aware, Crows use Cars to break nuts at traffic lights …
    Point is if you look at humans brains we are not so special, we are actually lousy at a lot of things compared with specialized species. But there is one big advantage of it, we have an incredible diversified brain. In other words diversification would make a company smart.

    To make a long story short:
    Google is like a Blood Hound (breed for search) asked to herd Sheep [cats] when it comes to social.

    As to Apple, I think they are one of the very few companies who have realized that rationalization is not a process of action reaction and doing it faster and faster (subconscious behavior) it’s a process of elimination of what not to do over time. I come to believe (knowing without the facts) that it’s not only Steve alone who created the new Apple, it’s with the team around him. But somebody “realized” that most companies action reaction model of behavior is a dead end.

    Did I just say what you said? Oh well where is the coffee.

  8. This is nothing new in the business world. Companies for a long time have resisted change and have gotten passed by. Recently think Blockbuster. A while ago think the Big 3 in Detroit. GM almost made the change with Saturn, but while they built a great entry level customer base back in the day there were bigger more expensive models for then current Saturn owners to move up to. Think newspapers.

    Change can only suceed if the people at the top embrace and back the change. The problem is those people usually are very set in their ways and while they may let a few consultants come in and have some meetings usually they won’t breakdown the entire system.

    Think about this say you are a college football head coach. You get a new job at a college that has been running a pro-style offense, but you want to install the Spread. That won’t be easy. Some players will have to go and you will need plenty of new players with different skill sets. That takes time and most of the time people aren’t patient enough.

    That is why large companies should have groups that do nothing but sit around and think about changing products and services of said company. Paying attention to the marketplace. See it is hard to keep up with the trends when you are focused on squeezing every penny out of a current product by lowering production costs.

  9. I would also add that corporate DNA, like human DNA cannot be ‘overridden’ – it’s innate.

    I’ve sat in a lot of startup meetings with people saying things like “this is in our DNA” when that is clearly what they want it to be, not what it actually is.

    As you point out, the corporate DNA comes from the employees, and if you employ the wrong people or adopt the wrong attitudes when starting out, you’ll never get it back on track.

  10. Hi Om, I like how you have made the comparison of personal behavior changes with company and corporate behaviors. An interesting play off of one another.

    And I’m glad that you have pointed out right away that although change is good, it’s not as easy as we would like it to be. It takes awareness, commitment, effort, and most often time. And without the first three it certainly won’t happen. Too often we want to believe the media messages of quick, instant, and effortless.

    For personal behavior changes I would suggest reading Dr. Ian Newby-Clark’s blog My Bad Habits http://my-bad-habits.blogspot.com/(especially the What Went Right Series of posts). He gives some good and practical advice on changing and making healthy habits stick.

  11. I agree that there is something to what you are talking about, but I still think you are off the mark on Google. Saying Google can’t understand social is like saying Facebook can’t monetize. Let’s face it, understanding “social” isn’t hard (monetizing something novel is arguably a lot harder), nor is it is outside of the grasp of a giant like Google. Knowing what to do with something new and effectively integrating it with existing platforms is, however, very hard.

    Google’s difficulties/challenges involve taking something good (or great), but also (very) different, and integrating it effectively into a single vision. Imagine a team of artists painting a mural. An artist might produce an amazing portrait, only to realize that he’s been painting where the sky is supposed to be. Two artists at either side of the mural might end up painting the nearly the same subject matter, both brilliantly. Inevitably, this leads to situation where you burn talent and either end up wasting something great or exacerbating integration challenges.

    This issue is probably why the Apple vs Google comparisons tend to be so compelling. If there is one thing Apple tends to do quite well is bringing several good small ideas together to make something big great.

    Brown bag sessions aren’t enough. Google needs to put real resources towards this issue if they want to stay between the Web and the user (to dish ads).

  12. This was a very interesting post. I feel that there are many companies that need to re-look at their DNA and make sure that they are current and really understand customers and people and culture, which are consistently changing.

  13. Om, Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!! Weaving your own experience into the story makes it compelling. Using several well known companies as examples makes it real…and undeniable.

    Oracle and Apple have always impressed me as companies that know exactly what they are. They play to their strengths. They don’t get side tracked by the latest fad. They lead…they don’t follow. They stay focused on what they do…and do it better than anyone else in the world.

    Great writing and insights!

    Don Dodge

  14. Very interesting post. It reminded me of an interview I saw recently claiming that the America Intelligence juggernaut had put half a trillion dollars into its efforts to find Bin Laden. The problem (as proposed by the interviewee) was the people being hired by the intelligence agencies. They screen out people with ties to all of the regions they are interested in gaining intelligence in. They screen out people who are highly social and have far-reaching networks. The argument was that those are the people wanted.
    So perhaps they should as an organization, change their collective DNA and start a plan that incorporates the end-goal into their daily work. Rather than flounder with old programming, bleeding money and getting no results.
    It would seem they’ve never really heard of Apple or Jobs.

  15. In several years of reading you, Om, this post has to rank well near the top, one of your best ever, IMHO.

    PS> Must be the behavioral change(s) stimulating your keen insight? :-p

  16. Good article. Corporate branding – like personal branding – works best when done in harmony with actual corporate identity (or corporate DNA, as you put it). Business have “personalities” in the same way that people do, and thinking about the image that the business wants to project is actually quite an efficient way of fine-tuning its personality.

  17. The thing that strikes me about change is that it implies moving from one behavior (“A”) to another behavior (“B”). What is so difficult about this type change is that organizations (and people) bring all the habits and ways of being from living in “A” to their changed way of living to “B”. That’s why change fails – because nothing really changes at all. What’s needed is complete transformation: a new way of being that leaves all that stuff, including the DNA that holds us back, in the past where it belongs. It’s ironic – we say that we can’t get away from our DNA, but when it comes to creating something new, I believe we can. Afterall, we say that DNA holds us back, but if you really look at it, the culprit is us – just because we say we are held back.

    As for your 39th day of change – try this: try telling yourself it’s easy and don’t make it too hard. Because the fact is that if you say it’s hard, then it will be hard. If you say it’s easy and stick to your new behavior, guess what. It’ll be easy!

    Thanks for your thought provoking post!

    1. Let’s see, 160 million iOS devices sold, 300 million iPods sold, 80% of PMP market, 80% of digital music market, 90% of tablet market, 400,000 iOS devices sold per day, etc etc.

      My word, the entire world must be made up of fashionistas *rolls eyes*

      -Mart

      1. quite a number, but consider that Apple sells a new iPhone to the same fashionista, with more money than sense, every year since 2007 = not quite a number. Compared to the 2.7 billion people living on less than $2 a day, 160 million iOS devices sold are small numbers indeed.

      2. Ok, let’s humour you for a second (not sure why I bother, but I must be bored).

        iPhone Sales in 2007 = 1.39 million
        iPhone Sales in 2010= 40 million

        So that means that the original “fashionistas” who bought the first iPhone must have bought 28.78 iPhones each again in 2010 to make up the 40 million iPhones sold in 2010.

        Considering there are less Android devices sold every day (300,000 vs 400,000 iOS devices every day) I guess that makes Android geeks an even smaller minority even less worth considering.

        -Mart

      3. Original iPhone sold total of 6 million, 3G is 20, so together is 26 million

        3GS total sold is 33 million

        iPhone 4, Q4 2010 is 14.102 and Q1 2011 is 16.240, so far total sold is 30 million

        Most of iPhone buyers, estimated at 77%, are repeat buyers. Apple is not growing its buyer base- its mostly the same people buying iPhones over and over.

        Android devices sold every day 300,000 vs 400,000 iOS devices every day? Android geeks an even smaller minority? But there were only 16 million iPhones shipped in Q4 2010 versus 33 million Androids and that’s reflected, in that among featurephone users, Android was the most-preferred OS.

        for sure, Google or Bing it on your Apple iPhone

      4. @Tim said:
        “Original iPhone sold total of 6 million, 3G is 20, so together is 26 million. 3GS total sold is 33 million. iPhone 4, Q4 2010 is 14.102 and Q1 2011 is 16.240, so far total sold is 30 million”

        Heh, neat trick comparing 2 year’s worth of iPhone & 3G sales against 6 months of iPhone 4 sales and saying it must be the same people buying them. I don’t think many people are misled by such shameful statistical gymnastics.

        Last quarter Apple sold 10 million iPod touches and 7 million iPads in addition to their 16 million iPhones. That makes 33 million iOS devices sold.

        The 33 million Android devices reported by Canalys sold last quarter included the millions of Chinese phones running the Tapas and OMS operating systems which are forks of Android that aren’t even necessarily compatible with Android and certainly don’t run the Android Marketplace or any Google services. Canalys’s stats also include tablets like the Dell Streak and Samsung Galaxy tab which have cell phone hardware in order to be allowed to have access to the Android Marketplace.

        With Android completely missing in action in media player/mini tablets like the iPod Touch (iPods still have 70% marketshare) and only a small percentage in the larger tablet market (the iPad still rules with 80-90% marketshare – we won’t go into how many of Samsung’s 2 million Galaxy Tabs were actually sold on to customers), it is easy to see how iOS sales have not yet been overtaken by Android. Of course the installed base for iOS (160 million with the vast majority sold in the last 2 years) is even larger than Android (60-70 million).

        Well Tim, you’ve certainly managed to derail the main point of the article (great article by the way Om). Sorry I was sucked in.

        ciao.

        -Mart

      5. Oh, and the Munster and Oppenheimer surveys that found 77% of iPhone 4 buyers were already iPhone owners? The subjects in both surveys were the sort of iPhone enthusiasts who queued for days outside a number of Apple stores in the USA to get the new phone 4 the first day of release. Do you really think you can extrapolate this data to the entire iPhone buyer segment and maintain credibility?

        -Mart

      6. >> millions of Chinese phones running the Tapas and OMS operating systems which are forks of Android <<
        Until one knows what these numbers are, it's hard to talk android market share. These probably shouldn't be included.
        One might not want to include any phones that don't include the Google apps and search – They don't help Google at all.

  18. Change doesn’t always have to be so hard, the iChing thrives on it after all, fwiw, :). Let no moss grow…

    Yeah, lots of good points on how strong the DNA of a business is, how hard it is to change it and usually it never really will unless forced to somehow, ideas in exile or something.

    FYI, not to be picky or anything, but one of the sub-headers, “Social Needs Socialablity”, needs an extra “i”.

  19. I have been saying for years that Google should set a goal of 10% of their employees not having college degrees and at least 1% should have criminal records. They need artists, designers, intuitives, dreamers, and communicators. The Google founders both say Steve Jobs is their hero, but ironically, Steve Jobs could not get hired at Google.

  20. I agree with most of this, though I do think you’re applying rose-colored glasses to Apple.

    Apple does have some failures in areas generally considered important: their attempts to build a social network make G Buzz look like a work of subtle genius. On general, they do not understand the web or communities. Mobileme and iwork.com are both solidly executes, but unimaginative and tied to native or desktop experiences.

  21. This post actually does something different for me, it makes me see the value of the Nokia/MS partnership. I am reading Creativity at the moment and the idea of culture and ideas is clearly inseparable.

    The thing that these two partners can bring to each other is a combined focus through their distinct areas — hardware and software respectively. The integration will have to be tighter than either imagine, and looser than a partnership. What neither has successfully accomplished is a social system, and this is critical to the idea of an ecosystem, and neither company seems very good at playing well with others in their playgrounds.

    Can’t do everything! And believe me, I wouldn’t be creating any new services in Apple’s either…

  22. When I saw the title I knew the article was going to be good but I thought It was going to touch on old companies not new ones. Although there is mention of AT&T its not what I expected.

    I found the article to be very good at pointing out how even newer companies can have the same challenges.

    Good luck with your changes Om.

  23. hi Om –

    i just happened to stumble upon your personal blog and then this article. (i recall reading many articles you wrote on the evolving dot-com industry in magazines like The Industry Std, Red Herring, Forbes.com and Business 2.0 back in the day.)

    great post – suffice it to say that your lens are clearly as calibrated in the tech world as they are in the personal/human world.

    anyway, best of luck with your health and the changes you wish to make. i’m a firm believer in that as long as the DNA of your spirit & attitude are solid, the rest will follow…

    ps: what do you think about adding “where the heart is” to your “Om is” list?

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