What appear to be unrelated events will cause us to modify our habits and practices-what, where and how consumers buy products and services in the future.
The true challenge of identifying and managing change is separating cause from effect, facts from opinions and proactiveness from reactiveness. Research shows that the proactive (i.e., more successful) organizations have become more technology-driven. These innovative companies have trained people to stay on top of technology changes and discern how these new technologies can impact on the company's performance. We define "technology" in a macro sense-from what is in the product to how the product is made to how it will get to market to how consumers learn about it.
The solution to being a proactive manager of change and getting to the future first can best be summarized by the words of my mother-and probably yours: "Why don't you think about what you are going to do before you do it?"
To my knowledge, there is no company with a Manager of Change-an executive responsible for identifying and proactively leveraging change and making the management of change a core competency. In over a decade of consulting I've yet to meet a manager even responsible for change.
Endless meetings are held to discuss why one category of products is growing and another is not. Disc drives are filled with hypotheses on why one business succeeds and another doesn't. Granted the answers are not simplistic, but if people better understood change they would find they would have a clearer understanding of what actions are most profitable.
The key to better managing change is to make a priority the analysis of the consumer, competition (especially the fringe-emerging entrepreneurial competitor), the marketplace (how people get what they want) and what is modifying each.
The proactive entrepreneurial manager instinctively manages change. My best example is Bill Gates of Microsoft; he is clearly the "best in class" as a proactive manager of change. As technologies evolve and we move toward carrying personal digital assistants and having our workplace and homes technologized, there is every indication that Bill will be there.
The management of change is neither art nor science. It is not deductively or inductively derived. It is a combination of them all. Managing change requires ongoing attention. It is as simple as:
1. Developing a knowledge base that allows you to hypothesize what might happen in the future. You can easily do this by identifying what has happened, is still happening and has a high probability of continuing to happen and cause change.
2. Brainstorming how to leverage your core competencies to generate next-generation opportunities against this learning. This process will allow you to generate what actions will get you to the future first.
3. Integrating what you have learned into your business plans.
And, bingo, you have become a proactive manager of change.
Mr. Flatow is president of CoKnowledge Inc., a consultancy in Westport, Conn., specializing in the management of change.