Difference of Opinion: Agility vs. Stability

Posted by Theron Lalla, Associate Account Manager & Isabel Nie, Account Manager

Our half-empty teacups sit on the table, largely ignored as we’re caught up in trying to prove each other wrong. For what started as a casual discussion on a day off, it’s quickly starting to degenerate into a very polite-because-we’re-in-public argument. She’s a master of self-restraint, too, because I can tell she’d like to throw her chopsticks at me but (so far) hasn’t. I’m reminded of the dojo fight from The Matrix, except I’m not sure which one of us is Morpheus and which one is Neo.

By the time lunch is over, our teas are completely cold and neither one of us have conceded the point. We’re likely not the only ones to have debated this, either. In the past decade, one of the most polarizing topics in business—whether at the corporate or the personal level—has been change and adaptability. Whether it’s about chasing after cheese, going from good to great, making ideas stick, or even accepting difficult changes, books favoring change are usually ranked as some of the top books of the year. Yet while companies say they support innovation, they also seem resistant to change and new ideas tend to get nothing more than an “oh that’s nice.” Why the contradiction? Are companies just afraid of change, or is there a reason for staying the same? Is change innovation, or is it just the latest waste-of-time buzzword?

 “Change is Opportunity” – Theron

There’s good reason the books referenced above tend to shoot to the top of the bestseller lists. Customers and employees are thirsty for more innovation from companies, yet most companies seem to be stuck in a mode of operation best suited for the post-industrial era of last century. As we move into the information era (actually, we’ve been in it for quite some time), companies need to be more agile and responsive to changes in trends revealed by data. If your LPO (Landing Page Optimization) tests show improved click through and conversion rates, being ready to capitalize on that information is an opportunity to increase your revenue for that quarter and moving forward. Why wouldn’t you do it?

I’ll admit that all change brings with it a risk of misstep and failure, but failure is more often than not a great teacher. Microsoft’s Vista OS was widely considered a blunder and a step down from XP, yet the lessons it learned from that have been applied to Windows 7, to what seems like a great start.  If Microsoft had been as resistant to change, we’d all still be using Windows 3.1, or worse, DOS! And after all, the willingness to make mistakes is what drives innovation and creativity.

“Change is Overrated” – Isabel

While there are numerous successful examples in which change rejuvenated the brand by bringing new opportunities, there are also times when change leads to an inconsistent and therefore unsatisfying user experience. Earlier this year, when Facebook rolled out another new homepage layout, complaints were heard because users were so familiar with the old version. The new navigation confused users, even though the change was based on users’ current navigation customizations and preferences. If the “convenience” prohibits users from navigating freely and communicating in real time—a key aspect of Facebook—the roll out should be reconsidered.

Sometimes, change can be disastrous. When Tropicana changed their iconic orange straw package into an almost generic-looking glass of yellow juice in 2009, their customers were outraged! The backlash was so severe that Tropicana had to switch back to the old package. Failures like this not only show the lack of research and consumer insight, but also indicate that the company is just ignoring its brand DNA—which is what makes it stand out in the first place—and is simply trying to follow a market trend. That is why companies, especially established successful corporations, can be stubborn and resistant to change. When weighing the opportunity cost against the aftermath of a complete failure, doesn’t the former sound more acceptable?

“Moderation in all things, including moderation.”– Petronius, Roman philosopher

While it’s important to seize opportunities to capitalize upon your customer’s desires, companies need to remember what it was that made them successful in the first place. Change best follows steady testing and in-depth roundtable discussions—change too much, too often, and you lose your brand identity. And while minor failures can good teachers, a large failure is not something you can take back. It’s a difficult balance: Too much change, and your brand is unreliable—not enough change, and upstart companies thrive where you have failed to adapt. In the end, don’t be afraid to jump—just make sure you know where you’re going to land.

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