When you’re in the enterprise software business, you look at the way business works through a certain prism. That prism reduces interactions into transactions, simplifies discussions into data, and describes processes in its programming.
Enterprise software creates a digital metaphor for real-world activities. By simplifying business interactions to a basic level, it allows them to be transacted, analyzed and evaluated faster. That speed allows areas for improvement to be identified rapidly and permits flexible organizations to make changes to become constantly better.
Speed is great. It’s a major competitive advantage. But is your organization culturally and organizationally prepared to handle speed – or, more specifically, the actionable insights that automation and analysis can provide in a timely way?
In many cases, the new speed of insight and the resulting need for agility runs smack-dab into elements of the business – cultural, organizational or operational – that push back against it. It’s a very human phenomena: even as the early adopters in the organization clamor for the next wave of technology, the reality of most organizations is that they move far slower than the speed of ideas. Even if there's one person on staff who completely grasps the implications and possibilities of a revolutionary way of changing the business through technology, a lot of evangelizing to employees and management will be necessary in order for those ideas to manifest themselves in ways that change the business, unless that person has a C in front of his or her title.
There's a disconnect, then, between the speed of revolutionary thinking and the speed of understanding, internalizing and reorganizing around that thinking at the organizational level. The mismatched velocities of the thinkers and the people who need to turn that thinking into action within organizations is leading to a “slow revolution” – a painful period in which the possibilities are clearly evident, but in which we are prevented from achieving them by issues not of technology or vision, but of organizational entropy.
There are two ways, in theory, to bridge the divide between the thinking and the doing: slowing down the thinkers and speeding up the organization's ability to change. The former is something few want to do; discouraging innovation and stifling the imagination of your employees is not a pathway to prosperity over the long haul.
The other way is to speed up the organization's ability to change. This is a management mantra, and yet it remains exceptionally hard to do. Humans working in teams are simply not that great at rewriting the rules on the fly; getting a set of processes in place is stressful, and executing those processes is no less so. Thus, the idea of defaulting to a condition of constant stress is not appealing.
Can managers, especially in large organizations, change that attitude and create environments that make it easier to adapt to the new? New customer behaviors and desires, new technologies, new internal processes? That seems almost mandatory in the zero-to-25-million-user world we already live in.
Humans have limits that technology does not -- we'll always be somewhat behind the eight ball in that way. But the winners of the slow revolution will be the ones who realize that the most important variable in the equation is the rate at which their customers change. Only when you understand what that change is and how rapidly it is progressing can you adjust your internal changes appropriately.