“Progress is a nice word, but change is its motivator, and change has its enemies.”
—Robert F. Kennedy, 1964
For quite a while I have quoted Robert F. Kennedy when working on consensus-building in committees, team building at work, public hearings, and occassionally to toss in a conversation to make me sound well read. It’s a concise summation on human nature.
Robert Kennedy (for those who know him only as the brother of John F. Kennedy, assassinated in June 1964 during his presidential campaign) served as attorney general under his brother, and was later elected as a Senator in New York. He was a force behind civil rights and anti-poverty campaigns. He represented progress and change.
Progress, he might have added, has no end point. And, so, to complete the syllogism: Change is constant. Progress is motivated by change. Enemies of change are constant.
If progress is important to you, whether at work, in your community, or on a personal level, it’s worthwhile to examine sources of change—and their enemies.
Change is Inevitable
Change comes from all directions. Among them: technological, internal (personal change), organizational, political, economic, and climatic, to name a few.
Change is omnipresent. One would be naïve to think I can merely “do my job” without paying attention to the impact of change, and its concomitant enemies.
Learning new skills is one way to manage change. And, if you are (or seek to be) in a position of leadership, you can help your organization learn the skills necessary to manage change. For, if you do not take part in managing the change, you are more likely to become a passive recipient of the impacts that come along. Change can marginalize your business (e.g., Polaroid, Kodak). Change can result in your being replaced; or, stall your career advancement. And, perhaps most important, you lose a seat at the table. You lose your voice. If you don’t have a voice in what comes next, you’ll probably become an enemy of change yourself.
On a personal level, this may mean learning a new skill. Could be a software product. Or it could be an interpersonal skill, like better listening. Or writing. Or public speaking. Either way, you become better equipped to survive in the workplace.
Organizationally, the same two types of change may apply. Do you need to implement a form of organizational learning from within, or by adapting a new technology to compete?
Questions one may ask of their company include:
- How effectively do you communicate as an organization?
- Will improving communication skills bring you closer to your customers? To your colleauges?
- Are recurring communication problems costing time, money, or reputation?
- Are there new ways of doing things to make you more competitive?
- Can new technology help you compete?
- What technology are your competitors using?
Given these questions, consider Senator Kennedy’s quote. Who are the enemies of change? And, how can you work with them?
Sometimes, as the aphorism goes, we are our own worst enemy. Are we ready for self-examination? Have you examined your response to change and sprinted ahead, or does resistance govern your behavior? And, as a business, what are you doing to anticipate the different drivers of change—technological, economic, or otherwise?
When I reflect on Kennedy’s quote, I always come back to the power of teamwork. Teams are based on the trust that we will share prosperity by working together. When thinking about this brief meditation on progress, change, and its enemies, consider the value of questions. If leadership begets progress, and leadership requires seeing what others do not—then the enemies of change are confronted by our asking questions. Ask the right questions, and find a team to seek out more. It is one step on the path to progress.
“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
[Author's Note: One author I recommend on the study of change and change management is John Kotter, Ph.D. See for example, The Heart of Change.]