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Critical Thinking

When Change Is the Problem, Not the Solution

Critical ThinkingFOXBusiness

Change is how we move forward. Species evolve through mutations. The scientific method has advanced civilization and improved our lives immeasurably. And our ongoing mission to leave the world a better place for our children is a noble one.

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But it’s a mistake to assume that change is always for the better. It’s not, not by any stretch.

Mutations are not always beneficial. Organisms are nature’s way of creating order out of the ever-increasing chaos of the physical world. Humans create organizations and civilizations for the same reason -- to master our ever-changing environment and control our own destiny.

There is a natural balance to the concept of change. But lately, we seem to be out of balance. We’ve become an impatient and reactive culture that whipsaws from one change to the next. We have a name for that in the corporate world. It’s called “strategy du jour” and it’s always a recipe for disaster.

There’s an old saying that breaking up is hard to do. Au contraire. It used to be until no-fault divorce. My wife and I hit our 25th anniversary last Friday. Our friends can’t believe we stuck together this long. Neither can we. It’s much harder than breaking up. It takes a lot more work. It takes a lot of perseverance and patience.

Look at what’s happening in the corporate world. Nokia and Motorola have already split up. Ebay (NASDAQ:EBAY) CEO John Donahoe initially said the company is stronger with PayPal. Then he changed his mind. Last week H-P (NYSE:HPQ) announced it's splitting up into two companies. So did Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC). Pressured by activist investors, Sony and Dupont are sitting on the fence but may be next.

Why all the breakups? For the most part it’s the path of least resistance -- an easy way for CEOs without much creativity and even fewer guts to placate investors with short-term gains. Dividing H-P into two is certainly no solution to its competitive and growth problems. There’s no strategy behind it. It’s just a tactic -- a politically expedient and unimaginative tactic. Maybe Meg Whitman would have made a good politician after all.

Speaking of politics, Congress routinely and consistently overreacts to every crisis real or imagined. That’s why corporate and small business America has an ever-growing laundry list of burdensome legislation, regulation, policies and taxation to contend with. Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, Cap and Trade, the Affordable Health Act, patent reform, education reform -- every couple of years it’s something new.

Meanwhile, we have Millennials -- the “entrepreneurial generation” -- rejecting the age-old paradigm of “working for the man” and pursuing dreams of changing the world. By all accounts we should be seeing the mother of all entrepreneurial movements. We should be seeing thousands if not millions of viable startups flooding the world with innovative new products and services. But we’re not.

What we are seeing are millions of naïve enthusiasts calling themselves entrepreneurs and CEOs without ever having run a viable business. Sure, they have their personal brands, their websites, their blogs and Twitter accounts. They follow thousands of self-proclaimed gurus and LinkedIn Influencers. But in their starry-eyed zeal they may have missed a few things like products, customers and revenues.

Instead of a new generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders, I’m afraid we’re breeding a lost generation of unemployed and underemployed content marketers and social media change agents.

While it’s true that inertia and the status quo are friends of bureaucracy and enemies of progress, change for the sake of change has never been a viable business strategy. Steve Jobs may have inspired the original Macintosh design team to “make a dent in the universe,” but it helped that he actually had the talent to deliver on that lofty goal.

Truth is, the most critical single process in the business world is the process of identifying a problem, coming up with an innovative solution, developing an implementation plan and executing the job until it’s done. Every step of that process requires focus, patience, discipline and perseverance. There’s really no change involved.

The Serenity Prayer asks for the serenity to accept what we can’t change, the courage to change what we can and the wisdom to know the difference. Unfortunately, we’ve become a culture obsessed with the notion of change as a Utopian concept -- a universal quick fix with magic silver bullet properties. So much for serenity, courage and wisdom.

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