At a technology seminar for architects in the early days of the World Wide Web, I heard a speaker excitedly proclaim, “Change is changing!” He advocated “throwing out the rulebook” and embracing what was still very much The Wild Wild West online. For every architect in the room busily poking his Blackberry to send approving comments to the speaker in real time, there was another one who shuddered in dread and didn’t really get what was happening.
The speaker was describing change in terms of personal growth and embracing new values. But many in the room thought he was proposing radical changes to business practice. Turns out it is common in times of great change to cause confusion about the difference between personal values and business practice. Confusing practice for values in an organization, notes business philosopher Greg Satell, “is why success so often breeds failure.” He cites Xerox, when its culture of pride in technical excellence and great service was blindsided by the rise of cheap, simple copiers from new competitors Canon and Ricoh. If Xerox had been more nimble, they could have maintained their values, but changed their practice to meet the competition.