A friend of mine is in the process of splitting from her husband after 11 years together. What has struck and inspired me is how well she has been able to rationalise the situation. The thing is, the split wasn’t provoked by some big event or catastrophe. No one cheated, no one lied. They just realised that things had gradually changed over the years and they had failed to change with them. And now, because of that, they didn’t work anymore. This got us talking about change in general, and about how it can often be so subtle that you don’t notice it until suddenly it adds up and things are very different.

Ten years ago I had a Nokia 3210 to text my friends, a hotmail account to email my pen pal, I connected to the internet via a PC with a wire and ‘asked jeeves’ where to find other websites. These were all new things at that time. Now I use my phone to check the platform my train is on while I’m still on the underground, my 3 year old nephew ‘Facetimes’ me, and I have multitude of apps to find out about everything from movies to buying a new house. These changes have occurred gradually as one technology builds on the idea of another – yet, this process gets faster every time. It makes it hard to keep up, let alone predict what’s coming. Digital has become a word that everyone knows but struggles to define the scope of because it never stands still. What was ‘digital’ yesterday may be out of date tomorrow.

When I applied this thinking to business, it resonates with what I am seeing a lot of clients struggle with currently. How do we plan for the future and get there before the future is out of date? For me it’s about three things:

1. Continuous planning & effective decision making

  • Continue to invest in research and development – and that means in all assets, particularly your people. Predict what you will need from your assets next year and in five years. Plan for that.
  • Make sure you have the data available to make fast decisions – this means the right systems, processes and accountabilities.

2. Accelerating change as much as possible

  • Creating an environment for accelerating decision making, by bringing the right people together in a well facilitated session, is no new thing. What I am seeing now is a demand for this kind of approach in actually implementing change, with projects such as accelerated organisation design and accelerated process definition. Though this requires considerable short term investment, it means that businesses can understand and implement change much faster
  • Managing through that change remains as important as it has always been – but the focus now is on utilising new digital tools to do this faster and more effectively

3. Being agile and accepting that change happens

  • Just as my friend has, it is about recognising that change happens, accepting it and embracing it. Whether that’s by making the small changes along the way or having to make a big change to account for not doing that, ultimately it is what will make your business (and you) more resilient.

As I once read somewhere, ‘change is inevitable, except from a vending machine’. In ten years, I wonder if anyone will know what a vending machine is… ? These days, you either need to change with the times, or accept that things won’t last.