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Change Or Evolve?

Evolutionary change is incremental and takes place gradually, over time

Photo by Gratisography from Pexels

Change is everywhere. Whether you’re talking about your job, your relationship/friendships, your health, or even the current economic situation and how it has affected you, adjustment and fine tuning is inevitable. Change is more apparent now with the big ‘C’ wreaking havoc on people, places, corporations, and everything in between. But let’s not get into that.

The topic of change came about (again) when I was thinking of a blog post for the week. Fresh from being tagged by Tyler Chin on LinkedIn, I remembered the discussion Craig and I had with Michelle Nunis about change (which has been Orchan’s proposition since Day-1, hence the portmanteau) when we were working on our 2020 business plans (pre-C, of course). During the course of the conversation, we talked about what change meant for each of us, and whether change as a verb, works best across-the-board; or if evolve is a better fit, given the immediacy that the word change conjures.

We debated on it before getting sidetracked. I didn’t think about it since then, until I found myself being dragged into a conversation between my friends and their teenage son a couple of days ago (yes, we practised social distancing over drinks). He was arguing with his parents that we can change people, and that they’d changed him. They begged to differ. They explained that over the course of his life, they had illuminated issues, given perspectives and made suggestions. It was he who decided what to adopt, what not to adopt, and how to apply it to his life. They then went on to add that changing people is the wrong approach because: #1 people don’t need to change; and #2 they can’t! But what they can do is evolve into a better version of themselves.

Now, that really brought it home for me. At the back of my mind, I’ve always known that, but when presented in that manner, it got me thinking. We all have traits that make us unique: the ability to be bold or innovative, detail-oriented, visionaries, etc. These qualities make us successful in the world. However, we also have emotional struggles that sabotage our ability to perform. So let’s assume that we manage to overcome these struggles: did we change or did we simply just evolve?

To do that, I actually had to research the difference between changing and evolving (big thanks to Cambridge Dictionary &  Merriam-Webster!). To change simply implies becoming a different person or changing a significant characteristic. For example, this could entail trying to change someone from being introverted to extroverted. An introverted person prefers to work alone and recharges by doing activities independently. They thrive from solitary time. To change them into an extrovert by forcing them to work with people, would make them unhappy, and push them to work against their natural strengths. They might be able to sustain the change for a short period of time, but eventually would go back to their natural style.

Contrast that with the concept of evolving. To evolve means that you are making adjustments that work better for you to improve your results. In the example of the introvert, they may find their introverted nature is hindering their success at work because they are having a hard time working on/with a team, speaking up at meetings and/or struggling in social settings. They need to evolve into someone who can fake extroversion when necessary (cue: ambivert?).

An introvert faking extroversion when needed, pushes themselves to become a better version of themselves. They will still thrive on classic introverted activities, but will be able to adjust to extroversion in order to drive better results. This slight adjustment (evolution) allows for growth without compromising their natural preferences.

Now comes the real zinger. Does this “humanistic” approach to change or evolution work in the context of an organisation? Within the context of an organisation, the challenge is learning to handle change effectively i.e. to manage change with evolution as an end goal. From this perspective, there are basically two ways to understand change: Evolutionary or incremental change and Revolutionary or transformational change. Understanding the differences and learning how to make the most of these opportunities can be a challenge, but one that ensures the organisation not only survives, but also thrives.

Evolutionary change is incremental and takes place gradually, over time. Slow, gradual change often takes place to ensure the survival of the organisation. It’s incremental in that it happens step by step, little by little. Organisations undergoing evolutionary change may have been prompted by outside pressure, as in keeping up with technology or addressing the needs of stakeholders more effectively. In some cases, evolutionary change may be spurred by competition.

By contrast, revolutionary or transformational change is profound. From an organisational perspective, revolutionary change reshapes and realigns strategic goals and often leads to radical breakthroughs in beliefs or behaviours. When an organisation decides to engage in revolutionary change, radical transformations to products or services often follow. In efforts to stay ahead of the curve and reach evolution, outstanding organisations often pursue revolutionary change.

The challenge in today’s organisation is not in learning how to accept change, but in how to orchestrate – the most efficient – change (sorry, shameless plug!) leading to organisational evolution. Staying in touch with core values, maintaining a culture of innovation and learning to make the most of resources during change is the key to success.

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Farrell Tan
Written By

A thinker equipped with the foresight of an inspired builder, Farrell has spearheaded campaigns for PUMA, MEPS, Staedtler, Mayland Properties, Martell, Timberland, and Forever 21 amongst others alongside his specialist agency Orchan Consulting I Asia Sdn Bhd. He is the winner of multiple awards including “Best Overall Performer” at Bates Asia/141 Worldwide in 2003 and Prestige Magazine’s “Top 40 Under 40” award in 2011. You can follow him on Facebook and website.

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