The Death Struggle Between Change And Status Quo?

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


I did some reading over the holiday. The idea expressed here is certainly not mine. If you like it, thank a guy named Robert Pirsig. If you don't, blame me for inflicting it on you.

There is all this talk, forever and in every company, about embracing change. You have some people in companies who love change, and then you have many more who stick to the old tried and true methods, and who will only embrace a change when it's proven beyond doubt (which means, of course, you'd never get any). The conflict between the 'experimenters' and the 'conservatives' creates all sorts of tension, which is always dispiriting and counterproductive. It is probably the largest source of strife at EllisDon.

Pirsig is a big but accessible thinker. If you're an aging baby boomer, you'll remember 'Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance' which I recently read for about the fifth time. But in another book, he makes the very important point that both forces - which he calls Dynamic and Static - are crucial to any and all progress. That is, you need both, in full force, to get any. Think about that (and your company). We've got all this grief between the 'change' people and the 'status quo' people, and it turns out that they need each other desperately just to survive.

It's fairly simple when you think about it (I just never did). We need wild new ideas. We need disrupters. We need people constantly breaking things that aren't broken. Otherwise we'd still be in a swamp somewhere. But once the 'right' ideas are identified, we need to give them a foundation and protection. They need to be locked down. They need .... process. Or they die. Of course. If all you have are new ideas and more new ideas, what you have is chaos. Jim Collins said in 'Built To Last' that the consistently great companies 'Try lots of things, and keep what works'

Of course, at a construction company, the 'Static Force' people are far more numerous and the brave 'Dynamic' types need very thick skins. It makes sense when you think about it; our clients hate it when their buildings fall down. And on the 'Dynamic' flip side, it's always great to watch the creative marketing firms come into present ideas to us. They're so off the wall, you wonder how they get anything done.

But the key insight is that with all the stress, all the arguments, all the negative emotions between the two opposing forces, what they should really do at the end of the day is, like, hug each other. Because alone, they would be dead, literally. Of course, I still have no idea how to manage these conflicting personalities. But at least I can stop tearing my hair out over stress that isn't just inevitable, but a hugely great thing.

Hope that makes some sense.