Oh, how I long for the days when all we had to worry about was change. We didn’t know or worry about what it was we were changing into. We just knew it was going to be new and different, and hence better than what we currently were. Somewhere along the way, the way we changed, changed on us. Soon we had a changing rate of change in the way we changed. Eventually it was all just considered small change.
Now a days, no one changes. Change is so last century. Change is so passé. Change has changed, yet again. Today, changing is no longer good enough.
Instead of changing, you must now transform.
I think this is now the appropriate time to understand the vast difference in the definitions of these business terms. To the dictionary:
1. make or become different.
“a proposal to change the law”
2. take or use another instead of.
“she decided to change her name”
1. the act or instance of making or becoming different.
“the change from a nomadic to an agricultural society”
2. coins as opposed to paper currency.
“a handful of loose change”
In case you were wondering, I think I was able to use every one of those change definitions in some way, in the first paragraph. On the other hand:
1. make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.
“lasers have transformed cardiac surgery”
1. the product of a transformation.
a rule for making a transformation.
(In case any of you are wondering about this mathematic definition for transform, in physics, the Lorentz transforms are coordinate transformations between two coordinate frames that move at constant velocity relative to each other. This is the kind of stuff you learn in any basic mechanics class in physics.)
There you have it.
A change is just a change, but a transformation is a thorough and dramatic change.
I’m glad I was able to clear that up. I like to leave my readers enriched for having read my posts, and this little nugget alone is probably worth the time spent reading, at least up to this point.
Below are a pair of Google based graphs of the use of the words “Change” and “Transform” over time. (I didn’t realize that Google had a function like this, but I think it is pretty neat, and will probably use it again in the future.) As you can see, the use and popularity of “Transform” has grown rapidly in recent times. I attribute this (although I have no way to directly measure it, but based on the nominal usage that of “transform” that I hear, I would believe it to be true) to the vast increase in the use of the word “Transform” in all written documents, articles, presentations, etc., etc., etc. associated with business in the last few years.
And as you can also see “Change” has been a generally more widely used term (with some recent growth – probably due to the number of people looking up and defining the difference between “Change” and “Transform”) until recently, where “Transform” appears to now be the more preferred descriptor (at least when it comes to business).
One thing that can said about business: When it finds a new term that it likes, it will definitely over-use it.
Despite the similarity of the definitions, I do think that there may be some subtle differences in the connotations that each word evokes. Change, at least to me, speaks of moving from what you are, into some as yet undefined state. As I noted earlier, you may not know exactly what the change will entail, or what the end state of the change is, but you do know it will be different.
Transformation, again at least to me, speaks of moving to a little more defined end state. There is a target and a method to the change, or at least there should be. It implies that the target result of the thorough change is known and the while the required steps to get there may not be fully defined, at least the end state is.
Or at least it should be. The key is always going to be trying to convince those that you want to transform that you really do have an idea of what you want them to transform into, as well as plans for the steps to get there.
Knowing what you want to transform to, but not knowing how to get there, would seem to be only slightly better, if at all, than knowing and expecting to change, but not knowing what it is you will become.
Wow, I think I may have just propellered off into existentialism on that last discussion of change and transformation.
However, this discussion could help answer the question: When do you Transform, and when do you merely Change? I think the answer lies closer to the idea that you transform when you have an idea about what you want to become. You transform from an analog to a digital company. You transform to a cloud based solution.
It just doesn’t have the same ring, or gravitas to say you are changing to a digital company, or you are changing to a cloud based solution.
You change in response to a stimulus acting on a business. You transform in anticipation of the stimulus acting on the business.
I went and searched on the keys to changing. Aside from a lot of musical notation associated with when to use the tonic and how to change keys, most of the statements associated with change centered on two words: Courage and Fear. The courage to change and the conquering of the fear of change.
Perhaps that is the reason for the current popularity associated with Transform instead of change. People seem to need Courage to change, while I don’t nearly so associate Transformation as a courage requiring activity. People need to conquer their fear of change as a prerequisite to a successful change. Again, it would seem that the connotation of transformation does not invoke nearly as much fear in the participants.
It would seem that Transform is now the public relations equivalent of Change. More of a kinder, gentler version of change. It has all of the good aspects of change and not nearly so much of the bad. It would seem that changing (or transforming, if you prefer) “Change” to “Transform” is much along the same lines as when the United States Federal government changed (or transformed) the Department of War into the Department of Defense in 1949.
It functions much the same, but it just sounds better.
Again, perhaps because transformation implies a more directed process and end result, where change appears to be a little more undefined and open ended. And few in business like to be the one that is the first to venture into an as yet open ended and undefined future.