Two things are basically true about humans: 1. change is usually a good thing; 2. people do not like change. Technology has been great. Growing up we had antennae on our TV and thirteen channels from which to choose. Soon cable was connected and our choices began to expand. I remember the big debate in our home: should we add HBO and MTV? Soon HBO would be competing against Showtime and MTV against VH1. Now, decades later, our choices are multifarious. And it’s not just TV. Just go to the store to buy a new cell phone.
With all the choices has come an interesting phenomenon in our culture that is developing among younger Americans. What was noticed among Gen-xers years ago was that, unlike Boomers, they did not recognize brand loyalty. Dozens of studies have validated the transient patterns of consumption for our younger generations. But what was once just a lack of brand loyalty has mutated into an addiction to change. There seems to be no end to “I got a new phone number,” “I got a new email,” “I got a new car, new phone, new apartment, new job, new, new, new, new…!”
Where lines were once drawn between conservative and liberal, or the rich, poor, and middle, or white collar and blue collar, or male and female, these lines are blurred. What marks the upcoming generation is there addiction to change.
The Obama campaign has figured this out. They actually created that as their slogan in the 2008 campaign:Change. Yet, while trying to continue to appeal to older generations, Obama realized he needed to reinvent himself to continue to appeal to a younger generation. Before settling on the campaign slogan of “Forward,” he changed rapidly with five other campaigns first:
1. Win the Future
2. We Can’t Wait
3. An America Built to Last
4. Greater Together
5. We Don’t Quit
Recently I witnessed an executive transition that was reflective of this new ideology. Stakeholders cast votes and slowly over sever electoral ballots the winds of change began to blow. The incumbent executive began to slide slowly in the polling as the new name continued to rise. I later asked a voter what he thought about the new executive and he clearly announced, “We need change in this organization!” I asked the thirty-something young man where he thought the organization should head. He didn’t know. But he was resolute that change was needed.
If science has taught us anything, it has demonstrated that adaptation is the key to long term survival. Change is critical for continued success. However, microbiology has likewise demonstrated that constant change creates mutation.
Effective leadership takes a deliberate and steady approach to change and change management. This is healthy and sustainable. Constant change for the sake of change will only create a mutant that will either die on its own or must be put to death.