Change or Die is Dead Wrong

Dr. Morten Hansen recently stood in front of a room of over one thousand change management professionals and said “Change or die” is “dead wrong.”  I saw Dr. Hansen speak in Los Angeles at the 2012 Conference of the Association of Change Management Professionals. He was drawing from new research unveiled in his book, Great by Choice, which he co-authored with the well-known Jim Collins.

I suspect most of the audience initially regarded those as fighting words, but Dr. Hansen followed up his provocative statement with some solid explanations.

Highlights from Great by Choice

great by choice

  • Make controlled progress. Successful companies pursue opportunities they can manage, and they do not overstretch. They know how big a plate of food they can eat, and they turn down extra servings. This conserves valuable time and resources.
  • Innovators do not always win. The common wisdom is the most innovative companies are the most successful, and certainly there is a threshold amount of innovation required to stay in the game, and in some industries the threshold is very high. But innovation is wasted if you cannot deliver it and scale it to the demand. Moreover, it can be better to let other take the initial risk.
  • Avoid big bets. Going all in on poorly understood opportunities is a recipe for disaster. Successful companies test carefully and gather evidence before investing a lot of resources. Dr. Hansen described it as “fire bullets to calibrate the aim before launching the cannonball.”
  • Manage risk. Do not change for the sake of changing. Manage change within bounds and pay a lot of attention to what could go wrong because where there are sharp downside risks a little bit of upfront expense will insure the organization against big losses.


In summary, while it is still true successful companies must change to survive, merely changing for change’s sake is not enough. In Great by Choice, the authors point out that successful companies change well

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