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Tackling the Obvious
June 4, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

Walk your fingers on over to www.hbr.org and get yourself a copy of the June 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Then click over to Amazon and acquire “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath. I’d prefer that you read the rest of this blog entry first, but if you have to go now I’ll wait patiently for you to return.

I spent some time traveling over the past week, which gives me the chance to catch up on my reading. I like to scan several issues of HBR and flag articles that resonate with me and may bring value to clients. The June issue is a gold mine. C.K. Prahalad’s article “Why Is It So Hard to Tackle the Obvious?” is one of many that got my attention.
In one brief page Prahalad cuts to the heart of why companies fail to successfully make change; business ideologies (think corporate culture) create orthodoxies that color perception and lead to inertia. Sacred cows aren’t challenged. Emerging competitors can change faster than established incumbents. Even when established incumbents tackle the obvious, they often don’t get enough traction to pull off major change. 
Prahalad offers two insights that warranted highlighting while the passenger in seat 16C dropped her seatback on to my knees at 30,000 feet. First, when tackling a major change initiative “the forgetting curve is sometimes more important than the learning curve.” We often give lip service to the need for a stop-doing list, but it never gets much attention. Second, he advises companies to change IT systems because they usually represent old business models. As you have probably experienced for yourself, IT system conversions do, indeed, force companies to think differently about processes and information.
In “Switch” Chip and Dan Heath do a brilliant job of helping us understand the forces in our heads and our hearts that derail our attempts to change. They offer a clever and memorable way of thinking about change and provide a clear model for “making a switch.” More on “Switch” later, but for now I’ll leave you with this; this is the first business book that has made me reach for the highlighter since Good to Great.
OK, you have your summer reading assignment now. Class will reconvene in a few weeks.

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