Change or Perish

Change happens. The primary question is,
will it be gradual or radical? That’s the dilemma facing many old-line
corporations and mass membership organizations today. How they answer the
question will determine if they are around in the new century or if they will
become faint memories of past glory.

Radical change or gradual change. Which will save dying institutions or troubled corporations? That’s the question confronting organizations today from General Motors to The United Methodist Church. Some are struggling to find a way to re-fashion themselves and some don’t even recognize their dire situation yet.

Some are flailing, some re-strategizing and some dying oblivious to the incipient disease.

The publishing house of The United Methodist Church of Germany closed down in the past year and it went virtually unnoticed in the United States. This house was not an insubstantial expression of the church in Germany. And it is no more.

How could this happen in a globally connected church in a globally integrating world? That’s more than an idle question because the dynamics that led to the demise of this publishing institution in Western Europe are quite likely to express themselves in the United States and other parts of the developing world, if they are not already in motion.

Each generation is formed by social realities, technologies and historical events that provide a context that shapes how we perceive and experience the world. Of course individual perspective is deep and unique. This is local context. But the broad strokes–the global strokes–that affect change bring similar pressures wherever they are experienced.

Even allowing for localization, the changes brought by new media are creating similar behaviors and fostering new behaviors. Recently in Kampala I watched an Indian television program on which a Sikh entertainer gestured and postured as he rapped a song targetted to a youthful Indian audience.

The fusion of cultural influences was almost too much for me to comprehend. An entertainer shaped by Sikh religious values and Indian culture (which is multidimensional), appropriating a form of musical expression and social commentary from African-American youth culture in the U.S., delivering his message on a global cable television program being delivered across Asia and Africa. Whew. Take a breath. How do you put that in perspective?

The changes that are underway are more basic and fundamental than cosmetic. Some are subtle but, I think, quite radical. Radical enough to result in the demise of industries, such as the Methodist Publishing House of Germany.

Mass membership organizations and major corporations (see this post on Zuboff and Maxmin for a discussion of their view of this reality) formed in the past century operate under business models and corporate values that may not fit the new age. Management styles, business plans and products must be radically altered if they are to survive in the new environment. So it’s no wonder some companies and non-profit organizations are flailing trying to find their way in this new world. If they don’t, they can see the future clearly enough. Last one out turn off the lights and shut the door.

I’m going to post a few entries on this in the next few days between travel, work and a few other activities.

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