Steen Schledermann's Blog

Innovation and Change

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Square or Round Wheels?

no-thanks-were-too-busyFreshly inspired from participating in Børsen IT Value conference in Copenhagen, May 2014 and the often referenced metaphor “Are you too busy to improve” I feel inspired to contribute to the debate on the digital revolution and the need for change capability.

This metaphor is a great enabler for the discussion on how to improve. It is so simple and a great way to start the discussion on very complex matters. I have seen the metaphor quoted, shared and commented on many times, which tells us how easy it is to relate to. Lately I saw it commented on at LinkedIn: “I see it all the time” – “we see it every day”. That itself is very interesting, because it could potentially mean that the need for continuous improvement is significant.

Well the world is not necessarily always, what it appears to be. The fundamental reason that we “see it all the time” is because we are individual people with individual perspectives, backgrounds, level of capability and ambition and different motivations on the same subject. Therefore, what appear to be square wheels to some may very well be round wheels to others.

The classic example is the external consultant who’s fundamental motivation is his next job with little or even no insight to understand the reasons for the current situation actually being round wheels. This can be the external consultant’s value proposition (and often is) but it can also be the dangerous trap, where the carriage is at risk of falling of the jack while attempting to change from square to round wheels.

To evaluate if we are looking at square or round wheels it is essential to practice the 5th habit of the Seven habits of highly effective people (by Steven Covey) – “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”, or any other phrasing of this statement. This exercise hopefully leads to a clarification on what is actually being pursued in terms of ambitions, vision, objective, goal, motivation or value. Very often we do not spent the appropriate time for clarification of the higher purpose and the alignment of the understanding of the higher purpose, and we end up experiencing the “square wheels all the time” – that’s where we are too busy.

The fast pace of changing technologies and financial crisis puts competition under pressure and calls for new ways of doing things. The digital revolution and the “Internet of Things” fundamentally introduces many new round wheels, which need to be identified, understood, invented and defined. A dilemma arises – the busier you get in keeping up with change, the more need for change you or someone watching you experience. Complexity grows and the challenge of vendors of technology grows to assist their customers to handle the complexity as added value – for free!

New inventions are based on existing, knowledge and past inventions – they have build-in assumptions for how to realize the value of the new ideas. If you fall behind on keeping up with the continuous development, you will lack in fulfilling those build-in assumptions and you may fail in realizing the expected new value. A shift from expecting hard deadlines for delivery to a continuous flow of improvement becomes important.

The use of cloud offerings is an example of taking the pain away from the core business to focus on the business and the business development rather than the heavy burden of the on-premises IT operations. However this change require a change in your way of thinking about IT Services in a number of ways. Pursuing this strategy – the use of cloud services and offering cloud services will provide round wheels for your own business and for your customers business.

Take care that “the change of wheels” don’t get too hard. You may have bad experiences from the past that certain changes failed or you may have a strong believe in specific ways of doing things. You may use those stories to convince yourself and others that change is bad or impossible and hereby prevent yourself from gaining those – sometimes necessary game changing benefits. Any important change is possible – it simply just need a decision to do it, a proper sponsor – all the way to completion – and committed and competent change agents. One thing you can be sure of  is what used to be round wheels easily becomes square wheels and this is happening at a growing pace.

So – Let’s go Seek First to Understand then to be Understood – and then Make some Change.

Thanks to all of the contributors of Børsen IT Value conference, to Steven R Covey and the unknown artist of the great cartoon version of the metaphor, for inspiring me.