The Change Paradox

Do we change the easy things or the hard ones?

So here is the rub. When the next leader comes along after you, what will she try to change?  Odds are, like you, the next leader will also look to change those things that can be changed. But those will be precisely the things that you changed yesterday. So it was that, within a few years of his departure, most of Tracy O’Rourke’s changes at Varian were changed again — and in fact the company was split up and many of its parts sold off. This is the change paradox:  We and our successors change what can be changed, each undoing the work of the one before him. We feel accomplished at the moment of change, but so does the person who comes along tomorrow and undoes all of our work. Ironically, though we all feel we have made a difference, if we go back in a year or two we may see no sign of our efforts.

The lesson? Change those things that are most difficult to change. This will take time, and may fail entirely. But if you succeed — like IBM taking a lifetime to break into Japan — you will have created something permanent; something that the next generation of leaders cannot undo. Better to work at setting one thing right forever, than to easily set many things right temporarily.


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