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  • Ways to Change: High Tech, Low Tech, or Not at All
  • How a business changes can greatly influence its success.

    With technology advancing rapidly, it's easy to equate change with making digital or internet related enhancements. This is the case because new technology fuels so much of today's change.

    But, not all opportunities for worthwhile change are driven by technology. Change that benefits the business can also come via other sources, such as adding amenities, improving service or responding to shifts in customer attitudes and preferences. Although these changes may be low tech, they can play a valuable role in the business.

    Some food for thought about change can be gleaned from Kim Bhasin's article in the January 25-31, 2016 issue of Bloomberg Business Week. Appearing in the Etc. section near the back of the magazine, the article is essentially a rant about what is wrong with retail store fitting rooms, where apparel is tried on prior to purchase. As the article points out, fitting rooms had not changed in years, although retailers have started installing new technology in them. And, the article identifies several reasons why fitting rooms leave much to be desired. For instance, fitting rooms could be more spacious, have better seating, have more hooks for hanging things, and need to be a more pleasant place.

    I see three important points in that fitting room example.

      1. Not all change has to be technology driven.
      2. In today's tech driven world, companies often are inclined to add new
      spacertechnology, rather than make other kinds of valuable improvements.
      3. There seems to be an implication that, if something hasn't changed in
      spacer years, then change is needed because it's long overdue—but this
      spacerimplication warrants further thought.

    I see the first point as very important, and I have previously written about companies like T.J. Maxx, which has experienced great success without emphasizing the latest technology, instead thriving on its bricks and mortar business. Of course, this doesn't mean that technology can't play a valuable role. It just means that applying the latest technology will be more crucial for some companies than for others, since factors besides technology can play an important role in business success. Thus, worthwhile change does not necessarily have to be technology driven. In fact, even high tech powerhouse Amazon is experimenting with bricks and mortar stores, a change that incorporates some low tech features, although Amazon does this in a way that reflects its online strengths.

    I see the second point as reflecting the increased pervasiveness of technology in today's world. Thus, companies want to take advantage of the latest digital and mobile technology and interconnectedness. So, it's not surprising if they overlook other promising opportunities for change while striving to keep up with the latest technology. Pursuing new technology in a way that's right for the company is very important. But, it shouldn't totally eclipse other valuable changes a company can make that aren't necessarily high tech.

    I see the third point, however, as one that warrants some serious thought. Just because something hasn't changed in years--or even decades--does it really mean that change is long overdue? As an initial reaction, one might be inclined to answer yes. After all, so many companies have fared poorly as a result of being overly complacent, particularly during times of potentially disruptive change. But, an equally or more important question goes beyond asking whether change is overdue. The question is: why hasn't this changed in such a long time? Although there could have been excess complacency, perhaps components of the unchanging entity are truly evergreen and still work well despite the long entrenched lack of change.

    The travel industry offers an excellent example of this. Visitors have been enjoying spectacular attractions like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, or Yellowstone Park's Old Faithful Geyser for decades. We don't say that, since these attractions have been on travel itineraries for decades, change is long overdue and these attractions should be replaced by something else. On the contrary, these spectacular destinations continue to attract visitors decade after decade, and will probably keep doing so unless something unusual happens.

    The attractions, themselves, are essentially unchanged, but other aspects of a trip to visit them have been modernized. In the early days, some of the travel might have been by steamship and canal boats. Later there was travel by railroad, then by motor vehicles, then planes, then motor vehicles on a more modern interstate highway system, and now perhaps via a discount airline, and maybe eventually via some version of driverless cars. Nearby lodging and some recreational activities may also change. But, those basic evergreen attractions like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, or Yellowstone Park's Old Faithful Geyser have been on travel agendas for generations. We don't insist that this should change merely because it has remained the same for such a long time.

    A similar situation can occur when aspects of a business do not change for years. When that happens, we must ask why change did not occur. Is there a good reason for the lack of change, just like there is for those popular travel attractions? Or, is change really long overdue?

    In fact, if what hasn't changed seems to be an evergreen component of the business, changing it might actually be detrimental and can destroy the value it continually brings to the business. On the other hand, if there are good reasons for a revamp after years of sameness, then change may very well be warranted. Before proceeding, however, it's important to evaluate what should change and what, if anything, might benefit from remaining evergreen.

    In conclusion, change driven by technology is common, but low tech change can also be valuable. Yet, some components of the business seem to be evergreen and essentially need not change at all.

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