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11/3/2006
05:20 PM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Down To Business: Change: Much Easier Said Than Done

When the world is moving in a new direction, adapt and move with it--even if you have to make concessions and mistakes along the way. Those who really get it count their riches. Those who don't dig ditches.

Whether or not Charles Darwin spoke or wrote these words (there's some debate), this quotation is nonetheless a physiological truism, not just some interesting trifle of business management: "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

Maybe you've already been treated to this Darwinism and to plenty of other nuggets on the subject of change. It's the only constant, change is. It's the law of life. We all nod our heads in agreement. Yet only a relative few of us live by this code. Why? Change is uncomfortable, no matter how much our left brains tell us it's sensible.

Letters from readers--professionals who pride themselves on their cutting edge--pine for the good ol' days. Cap the number of H-1B visas, they say, and enact domestic-labor laws to mitigate the upheaval of offshore outsourcing and corporate globalization. Instead of coming to grips with the legal issues that now dominate intellectual property, contracts, compliance, governance, risk management, and other tech-related fields, they insist on rehashing the same old lawyer jokes. IT pros pooh-pooh emerging trends like utility computing and software as a service because they threaten existing architectures and management constructs.

Granted, change isn't always for the better. Lots of organizations, at the behest of their CEOs or boards, outsourced way too much of their business and technology operations to overseas providers, only to find that the cost savings and quality improvements didn't live up to the promise. Most of us spend way too much time conforming to new policies and regulations rather than plowing ahead with initiatives that will really make a difference. And perhaps those mainframes and NetWare and AS/400 servers were way more dependable than the commodity boxes that now power most businesses. But when the world is moving in a new direction, you must adapt and move with it--even if you have to make concessions and mistakes along the way.

The history of the tech industry is rife with examples of companies that held on to their core tenets for too long. Digital Equipment didn't make it. The jury's still out on Sun Microsystems. And now even Dell must decide whether it can remain an industry leader while clinging to a business model that champions efficiency over innovation. "In times of change, learners inherit the earth," wrote novelist Eric Hoffer, "while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."

Young Turks like Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin and YouTube's Chad Hurley and Steve Chen are filthy rich because they live that mantra. But even the most mainstream power brokers and most entrenched organizations can uproot everything for the greater good. General Electric, the most successful company of the past century, was reinvented under Jack Welch so many times that its core businesses no longer have anything to do with its name. EMC amassed one of the tech industry's biggest market caps in the late 1990s by selling fat-margin storage disk arrays, only to shift gears into software as it saw hardware becoming a commodity. A dozen acquisitions later, EMC now generates more than 40% of its $10 billion-plus revenue from software.

In one of the most stunning acknowledgements that you can't fight change forever, Microsoft said last week that it's partnering with Novell, its one-time archenemy, to promote Suse Linux, Novell's version of the anti-Windows. Previously, Gates & Co. couldn't utter the word Linux without chuckling or harrumphing. Now it's issuing Suse "coupons" to customers determined to run the open source operating system.

Perhaps Microsoft's execs are hip to the rhetoric of Harold Wilson, a British politician of the mid-20th century. "He who rejects change is the architect of decay," Wilson said. "The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery."

Rob Preston,
VP/Editor In Chief
rpreston@cmp.com


To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.

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