Change: Simple, but Not Easy

simple but not easy

Here are the posts that caught my attention recently – the theme for the week is change.

Setting the tone was this tweet from Nilofer Merchant:

simple but not easy


The key to inventing the future is asking better questions, then listening.  As she says, this is simple, but not easy.  I guess since we’re working on a book together it’s not surprising that we’re thinking along similar lines – this idea of simple, but not easy is one that has been on mind a lot recently.

On a similar note, Seth Godin listed a bunch of things that you can do that don’t cost anything, other than effort.  Which, of course, is exactly: simple, but not easy.  Things like:

Treat your employees with care and respect

Be consistent in your actions

Keep your promises

Grant others their dignity

Give credit

Take responsibility

In an excellent post, Sarah Green answers the question Should You Automate Your Life So that You Can Work Harder?  She correctly answers “no.”  But she also highlights one of the reasons why simple, but not easy is so hard – payoffs are delayed:

However, as James Allworth pointed out in our own SXSW panel on why men work so many hours, it’s tough to stick to those limits when the rewards of work are immediate, and the rewards of life accrue more slowly. (To some parents of teenagers, these rewards may seem practically glacial.) It becomes tempting to reserve the best of ourselves for the short-term gains of work and “automate” the long game of life.

Still, I do think each of us has a Rubicon — wherever it is, and whenever we find it. On crossing it, we may start to see luxury not as having a personal assistant or a weekly massage, but as doing something useless simply because we felt like doing it — not because it made us smarter, or thinner, or more productive.

This issue is important at a personal level, but it’s also true at the organisational level.  Grant McCracken lays out the case for organisational change in The Corporation is at Odds With the Future. He says that for organisations to adapt to a rapidly changing future, we need to think of them in a different way.

That’s one important step towards change.  But it’s still another case of simple, but not easy – an issue that Johnnie Moore takes up in Waste, potential and sticking your neck out.  With regard to “change management,” he says:

I would be very wary of anyone claiming they have a “tool” or a “process” that will make this happen. Whatever process you run, in the end someone, somewhere has to stick their neck out a little… and someone else has to manage their urge to chop it off. You can blather on about values, culture till the cows come home; humans are smart and complex and we’ll find ways to signal our vulnerability, anger, contempt, enthusiasm, love whatever the system.

Neil Perkin talks about organisational change as well in this excellent talk:

His post about the talk links to all his sources as well.

So, change at both the personal and organisational levels is simple, but not easy.  What about entire economies?  Maybe not so simple, and definitely not easy.

As McCracken argues that for organisations to survive into the future we need to reconceptualise them, Nick Hanauer and Eric Beinhocker say that we need to do the same for democracy and capitalism in Capitalism Redefined.  They argue that the way that we think of prosperity is completely wrong.  It can’t be measured by things like economic output (i.e. Gross Domestic Product).  Instead,

If the true measure of the prosperity of a society is the availability of solutions to human problems, then growth cannot simply be measured by changes in GDP. Rather, growth must be a measure of the rate at which new solutions to human problems become available. Additionally, since problems differ in importance, a new view of growth also must take this into account; finding a universal flu vaccine is more important than creating a crunchier potato chip. But in general, economic growth is the actual experience of having one’s life improved.

Beinhocker’s book The Origin of Wealth is a must-read, as is this essay.  It is long, but well worth the time.

This has direct implications for people that are working hard to improve economic development – an issue that Shawn Cunningham looks at in For Bottom Up Development to Work, You Must Go Up.  His argument is that because the economy is an interconnected complex system, it’s not enough to only solve local problems – you have to address system-level issues.

For bottom up development to work, you must go “up”. Sounds simple. But think about it. You cannot just focus on working in a local community as if it is an eco system on its own. Many policies that are undermining local development, trust building, etc. are coming from outside the designated area. The same applies to value chain promotion, cluster promotion and any other flavor of development. Creating a little isolated area where things are working for a particular designated group while the greater system is not working (or creating incentives for contrasting behavior) is wasting resources – when you withdraw your external resources things go back to how they were.

If you put all of these ideas together, it is clear that we need a different type of organisation.   CV Harquail is working on a book that looks at this topic, and she says that in our evolving economy, the firms that succeed will be those that boost other firms.  She calls these firms “generative” – they create platforms that give rise to new possibilities.

This idea is summarised in  What Makes Digital Tech Companies Models of Generativity?  

Digital business models themselves are often generative by design. Many digital companies structure their businesses as multi-sided platforms. The company supplies a platform — an online place or a kind of technology — that brings together two or more different sets of users, who are customers and suppliers to each other.

The company makes money by managing the space or technology for the user community, designing additional tools and processes to support the interaction of other users and making money from providing these services.

With a multi-sided platform, the company also opens up opportunities to additional sets of participants, such as third party companies who can create products that add to the experience of the primary parties.

This is one interesting way to address the challenge of change: build change capability into your DNA from day one.  Harquail is doing fascinating work right now – I’m looking forward to her book.

It’s simple to say that we have change ourselves, or our organisations, or our economy.  But effecting change is not easy, even if the way forward seems clear.  It’s another important innovation challenge.


Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.