Sunday, April 25, 2004

Like a slinky, change slips into our lives


The Daily Grind

John Eckberg

If there is one thing all companies and most people have in common, says author Hans Finzel, it's this: Almost nobody and far too few companies appreciate and welcome change.

Finzel, who wrote Change is Like a Slinky (Northfield Publishing; $12.99) as well as the best-selling business book The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make (David C. Cook Publishing Co.; $11.99), says the problem for companies has to do with hierarchy.

It is never much trouble to convince managers that it's time to change a process or approach.

"Managers and leaders are the ones who see the need for change," he said. "The problem is convincing the troops to follow. There is usually tremendous resistance and debate."

POINTS ON CHANGE
Author Hans Finzel says there are five points about change that every company and executive should consider:
• Change or perish - can we afford not to change?
• Do I have the courage to build creatively for the future or will I continue to coast on the dying past?
• What do we have to gain and to lose if we make the radical business shift ?
• Why are people resisting my great ideas? How can I turn adversaries into allies?
• Who are my brightest young stars that we can build our business on?
And that's where the slinky comes into play.

Because in Finzel's worldview, organizational change is exactly like a slinky, a spiral and springy 63 feet of coiled, flattened wire that is one of the world's all-time favorite toys.

It was invented by accident in 1943 when 29-year-old naval engineer Richard James was testing antivibration springs to cushion Navy instruments and found that the springs, when dropped to the floor, looked like they were walking.

He thought: Wow, a new toy?

After the war, James and his wife found a machine shop that could manufacture the 98-coil spring, took the would-be toys to a Gimbels in Philadelphia and then waited with more than a little worry.

Within 90 minutes, all 400 in the first batch were sold.

Some 250 million Slinkies later, the toy has become a symbol for nimble companies, the new era of commerce and the importance of change.

For change to be effective, like a Slinky, it must first:

• Get out of the box; be launched and sometimes nudged when it stalls on a step.

• It rarely lands where you predict.

• A slinky, like change, is usually noisy, messy and chaotic.

"Once you start on change, you never know where it's going to end up," Finzel said.

Change is all about opportunity.

If a company is rigid, inflexible and resistant to new approaches, some executive within the chain of command is probably having a tough time getting a good night's sleep.

Change or perish should be the motto of our Slinky epoch, Finzel said.

For most companies, corporate culture is not much different than the ruts made by wagon wheels headed down the Oregon Trail more than a century ago.

People believed that if they strayed from the ruts, they would not make it. That's how most workers see change. It's a threat.

"Companies have to know that we are in a never-ending cycle of change," he said.

One more thing about change and Slinkies:

Bright new approaches or products do not usually come from a company's leadership ranks.

"The dudes in the corner offices are not going to be the ones to invent a great toy," Finzel said.

"The best ideas come from the shop floor."

E-mail jeckberg@enquirer.com




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