The Invaluable Difference Between Change and Transformation

Daniel Burrus
June 30, 2021

Daniel Burrus

One of the World's Leading Technology Forecasters and Business Strategists
Future of Work Change Personal Growth

The Invaluable Difference Between Change and Transformation

We are in an interesting time in history, when transformative digital disruptions have their foot on the gas and are accelerating at exponential rates. Every industry is facing disruption in a multitude of ways, and it is now up to business leaders and their organizations to implement my Anticipatory Organization Model and understand and identify the future certainties of Hard Trends and how to leverage them to become the disruptor before someone else does. Part of that process has largely to do with understanding the difference between transformation and change, both from a disruption standpoint and from the angle at which an organization disrupts from. Once an organization understands the difference between these two concepts, it has an advantage over those that focus solely on one.

What Does the Term 'Change' Mean?

Change is a common term. From an Anticipatory mindset, change means continuing to do something in essentially the same fashion, with only some minor variation.

For example, as vehicle manufacturers have done over the past decade, working in new ways where you can remotely start your vehicle, shut it off if you are not ready to leave yet, or even have the car essentially go into "standby mode" at a stoplight to save on carbon emissions is a change they have made.

Change can also go beyond a product or service itself and have more to do with the workforce of the organization in the industry. Increasing the marketing budget to create awareness around the fuel savings in those vehicles is an example or hiring more staff to help perfect that feature is also creating change.

In effect, change is different, but somehow the same. It's not identical, but it's still something of a variation on an existing theme. Likewise, change is momentary. Adding a feature in cars that run on fossil fuels will not only quickly be replicated by other manufacturers, but it is also short-lived, as fuel-saving features can only save so much fuel, while the amount of driving one does or the cost of fuel will constantly evolve.

How Is Transformation Different?

Transformation exists on an entirely different level and, as previously mentioned, is happening through disruptive technological advancements in all industries.

Transformation means doing something utterly and radically different. When you transform something, you make whatever came before it outdated, if not completely irrelevant. Let's revisit the example of a car that shuts off momentarily at stoplights to save fuel. Entirely new types of vehicles, such as hybrid ones that toggle between both battery and fuel, or, in the case of Tesla and now Ford Motor Company, full electric cars, make that simple little change in already-existing gas cars obsolete.

Do they make fully gas-powered vehicles obsolete? No! We live in a Both/And world; there is a place for fuel currently and a place for hybrid and electric. But do they make that little fuel-saving feature on fully gas-powered vehicles obsolete? Yes!

Transformation is a disruptive Hard Trend; once it is in motion, we are not going to forget it ever existed and go backwards; we will only go into the Both/And world that I also discuss in my Anticipatory Organization Model. Change is a Soft Trend we can influence; once it is created, it can always be improved upon.

To keep to the automotive theme, consider the same principle of fuel savings in something high intensity like Formula 1 racing. Racers pit for less than three seconds; there is absolutely no reason the car should shut off for three seconds like gas vehicles at a stoplight.

In the way of hybrid vehicle concepts, where the vehicle is powered by fuel and battery, could that transform the way Formula 1 races go and cut down on having to take a pit stop as frequently as they currently do? Certainly. How about Formula E, a fast-growing league of fully electric race cars? Is that transforming the racing industry, especially as many auto racing leagues face just as much environmental scrutiny as automotive manufacturers? Most definitely!

Turning Change into Transformation

There is cost involved in developing a product or service that temporarily changes your industry and additional cost and employee time that goes into marketing it. Because of this, it is evident that change comes with an element of unnecessary risk. In my Anticipatory Organization Model, I teach about how strategy based on a future certainty is low risk, while strategy based on a future possibility is high risk.

It is decidedly better to go with the low-risk option, wouldn't you say? And in doing so, you focus your attention on the future certainty of Hard Trends shaping the world in and outside of your industry to start, instead of trying to just drum up a small little incremental change to a product or service without any concrete, low-risk certainty.

What my Hard Trend Methodology does is take change and turn it into transformation that will allow you to be the disruptor and not the disrupted.

Start by taking a close look at your organization's products, services and other activities. If they're not the same as they used to be, consider the degree to which they're different. Look more closely and see if those are just a slight adaptation to something that already exists or something that would turn the industry on its head, and how.

Even better, rather than looking to change something, why not aim for transformation right away using those Hard Trends? Remember, change is momentary; transformation is forever. When you leverage disruption of any kind to your advantage and become a positive disruptor, you set the standard like the leader in an auto race. There's nothing ahead of you but opportunity.

Daniel Burrus

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