Don't Go Changing

A Developing Phenomenon

People have been concerned about change throughout the ages. Four centuries ago, Sir Walter Raleigh warned, "There is nothing exempt from the peril of mutation." In the early 20th century, management innovators like Frederick W. Taylor studied the effects of changes in compensation schemes on worker productivity. And in 1970, author Alvin Toffler made change a popular issue in his book Future Shock.

"The key guy was Alvin Toffler," says Jerome Katz, a professor of management at Saint Louis University. "He was the first one saying the pace of change was accelerating and could get too fast for people."

Future Shock was a bestseller in its first year. Since that time, however, attitudes toward change have, well, changed. That's notably true in business. And today the concept that change can be beneficial has been distorted to the point that it's embraced uncritically by the average executive, explains Katz. "Change is now a generic good," he says. "If you say you're not in favor of change, people look at you funny."

Love of change is, to some extent, a particularly American passion. "In many parts of the world, change is looked upon skeptically," Katz says. China, for instance, is both a hotbed of entrepreneurship and a highly traditional society simultaneously, he notes. Other societies make that work.

Americans, especially entrepreneurs, embrace change because it creates opportunities for new approaches that can spawn new enterprises. In some industries, an obvious one being technology, product evolution is so rapid that finding some way to endure a punishing rate of change is vital, notes Barrett.

But no matter where you are, what industry you operate in or how large or small your business is, change has two constant features. "Change is a classic double-edged sword," says Katz. "It's a stress and a benefit. And when the stress gets to be too great for the benefit, you need to stop."

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This article was originally published in the March 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Don't Go Changing.

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