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Managing organizational forgetting: Pablo Martin de Holan at TEDxEMLYON

Managing organizational forgetting: Pablo Martin de Holan at TEDxEMLYON


Translator: Sam Aslan
Reviewer: Elisabeth Buffard Well yeah, we do forget things.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which you have
to change a company, change an organization? Well, it doesn’t have to be big,
it can be a small organization. It can be a club. It can be
a group of friends. Have you seen how difficult
that is, how tough? Well, my job today,
in about 12 minutes or less, is to teach you how
to change an organization. Or rather, I’m going to tell you
why organizations do not change, and what you can do about that. I think it’s very fitting
for a business school to teach people why organizations don’t change. So, today I’m going to be talking about
managing organizational forgetting, and this is a topic that passionates me, it’s a topic I’ve been researching
on for the past 15 years, and has created very interesting insights
that can be useful, can be applied, and can make you
a better manager. A manager not just of large companies,
a manager of small things as well. Now, if you have tried
to change organizations, you probably know what I’m talking about. I have been discussing this
with people for many years, and they all say the same thing:
changing is hard, changing is difficult. It’s not easy to change. Changing,
in fact, is a little bit like fighting a pillow. You can exhaust yourself,
you can fight all you want, you can fight with left,
and you can fight with right, and at the end of the day, the pillow
stays the same and you’re exhausted. This is a happy pillow. He’s happy
because he has beaten you. The pillow did not change. This anecdote had come back from the
President Roosevelt in the US, it is very accurate. Changing organizations
is really tough. Now, most of the time we are thinking
about why organizations do not change, we think about people. We say, “organizations do not change,
because people don’t want to change.” Well, I wasn’t happy
with that explanation. I don’t think it’s a very good explanation
because it turns out that depending on the context,
we’re really willing to change. And if the context changes,
we don’t want to change. It turns out that all this insight came
to me thanks to my grandmother. My grandmother one day
invited me to see her, and as the good grandson I am,
I went to see her, and she looked tired. So I said,
“Grandma, grandma, what’s wrong with you? You look tired!”
“Oooohh,” she said. Yeah, this woman who had survived the war
and had like, lived for many years, she says, really complaining to me,
“Ooohh, I’m tired, because I had to stay awake until 3
in the morning to watch TV.” “I’m sorry?” “Well, there was a show I wanted to see, and it turns out it was
at 3 in the morning.” “Grandma, have you ever heard
about ‘taping’ the show? Like, there is some machine
that does that. In fact, you have the machine down there. Do you want me to teach you
how to use the machine, so you don’t have to stay awake
until 3 in the morning?” “Noooo. You know what?
I’m too old for this. I can’t do it.” I said, “Well, ok. Suit yourself.
Either you stay awake or you learn how to use the machine.” She would not use the machine.
She would not learn. Because she felt that she didn’t want to learn. “Ok. Fine, grandma.” Now, a few years later, the same grandma
– older, of course – calls me and says, “You know, little Pablo,
I have a question for you.” “Ok, what is it, grandma?” “Have you heard of the Internet?” “Yea, I think I do, yeah.” “Um, can you tell me what it is?” “Well, it’s many computers connected,
grandma.” “Oooohh. And is it true that you
can do things on the Internet?” “Yeah, grandma.
That’s the idea of client server.” “Oooohh. Is it true that you can talk
on the phone on the Internet?” “Yeah, well, it’s not really a phone,
grandma, but yeah, you can do that. — it was pre-Skype–
but you can talk on the phone.” “Oooohh. For free?”
[laughter] “Yeah, grandma. For free.” So, there you have my grandma,
who did not want to learn how to program a recording machine,
who had bought herself a computer, taught herself how to use
an operating system that looks like a thing
you open to get fresh air, and install the program,
and about 2 weeks later she was actually using the computer
to speak on the phone for free. The same woman. Now, this is not surprising. Most economic behavior is motivated
by immediate incentives. When you have the right incentives,
people do change. When you don’t, people don’t change. So, the question of why
organizations do not change is more linked to the type of things
that the organization is and what it does to people,
than to the people in the organization. People who are really flexible and
willing to change in their private life, they become stable and rigid
in the organization. And that is what I want
to discuss here with you today. Now, this topic has been published
by a bunch of people and has been essentially
listened to by managers, and they keep telling me
the same story. Doing something is not particularly
difficult in our organization. What is difficult, is to keep
doing over and over again. Doing something new, finding
a new idea, is not really tough. What is tough is to get the idea
to stick in the organization, especially when this idea
is new and radical. Well, I guess you haven’t seen it. My grandma was very proud,
so let me just do that. And what I want to do today with you guys
is very simple to explain to you why changing in organizations is tough. And we have found with
a colleague of mine, we have been doing this research
for a number of years, and we found that, in fact,
there are 4 factors, there are 4 things that explain why
change is so difficult in organizations and why – if you want
to bring something new – well, you have to do something to the old,
as I will argue in a second. The first thing we found
is that the organization in fact is a collection
of assets, things, objects. Now, we tend to believe
that we are rational human beings, we’re superior to things. Things are just things. I have a mind.
I am a human being. But it turns out that most of the time we are the objects of things,
we’re the slaves of things. I could ask you a simple question:
where do you buy your food? Well, where do you buy your bread? And you would say probably,
“Well, not far away from home.” And it makes sense. You’re not going
to go very far to buy your food. It turns out that you bought your apartment,
or you rented the apartment, or you went to a residence,
if you’re still in school and the residency decided where
you’re going to buy your food. You don’t go to the other side of the city. Well, assets work that way. Once we have things, it becomes very
difficult for us to get rid of the things. The things that
we have shape our behavior. There is a whole stream of thought that
calls about the meta-reality of things, how the things that we use
in fact shape our behavior, and by shaping it, prevent us
from doing different stuff. This is very, very interesting,
especially in organizations. Now, only in the mind of accountants
$1 million in cash is the same as $1 million in a machine. If you have the cash,
you can do a lot of things. Once you have the machine,
you can only do the things that the machine
lets you do, nothing else. You can of course sell the machine,
but it’s not the same story. To make things worse, assets
are never used randomly. In fact, they’re used following
a series of routines. Routines may look like
a little bit complicated, but in fact they’re the procedures,
the steps that we have to use those routines in a practical way. Now, you cannot use
the assets any way you want. You cannot get to the company
anytime you want. Most companies will tell you that
“from 10:00 we’re closed. We cannot work at 11:00.
We cannot work at 3:00 AM. We have to come to work at 9:00.” Well, those are the routines. They don’t
have really to do with the assets, they have to do with the use of the assets. Of course, that prevents change,
because the routines are what they are, and in some cases they’re very difficult. To make the thing even more complicated, organizations are not just
assets and routines. They’re connected to the structure. And structure – to make it very simple –
is a way to divide hierarchy, who is the boss of whom: she’s my boss,
and I’m the boss of this guy; and who does what: I’m in charge of
organizational forgetting, you’re in charge of marketing,
and she’s in charge of finance. Well, the structure obviously
implies a definition of power. Devise power in a certain way, and by doing so, prevents
organizations from changing. The last thing then
is something more fluffy. Important, but fluffy, and it has to do
with the culture of the organization. Culture in the sense of things
that we take for granted, understandings of the world. French people say that culture is
what remains when everything else leaves,
and that is true, to a certain extent. Culture is the way we understand
the things we do in the organization, who we are, why we are here,
why we are doing what we have to do. Now it makes sense now,
if an organization is this, anything new that doesn’t fit with this
is going to have a hard time. So what do successful managers do? Well, they do 2 things: The first thing they do is they understand
that the organizations are CARS. They have a CARS. They have culture,
they have assets, they have routines,
and they have a structure. And when they do so, when they
understand that, they ask themselves, “Is the novelty, the innovation
that is representing the change compatible with the CARS? Isn’t it?
Why isn’t it so? What is bothering the innovation?” In my experience, very personal and
very limited, but that’s the only one I have… whenever something new collides with
something old, the old tends to win. So, as a manager, as a person in charge
of change, you have to take into account not just the new, you have
to take into account the old, you have to take into account the CARS. That way, you can actually increase
the chances that your CARS, that your change efforts are going
to have an impact in the organization. But that doesn’t happen. Most managers are so excited,
so passionate about the new. We like the new so much, and
sometimes we despise the old, that we are unable to understand
that the old still has roots. And the roots are very deep. Much deeper, much deeper,
ladies and gentlemen, than the new. So you have to act on that. You have to take your energy,
all the energy you have, and work not just on thinking about what you want
to impose to the organization, how the new organization has to be,
you have to work on forgetting. And forgetting, of course, is a metaphor. Now you understand by now that
managing organizational forgetting is dealing with the metaphor. Organizations don’t forget,
because they don’t think. But managers do think,
and what they need to do is think very carefully
about these 4 dimensions to be able to break them down, to prepare
them for the arrival of the new. That way you can succeed and change. So if you have to summarize
what I said, if I have to make it short and you can leave this video,
you can leave this room with something in your mind,
I will say to you that do not forget, that if you want
change, if you want successful change if you want to be an agent of change
in your club, in the organization, in a multinational firm, even
in the world, in a social business do not forget that everything you do
is being done on the CARS, and that CARS will limit
your capacity to change, unless you understand what it is,
and you beat it first. So, let’s summarize everything
with a sentence: When the old and the new collide, the old wins, unless you do
something for the new to win. Be that agent of change,
understand what’s blocking the new, and make it happen. Thank you so much. (Applause)

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