Uber's Challenge: Don’t be afraid of change

by Stephan Vincent

C’est comme ça.

Early this year, Monday January 24’s violent attacks by striking cab drivers on Uber cars in Paris — with protesters shattering windows, smashing mirrors and slashing tires — were the perfect illustration of change resistance from an industry which has championed the status quo for decades.

Cab drivers said Uber and apps like it, which allow customers to hitch rides nearly instantly from their smartphones, created unfair competition and undermined the traditional cab-hailing business. It is the opposite: Uber is merely an enhancement of a taxi service, using mobile technology, paired with a lower pricing strategy, convenience, responsiveness, and customer care, not an unfair competition. If you have ridden in a Parisian cab (it could be applied to New York cabs as well), it is a nightmare (dirty, smelly cards, rude drives who rip you off driving all around the peripherique instead of going straight to your destination, and so on).

Instead of embracing the change that Uber brings as an opportunity to improve their operations model, pricing strategy, and (horrible) customer care, French cab drivers did it the French way: destroy, then discuss and negotiate to maintain the status quo, or higher fees. C’est comme ça (that’s the way it is), say the French.

Change happens. It doesn’t care whether you like it or not. Change doesn’t need your permission. Change is the one constant in business. What you decide to do with change is up to you.

Why don’t people like change?

Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, says that it’s not just that people fear change, though they undoubtedly do. It’s also that they genuinely believe (often on an unconscious level) that when you’ve been doing something a particular way for some time, it must be a good way to do things. And the longer you’ve been doing it that way, the better it is.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in a HBR blog, reveals the 10 most common reasons why people don’t like change, such as:
– Loss of control
– Excess uncertainty
– Dislike of surprises
– Doing something differently creates confusion
– Concerns about competence
– More work

Embrace change

We should not be afraid of change, we should embrace it. For individuals, change is the path to both personal and professional growth, the path to a happier life.

For businesses, change is the drive to more opportunities, to increase in market shares, to the development of new products…

Now, take the time to think… How would your company be different:
-if your staff were inspired about change, rather than paralyzed by it?
-if your leaders could raise performances to meet the oncoming changes, and innovate their way into the future?
-if you knew which trends were impacting your industry today and how to position your thinking favorably for the future?

In today’s competitive market place, you need to stay relevant to survive. The Council on Global Competitiveness’s March 2005 landmark report stated that “innovation will be the single most important factor in determining America’s success through the 21st century (…). The past 50 years we have optimized our organizations for efficiency and quality. But the next 50 years we must optimize ourselves for innovation.” Innovation is about changing the game.

In a complex and ever-changing economic environment, innovation is critical for companies to survive. Roland Moreno, the French inventor of the chip on your VISA or MASTERCARD promoted what he called “permanent chaos“: a permanent state of mind that employees must have to foster innovation.

Many people think innovation is primarily a R&D function. But innovation should be understood to include the entire value chain: from R&D to engineering, manufacturing, distribution, sales, marketing, and even facility utilization and investment strategy. Only a few innovations will be blockbusters. Some will result in incremental changes, but that doesn’t make them any less important.

One of Zappos’ core values is to embrace and drive change. “We are ever evolving. If we want to continue to stay ahead of our competition, we must continually change and keep them guessing. They can copy our images, our shipping, and the overall look of our web site, but they cannot copy our people, our culture, or our service. As long as embracing constant change is a part of our culture, they will not be able to evolve as fast as we can.”

Let be change part of your 2014 goals. The more you welcome change, the more opportunities will arise.

What are you doing to embrace change? How does your company master change?

Credit image: uber

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Stephan Vincent is the Indiana Editor for Innovation Excellence, covering innovation in the Hoosier state and beyond.  He is the Innovation & Brand Catalyst at Think Unique, an innovation & branding consulting agency in Indianapolis, IN. He is also Founder and President of s.p.IN and Collide Summit Indiana, a first-of-its- kind un-conference unlike anything else. Connect with Stephan and gain more of his insights on his own  blog.

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