Breaking old habits

The progressively-reinforced dynamics within any social system mean that some changes are much easier for some organizations than others … 

For any social systems, some types of change are far easier to accommodate than others.  But which ones are easy and which are hard varies depending on what happened to that particular social system in its past.

One of the main reasons for this is that, when you analyze the hidden inner-workings of social systems like I do, you find that over time all the layers of policies and procedures and processes tend to reflect the past habits of the organization – the patterns of change they have become used to.  And, as with many of us, old habits die hard.

If for example you examine the clothes-fashion industry, it is brilliant at coping with the disruption of two major fashion weeks every Spring and Autumn.  Every line has to be altered.  For any normal company that would be hugely disruptive.  But for the great fashion houses, it is just business as usual.  That pattern of change has now become built-in to how every fashion business operates.

But you could not operate a nuclear power plant that way.

What is more, even the employees might not fit: Someone who is brilliant working in the nuclear industry might find the pace of change and the lack of technical discipline in the fashion industry impossible to handle.  And vice versa.

So, the key lesson in all this is that if an organization finds itself in competition with (or simply wants to emulate) others that are used to a different way of operating – it cannot just try to “copy” them.  When it comes to change: One size does not fit all.

My friends in academia and management consulting really do not help in all this when they publish books and articles about Best Practice (which typically actually means “Best Practice in big US corporations”).  What they call Best Practice is just a dangerously misleading average.  Trying to mimic a so-called “excellent” company does not work any better than buying exactly the same clothes as a top fashion model who is a half your age and half your size.