Making Change Not Change

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For a number of reasons, Facebook changes the look of its pages and the functionality of its site and features frequently. One of the reasons: To accustom users to constant change.

The more Facebook makes updates, the more people expect updates. Other technology companies, seeing the intelligence in this model, have started to follow it. For example, Twitter introduced a “mute” button shortly after overhauling the way users’ feeds look and function.

Facebook users may groan and whine about regular, incremental changes, but these ripples rarely instigate major upheaval. People accustomed to change learn to deal with change. Infrequent, major overhauls would likely cause more destructive waves.

After all, people generally don’t like change. But if change becomes the norm, changing no longer means change. In fact, a lack of change becomes a change.

Say what?

Consider your friends and family. We all have one person in our lives from whom we expect erratic or wacky behavior.

The cousin who disappears for two months and then turns up a little worse for wear, announcing that he quit his job in an epiphany about life and had decided to hike the Appalachian Trail with no preparation and nothing but the clothes on his back. (The stories about his adventure mention frequent encounters with hikers who fed him.) And this little episode came only a few months after he had decided to take a basket-weaving class and forego accounting entirely.

Or, for tamer examples, consider the friend who unexpectedly turns up at your home for dinner or the one who always says she’ll come but shows up only sometimes at best. And yet you invite her again anyway, because she just “does that.”

After a while, these wild hairs on some relations’ parts become normal. We'd worry if they suddenly turned bland. Yet if our friends with relatively routine, clockwork lives suddenly took left turns into erratic behavior, we’d corral them and escort them to physicians.

Taking a page from Facebook, Twitter, and wacky friends and family (and recognizing some overlap in these categories), other businesses should implement change-acclimation measures. Remember how my interviewing without open job postings concerned my staff at first? Employees, clients, venders, partners, and others with whom we work need to understand that change doesn’t mean emergency.

Regular change can mean positive things: Companies evolve. Products evolve. Processes evolve. Staff members evolve.

These are desirable changes.

When I restructured FrogDog, I took a very direct role in the business operations. As the company stabilized and began to grow in the right direction, I needed to evolve my role. Part of the change in my activities involved more time outside the office and a more unpredictable schedule for business development. Further, as the company continues to gel and achieve its potential—and all companies must constantly evolve in positive ways—people need to grow accustomed to changes.

If you’ve always spent the full day in the office and suddenly you don’t, people will worry. If you never tinker with your product and suddenly you make a change, people will panic. If you never change staff roles and responsibilities and then suddenly you do, people will seize with stress.

As I look across my personal and professional life, I see benefits in further increasing people’s comfort with change. I’ve got some work to do.

Where else should we increase comfort levels with unpredictability?