The only constant is change. -- Heraclitus
Last weekend we attended Joomla!Day 2012 in Germany. To us it was remarkable to see how little the event has changed in comparison to the 2011 edition (report). What we noticed in particular was that the event was organized by the same enthusiastic crew, the food that we got served was also good and of course there was a lot of apple juice as well. Unfortunately some of the points in need of improvement had not changed either. These points include the presence of very little guidance for the speakers, a room schedule that was unknown (and changing) constantly, and the fact that the event still did not feature an official social event for the visitors.
This year’s conference was once again set in a big German city. While last year we had the joys of exploring Hamburg, this time Berlin was the city where our adventures took place. Just like in Hamburg, we once again found ourselves lost, unable to decide what metro ticket to purchase and looking at totally ridiculous pictograms of elevators.
During the conference and social events many interesting discussions were held. There was the heated discussion at the restaurant, the walks in the pouring rain and the discussions we held with the Janssens brothers at the Berlin Zoo. Besides enabling me to eat some great cheeseburgers and see some awesome mountain goats, they also inspired me to write a blog about a returning subject in these conversations: change.
As once mentioned by the wise Heraclitus: the only constant is change. In our modern world, this is more true than ever. New devices are being released every day, standards change faster than they can be formalized, and so on. But is change always good?
The alternative to change is to be static. Considering that the world around us is changing so fast, not changing is not a choice that will likely improve your chances at survival as an organization or person. Making changes based on valid assumptions will likely lead to the following outcomes:
If you are being static, or in other words, if you are resisting change, this means you will only be prepared for a tiny subset of possible events in the future. Your current position (or mindset, architecture, technology, methods, and so forth) may be optimal for the current conditions, but what if these conditions change? If on the other hand, you remain flexible - and open to change - you are able to face, and deal with, a range of changing conditions.
Imagine a tennis player for instance. A tennis player is moving around on the baseline waiting for his opponent to serve. If the player was to remain static it would not only make it easier for his opponent to serve the ball far away from him, but also limit the reach of services he might be able to return. By staying in constant motion, the receiving player is increasing his chances to return the service, even when it might be played at an unexpected speed or location.
Over the years Joomla has changed from a relatively small project to a CMS that is used on millions of websites. This development has led to interesting questions:
And more importantly, are structures in place to change if any of the above questions was answered negatively? Is there enough willpower, resources, time and mandate available to ignite such changes? Because if there aren’t, would this lead to the world changing around Joomla, therefore making it irrelevant?
In order to be able to deal with an environment that is in constant flux, you should first build a solid base. Again using the metaphor of the tennis player, how can you ever be able to return an unpredictable array of services if you don’t even know how to properly return a soft and easy service? With regards to Joomla a solid base might consist of items like:
Continuous change is a type of change that is evolving and incremental (unlike episodic change which is discontinuous and intermittent). On one hand there is episodic change which is characterized by bursts of highly goal-directed changes, aimed at short term improvements. Continuous change on the other hand is characterized by a pattern of endless modifications and social practices aimed at preventing problems from emerging. If you can make sure your organization is in a state of continuous change, that will create a great platform to start dealing with the dynamic world and shifting requirements around us.
Is the Joomla project doing everything in its power to remain agile and make small incremental changes, or has it turned into a metaphorical oil tanker, that takes a vast amount of time and power to make just a subtle change in its direction?
Another metaphor related to this subject that I heard last weekend was that Joomla could be said to be in a ‘check’ position. In the game of chess, a check position is one where the King (the most important piece of the game) is under attack by one or more of the opponent’s pieces.
To my knowledge, people in several leadership teams are still having their positions protected by rules stating that they can’t be made to leave their positions unless they want to quit themselves. With all our pieces (members of those teams) solid in place and our King being threatened by a changing outside world, this leaves us with very little flexibility. Every move in this static field would likely just result in another ‘check’ by the opponent.
In order to turn this game around, radical change might be needed. Often it requires a so called fire-starter for this type of change to emerge. While in the game of chess a swapping of queens might be appropriate, the real world requires different solutions.
Often several (organizational) barriers are blocking change from happening. In order to become ready for an unpredictable and dynamic future, an organization (such as the Joomla project) might therefore consider removing barriers like:
Any part of organizational structure will almost automatically create inertia, i.e. the resistance to change. By removing or changing such organizational structures (like the trademark process used by Joomla), change will become easier and therefore happen faster.
The world is too unstable these days for an organization to allow itself to become comfortable in a static position. By making sure change (with positive results) is incentivised in the organization (rather than a predictable future based on the current environment), people are more likely to step up - and follow through - with new ideas.
If a person is thought of by a (democratic and relevant) majority to be unfit for the position he or she is in, that person should leave his or her position. While maintaining a status quo, the organization will slowly become more and more entrenched and resistant to change. To prevent this from happening, the Joomla project should adopt (or enforce) rules that enable every person in a leadership working group to be replaced, once he or she is found to be incapable in his position. Speaking of changes to the leadership structure, what has happened to the one proposed several months ago?
If core beliefs (such as a vision and mission) are held in a constant flux and are continuously tested against the current environment, old and irrelevant beliefs can be prevented from holding the organization back.
By removing these barriers (and setting the right boundaries in place), change will happen organically. Change? Yes we can!