Saying No To Change

‘Embrace Change’ is often said to be a universally good thing. However ‘Change for Change’s Sake’ is clearly bad. So how do you tell the difference?

This question is only one of the intriguing thought streams in a speech by Bob Lutz, GM Vice Chairman on managing change to unleash creativity and innovation. He is now writing in an excellent business blog from GM called the Fastlane Blog. The speech is well worth reading but alas he does not go further with the question of when you should say No to change..

Being seen to be ‘a mover and a shaker’ in an organization certainly gets attention, but what counts is results measured on the scales set by the business objectives. Change in itself is not a business objective. There’s an interesting parallel in mathematical statistics. One of the fundamental concepts by the father of statistics, Sir Ronald Fisher, was the Null Hypothesis. Basically he said you should stick with the simplest explanation unless the data suggested that simple explanation was wrong. In other words, that old KISS (Keep it simple, Simon) Principle again. So if your business model is working well, keep doing what you’re doing.

But horror of horrors, will you miss some new management fad that might have improved results. Edward de Bono suggested the word ‘Po’ instead of No as a way of letting your mind wander on new possibilities. That’s Po as in hypothesis, possibility, poetry, and so on. That’s certainly one way to go. However how much time do you have to engage in all that Po stuff.

The word No may be a much better way of testing what you’re doing and seeing whether there’s a different way. That’s not the instinctive Closed Door reaction to a new idea. Rather it’s the willingness to listen to a new idea and check what might be won by adopting it. However unless that’s a significant improvement, you stick with what you’re doing. The advantage of that is that you keep getting better by repetition as you progress along the learning curve.

No has tended to have bad publicity but it seems to be getting more attention recently. The Lutz speech came up in a posting on Dana’s Blog. He referenced something written by Sam Decker, Your 2005 Strategic Plan – 12 Areas Where You Can Say “No”. That lead to some further reflections in a Cre8asite Forums thread, The Positive Negatives.

So let’s hear it for No as one of the most powerful thinking tools. You’ll find more in an article, How To Think Better.