Two years to the month after the pandemic began changing the world, probably forever, we’ve become used to, for lack of a better word, pivoting. Change has become a constant. And in the calm times before the next storm hits, we may be too exhausted to upset the status quo or become disrupters.
Standing still and waiting for someone else to do something big and daring is tempting, especially in an uncertain environment. It’s what most business leaders prefer: A survey of employees, published in Harvard Business Review, found that 42% said they never or almost never see anyone in their companies challenge the status quo. And only 3% see status-quo challenges all the time.
Businesses love to talk the talk about encouraging risk-taking, but when push comes to shove, nothing happens. That attitude toward change must—you guessed it—change.
The key is to create change with a strategy, and to remember that technology remains crucial to business, no matter how much change is happening. But if technology is to support change against uncertain headwinds, it needs to be viewed holistically, not just as a group of “launch and adopt” siloed applications. Technology should be leveraged to create an ecosystem of applications to support change and disruption–and then, to implement a long-term product roadmap to bring that vision to life.
Why Change Makes Paradigm Shifts Possible
Trends like big data and hybrid work will always require carefully thought-out plans for change. There is tremendous value in being a paradigm shifter, no matter how chaotic the times in which we operate.
Consider Apple’s strategy after 9/11 and during the resulting economic downturn: Instead of retrenching, the tech giant introduced several game-changing, high-ticket products—and thrived. And then there’s Amazon: In the wake of a crippling global recession in 2009, the company launched new Kindle models—and profits surged. And in the early months of the pandemic, Target ramped up its curbside and in-store pickup services and placed its stores at the center of its omnichannel strategy, resulting in Q4 2020 profit boost of 66 percent.
In all of these cases, change and uncertainty reveal which companies become the risk-takers and paradigm shifters, and which will crumple under the pressure of taking a chance to change.
Change makes most people anxious, whether it’s happening on the job or at home. Most perceive change as risky, but the true risk lies in doing nothing—as the world won’t wait. As the late Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, observed: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”
Robert Iger, executive chairman of The Walt Disney Company, takes a similar view of risk for companies that don’t heed the warning signs that it’s time to evolve, quickly: “If you look at our world today and how much disruption there is, how much change there is, if you play it safe, if somehow or another you try to protect the status quo, you don’t get anywhere.”
Technology as the Engine Behind Paradigm Shifts
Change solves problems that hold businesses back from growth. That’s true in every industry, but the point has really hit home in the past two years for businesses managing data access among hybrid and remote workers. Since 2020, we’ve all received a master class in optimizing technologies to keep business operational. And we’ve seen how frustrating it is when these technologies are simply operational instead of strategic.
When the products that connect us to each other and to our business data work the way they’re supposed to, productivity gains accelerate. This is something we talk about at Pure Storage: If you want data to work for your business, you need to be willing to change the technology that supports data agility. Stick with the status quo from a data storage standpoint, and you run the risk that slow data will slow your business in other, critical ways.
How to Make Paradigm Shifts Happen
“By the time we reach high-level positions, conformity has been so hammered into us that we perpetuate it in our enterprises,” says Francesca Gino, Harvard Business School professor and author of Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life. It’s the “rebel talent,” as Gino defines it, that fosters innovation and improves operations simply by being bold.
Standing still may feel like a safe option in turbulent times, but it’s a guaranteed way to help your competitors leapfrog you. History tells us that when companies dare to challenge conventional wisdom, resist the urge to hunker down and stand still, and shift paradigms, they often reap big rewards.
Advice for Change Agents Seeking to Shift Paradigms
If you’re on the verge of breaking away from the status quo, we have some advice for becoming a change agent:
- Pick your battles. Prioritize suggestions for change by choosing ideas that have the most impact. If you try to push through too much change at once, you’ll ratchet up the anxiety of people who fear the paradigm shift and feel safer keeping the status quo.
- Get buy-in. Change needs a team of believers. Driving change on your own is a pretty tough road. Lay out your case to a broader group to build support and allay fears.
- Streamline your pitch. People can only take in so many value propositions about your idea to shake up the status quo. “The answer needs to tap into what’s meaningful and important, providing an irresistible invitation to come along… If you can’t articulate a clear purpose behind the changes being made, it’s unlikely that your employees will be able to implement them,” writes Edith Onderick-Harvey in HBR.
- Beef up your tech stack so it’s ready for anything. If you’re taking a chance on change, and your idea catches fire, the business needs to be able to handle a sudden influx of customers and data. Strengthen systems so you don’t disappoint new customers.
- Share stories about change and why it works. “Nothing breeds success like success,” says Onderick-Harvey. “Tell the stories at company events and recognize middle and front-line leaders who are looking ahead and identifying opportunities. Show that the status quo is not enough anymore.”
If technology change is looming for your business and you want the rewards to outweigh the risks, consider how upgrading your tech foundation with simple data storage from Pure Storage can help you create your own paradigm shift.