Change vs. Development LO54

Stever Robbins (
Thu, 9 Feb 1995 23:46:19 EST5EDT

C. B. Willis wrote:
> I like the term "development" rather than "change". Change
> we're not OK, and seems to many to invalidate all of the hard work
> good intentions that brought us to the present point. Development
> "OK, here we are in the present set of circumstances, what are the
> steps to be even better, to get even better results?"

If we're talking purely about the words we use to communicate
something, "development" does honor past intentions and work. As a
matter of establishing a corporate culture, I would offer an
additional perspective:

By softening our language to "honor" the past, past decisions,
etc., we run the risk of allowing ourselves to believe that _all_
those intentions and decisions were good. In fact, a lot
of them probably *were* dysfunctional, short-sighted, and wrong.

Especially when it comes to learning, it's important to recognize
when your decisions/intentions are wrong, so you know you have more
learning to do.

Would you rather fly with a pilot who has good intentions and has
done a lot of hard work to learn to fly, or fly with one who has
passed a certain high competence test? When it comes to helping
someone move further than they've done in the past, I like
"development." When it comes to evaluating whether our movement
is in the right direction, we need to be able to say
"No, my last set of decisions was plain WRONG."

This verbal whitewashing seems quite prevalent in business, where
unethical behavior and incompetence are often cloaked in sugary
language that lets us quietly avoid grappling with hard issues.

No, Virginia, we're not "downsizing." We're laying people off.

No, Virginia, we're not "maximizing shareholder value via
restructuring." We're making the CEO and board of directors $47MM
richer at the expense of 10,000 employees' jobs and future
astronomical LBO debt payments. [based on the Safeway LBO]

No, Virginia, our VP didn't make an "strategic misstatement;" he
outright lied to our vendors.

[At an IPO I was recently involved in, the I-bankers kept insisting
they were just trying to get people to be "team players," while
giving certain shareholders advice which they knew would fatten the
I-bankers' pockets while leaving the shareholders several hundred
thousand dollars poorer. It wasn't really about "team playing."
It was about greed, pure and simple. ]

I would rather create a culture in which we can say "I was wrong,"
realize it's just another part of learning, and move on.

Maybe on the way to that culture, we go through a "develop" stage.
But as you point out, change ISN'T the same thing. And sometimes, we
may need a total break from past policies. "Developing" from past
policies may not be enough, unless we're truly just using "develop"
as a euphamism for "change."

[Caveat: at my last job, my boss informed me that in 15 years of
managing, I was the only employee he had ever had who was brutally
honest about what was wrong with my project, what mistakes I'd made,
and how I'd recovered, etc. So while I feel strongly about the
issue, this may be more a personality quirk of mine than anything
that's translatable to the 'real world.']

Summary: "develop" is a nice stepping stone, but I want my ultimate
culture to be one in which change, being wrong, and making mistakes
are thought of as daily, acceptable occurrances in how we live and

- Stever
Stever Robbins
Accept no substitutes!
"You're only young once, but you can be immature forever."