We live in the interesting times. Technological progress was literally put to our fingertips, thus finally entangling technology and humanity into one complicated knot.
Think about it, you have more computing power in your hand / pocket (you phone's never further than that, right?) than NASA had when they launched Apollo mission.
Millions of people now have this power, and along with it almost unlimited connection to information and other people. This factor created tremendous impact on businesses, big and small, drastically changing the whole economic environment.
In studying and discussing this phenomenon Brian Solis
brilliantly introduced the concept of "Digital Darwinism" ("Solisism" in my personal dictionary) — "the phenomenon of technology and society evolving faster than businesses can adapt".
If you look closer many businesses have already fell victims to Digital Darwinism (Blockbuster? Toys'R'Us?), and it hasn't even unfolded to its full effect yet.
Bigger corporations with longer history of dominating markets are probably the most vulnerable now, and vulnerability is not exactly the familiar place for them. Change is hard for those, who learned to win by iterating and sticking to the best practices, and who have more at stake.
The reality is that the best practices don't work anymore, technological and social changes have made them obsolete, and this situation requires changes within organizations. The kind of changes that conventional decision makers can't always see, let alone implement. Modern time calls for Change Agents: people within the companies, who can see outside of the convention and status quo, suggest and implement the "mutation" that will lead the company to evolution, and save it from extinction in the fast changing environment. Digital Change Agent's Manifesto
is an inspiring and elaborate approach to guiding and supporting Change Agents within organizations.
Here I want to discuss another piece of equation — the very reason why Change Agents remain reluctant, unrecognized, and wouldn't transform the companies they belong to the way they could.
I'm writing on behalf of a semi-reluctant Change Agent.
A Change Agent is a weirdo, ok? It takes certain natural personality traits to want to change things that are not explicitly bad, dangerous, painful or uncomfortable. Although "challenging authority" and "disrupting status quo" sounds sexy, in most applications they are just buzzwords. Really, not everyone is charged to "challenge authority" and disrupt anything: in general our survival instincts are designed to maintain homeostasis.
This is a good thing: if everyone was a disrupting rebel, civilization wouldn't be where it is today.
A Natural Change Agent is a weirdo, with "If it's not broken, break it" mentality. We just can't help it, we need to see what's inside, and understand how it works… worked.
A Natural Change Agent isn't very good at iteration. We can force ourselves to practice some craft, but don't expect the alleged 10 000 hours and any brilliance resulting from it.
A Natural Change Agent can be charismatic, kind, smart, personable, empathetic, lovable… but never likeable. We can't strategize relationships without getting really frustrated.
A Natural Change Agent doesn't readily accept teachers, mentors and leaders, not interested in memorizing information, prefers to explore rather than consume knowledge. It makes our journeys longer and more demanding.
A Natural Change Agent puts titles, certificates, degrees, etc., to the bottom of priority list, and rarely invests time, money and energy above comfortable level to obtain such proofs of value.
With that said, it's important to notice, that the the Change Agents that are so valuable nowadays were not raised nowadays, nor were we building careers when challenging authority would be associated with innovation, rather than with good chances of being fired or punished.
As a child a Natural Change Agent is not convenient: too inquisitive, too active, too uncontrollable, too stubborn. So we receive incredible amount of "don't be yourself" messages from parents and adults. We learn that there's something inherently wrong with us.
Teenage years are usually rebellious for a Natural Change Agent, we try to protect the essence of Self or whatever's left of it. We listen to heavy rock music, for some reason: it probably comes as a statement, or maybe the last resort. Most of us go through teenage years strongly assured that there's something wrong with us.
Then we start a career… where we feel trapped.
Until very recently building an outstanding career, getting to the level of food chain where you are recognized as an authority and a decision maker took qualities that are quite opposite to those of Natural Change Agents. We may do well in our own business ventures, but we're quite mediocre within corporations and bigger companies.
Of course we try, and we learn, and we discipline ourselves, we even succede in certain undertakings, but the success is rarely sustainable and usually requires more sacrifice than what it's worth.
So the paradox of the modern economy is that the Natural Change Agents, that are desperately needed to see, spark and implement transformation within the company, are simply invisible, broken, not loyal, and not aspiring to create the change.
During our lifetime we learn that messing with convention is dangerous. We are so used to rejection, that we can't even imagine that our ideas would be useful, or at least heard.
Most of the Natural Change Agents are not exclusively the ones who send you bills for innovation strategies or write books: most of us are hiding behind our desks, without the title or the voice to make the change we were designed to make by nature.
Only a few of those who were born a Natural Change Agent earned recognition and made their voice heard, while remaining true to who they are. Only a few can succeed where others fail, probably after suffering failure where others succeed.
To make the change possible these few need to use their voice, their influence and their empathy to create a new culture — the culture where Natural Change Agents are empowered, valued for who they are, no longer assessed by their rank, or income, or performance on mundane tasks, but recognized for their ability to inspire and lead evolution.