be the change.
The Value of Ongoing Change:
A story told in a film by the son of an Italian man, relates how the father, whose profession was to sharpen knives, had come from Italy to NY with his family. He had a little bell that he would ring to tell the people that he was in their street. Then came the disposable generation. Disposable knives. Disposable scissors. He would leave before light and come back after dark, with nothing to show his wife and family for what he had done. That bell became the loneliest sound his son ever heard. As a nine-year-old boy, he once followed him for a whole summer, every day, day in, and day out, and after a while, it started to grind him down. Nobody needed him. When people feel that nobody needs them, they feel useless, and they die inside, they let themselves go. The family always said to everybody that “pop died of cancer”, but he actually died of a broken heart.
The value of ongoing change is a way of hope that should press itself on people so that they are able to put their past in better perspective for the sake of what they next need to build. People who build a business must expect to be challenged in their faith. However, all that opposes them or their business in a time of needful transition shouts a different message, “you cannot afford to lose what you have, it is too risky to change” – a tendency that can be illustrated by an example of a recent marketplace collapse. The new CEO for Kodak was hired to rescue the company from failure. It is commonly known that the middle managers refused to accommodate him. However, resistance to doing things the new way was not met by dismissal, and the company was doomed. In an article written by Peter Cohan, titled: “Kodak Keeps Collapsing”, he comments on the situation already prevailing in the 1980’s, “I spent over a year consulting to Kodak 20 years ago. Already then it was grappling with the same issues that continue to plague it. Kodak created and led the business of giving away cameras and reaping huge profits from its dominance of the silver halide film and chemicals business. But Fuji took away its market share and digital photography took huge chunks of its former customers. Its latest restructuring program is too little too late.”
[http://www.bloggingstocks.com/2009/01/29/kodak-keeps-collapsing/]. The restructuring to which he refers took place at the beginning of 2009. Kodak laid off 4500 employees due to a 23% drop in international revenue.
The degree to which we try to propagate from our past without new wisdom may result from an intolerance to uncertainty. We might justify doing so even because of the things we have done well. Leaders, who do not pay sufficient heed to the need for change, may have succumbed either to this ‘fear’ of uncertainty or to a sense that the future is threatening or even through disdain for change. This is evident when the call for change is met by more justification. What accentuates the lesson is the strong indication that Eastman Kodak were aware of the threat posed by digital photography as early as 1982. Doubly revealing to their self-inflicted dilemma is that they had ignored the marvellous opportunity of having created the first digital camera in their own labs in the 70’s. Again, in the same labs in 1986, they had developed the first sensor technology at the centre of digital cameras today! The Kodak management’s response was, “That’s cute – but don’t tell anyone about it” [From an article by Jordan Timm at http://www.canadianbusiness.com/after_hours/lifestyle_products/article.jsp?content=20091026_10027_10027].
One can hardly imagine the positive effect that would have been created in their situation if Kodak’s management team had opened itself to independent reviewers charged to challenge its ideas! The value of ongoing accountable external input cannot be overestimated in matters of leadership. The concept of checks and balances is one of the strongest values in a Christian ethic. This applies equally to matters of personal development as it does to matters of governance. Referring to the influence of checks and balances on Winston Churchill’s leadership in WWII, MQ states, “Churchill submitted himself to a ponderous process of checks and balances that made the method of governance much more tedious. The English, it was affirmed, led through committees but ultimately their safety net was the Judeo/Christian underpinnings that compelled them to consider and reconsider the quality of their social action” [MQ, p. 52 – http://www.moralquotient.com].
The danger of unipolarity [single ‘pole’ style of leadership deficient in check and balance] is evident in all the main three social contexts, the personal, the communal, and the societal. How many have wished for the voices of their dissenters to be silenced, and yet, all progress depends on those who persist in not conforming themselves to the status quos of their past. In a reverse sense, the fear (or disdain) of change can also arise from the ‘past’ as for Children who have wished their parents silent over their bad habits. Community leaders have wished those who disagree to be removed. Politicians have wished the voices of their opponents discredited. However, where mercy has failed, we must allow honesty to speak. Where excuses prevail, situations run amok! Neither is it good if an error has been detected that a man should immediately rush to resolve it! The wise wait to hear the voices of their most intimate counselors and friends.
In closing, we should not underestimate the lesson taught by Kodak’s failure. Jordan Timm writes, “Kodak rolled out failure after failure, trying unsuccessfully to graft digital technology onto their established business rather than adapt to an emerging marketplace. As late as 1995, when a Fortune reporter challenged Kodak CEO George M. C. Fisher with the impending collapse of the traditional photography industry, the executive sounded befuddled. “But Kodak has to grow,” he protested.” [Ibid]
Might the ones then who look ahead in hope to a future of expected change both within and without be the ones best capable to take up its challenges and understand what the statement means: “we are on a way we have never been on before”?