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Four forces of change…why it matters so damn much

Change is everywhere. It’s constant, and it’s subtle all at the same time. But what the signs don’t tell us is that when the world changes, the rules change. You can get stuck with currency nobody wants. Rules both define and constrain your business in significant ways. Since nobody’s handing out new rulebooks, understanding exactly what is changing, and how it’s affecting your business, is key to profiting from these new opportunities. Be smarter about dealing with change. Get a gloved grip around it and know exactly what’s coming down. Let’s examine the important trends that are completely, and forever, redefining the way you compete in the market. View these forces as enemies, or embrace them as an opportunity to increase competitive advantage. But get familiar because they are slowly eroding your business—whether you’re aware or not.

[ In this post, discover the premise for each of these forces of change. I will ply deeper into each one of these phenomena, separately, in the weeks ahead. ]

The Four Forces of Change*

#1. Increasing compression of time and space.

While it is not possible to truly compress time or space, it feels like it is and, as they say, perception is reality. The automotive industry offers a good example of time compressed. Consider that the average progression from concept to product in the U.S. automobile industry is down from between five and seven years (at the turn of the century) to around two years or less today. The compression is the result of many factors including increased affluence, increased demand and competition for share of market.

The dimension of space feels compressed because the world keeps getting smaller (or flatter). People no longer view geographical distance as a barrier to the way they do business. With a computer and the help of a courier like DHL or UPS you can now have an international business in your spare bedroom.

Obviously the change that is required of your coatings business is to position it to compete “in real time and on demand” —in reality or perception, it might not matter.

#2. Increasing complexity

Increasing compression of time and space produces complexity—you know it well. Here’s a short list of things that drive complexity:

  • Rapidly interconnecting networks of ideas and people—from interstate highways, airline routes, containerized shipping to (again) the Internet
  • Disruptive technology—innovations always come with unintended consequences that challenge our ability to accept and adapt
  • Explosion of Choice—the world is becoming a mass of niches that all look the same
  • Rise of intangibles—business must shift from satisfying need to quenching customer expectation and desire, no matter how mundane the product
  • Increased sophistication—buyers get smarter; process, technology and systems get more convoluted
  • Legislation—more and more regulation, restriction or tax

What will change that? Awareness, maintenance, confusion management. Complexities are kinks in your work style. Think of a long extension cord, you can either yank it in or wad it up or you can carefully coil it up now for the next time you’ll need it in a hurry. You have to do the same with information.

#3. Increasing transparency and accountability

The flip side of the increasing volume and complexity of information flow is greater transparency and accountability. Information technology puts the power to obtain and share data in the hands of the individual. Therefore, the constant upswell in information, misinformation, complexity and confusion offers few favors to aid in your ability to hide mistakes, misdeeds or even protect proprietary knowledge.

What’s there to change? Accountability is being forced onto your business like never before. Accept it and embrace it.

#4. Rising expectations

Human expectations rise as a result of the other 3 forces at work. Those changes raise expectations for faster, better and cheaper products and services; for more options and for greater transparency and flexibility in response to customer need and desire.

What has to change? The way you treated your staff and customers yesterday will not be good enough for tomorrow. You must keep improving it and doing it a whole lot faster while you’re at it.


There are new rules for the way business gets done. Ignoring these natural forces (and hanging on to the status quo) could lead to danger faster than it may have done 10- to 15 years ago. The new world calls for new ways of thinking and doing business.

* My inspiration is yours. The central idea in “The Four Forces of Change,” as well as some explicit excerpts used in this post, are derived from a book titled “FLIP— How to Turn Everything You Know on Its Head—and Succeed Beyond Your Wildest Imaginings” by Peter Sheahan. It’s the kind of book you take with you while on vacation to read by the pool or read again as I did. I highly recommend it.

As always, I welcome your comments, questions or more discussion.

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