Fundamental Change Is Very Difficult

When I first got into the strategy and planning business, I complied all the best practices I could find.  You can access these compilations in Design for Success (1991), Strategies for Innovation (1992), and Catalysts for Change (1993), all published by John Wiley.  I realized all this stuff could be quite dry, so I brought it all together into a down-to-earth treatise, Best Laid Plans (1994), published by Prentice-Hall.  This book elaborates the best practices in the contexts of designing and building furniture, planning and taking hikes, and doing business and other adventures in foreign cultures.

Despite all this pithy wisdom, I found that many engagements encountered the apparently insurmountable barrier of fundamental change.  This phenomenon came to fascinate me.  I started to compile historical case studies.  I studied roughly 200 enterprises in the period from 1800 to 2000, focusing on the transportation, computing, and defense industries.  The transitions from steamboats to railroads to automobiles and airplanes led the way, but not by much, for the transitions from cash registers and typewriters to tabulators and computers.  Almost every enterprise failed to transform itself along the way, so most disappeared amidst Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction.”  However, not everyone failed – we’ll return to this later.

These case studies – see Start Where You Are (1996) published by Jossey-Bass, now a John Wiley imprint – led me to wonder why management teams so often avoided recognizing the obvious.  I thought they must have been deluded, which led to another set of contemporary studies and another book – Don’t Jump to Solutions (1998), again published by Jossey-Bass.  This book discusses thirteen organizational delusions that undermine strategic thinking.  These delusions cause enterprises to develop strategies and plans for enterprises that they no longer are – or never were.

By this point, you are probably thinking that my only goal in this process was writing and publishing books.  However, my purpose was much more one of making sense of the intense experiences I was having working with company after company, reading all the latest management literature, and trying to help management teams address the strategic challenges at hand.  Thus, these books were more like reports from the front rather than intellectual treatises.


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