Book Review: Driving Technical Change

Driving Technical Change:  Why People On Your Team Don’t Act On Good Ideas, And How To Convince Them They Should, by Terrence Ryan, edited by Jacquelyn Carter

As someone who has a personal and professional interest in managing technological change, and being involved in it a fair amount of time myself [1], I found this book to be an immensely practical and pragmatic one.  The intended audience for a book like this is a fairly large one, albeit not the kind that is to be expected to read many books relating to marketing or practical psychology, namely that of a technically proficient person who is wishing to solve some sort of organizational technological problem and who is running into intense resistance to technology change.  The discussion includes the need to be self-aware, and also the need to triage accurately what sort of people one is dealing with, and the nature of the objections that people have to change, so that they can be most effectively dealt with.  The goal is, after all, not merely the success of a particular change initiative but also the effective collaboration of one’s efforts with others and the maintenance of long-term ties that allow for long-term success in one’s professional life.  It should go without saying that the problems discussed here are not only problems with regards to technical change but are more widely applicable, and are not only applicable to businesses but to other institutions.

As a short book, under 150 pages including its index and supplementary material, this book does not have much of anything in the way of filler.  It is a book that is focused on practical aims and getting the most out of the attention span of its readers by getting straight to business and keeping on track.  The first part consists of a somewhat lengthy introduction (considering the size of the book) which looks at how this book is organized, and who the intended audience of the book is, defining the problem of resistance to the change we seek, and why change needs to be sold, and what is the right problem that needs to be solved in managing technology changed.  The second of the part provides patterns of skeptics that someone who is seeking change has to deal with:  the uninformed, the herd, the cynic, the burned, the time-crunched, the boss, and the irrational, what are the underlying causes of their skepticism, how they can be countered, and what is the likely prognosis of one’s success in dealing with them.  The third part of the book looks at the techniques one has for dealing successfully with skepticism, some of which depend only on ourselves and some of which depend on having a favorable situation that can be exploited for change:  gaining expertise, delivering your message, demonstrating your technique, proposing compromise, creating trust, getting publicity, focusing on synergy, building a bridge, and creating something compelling.  The fourth and final section of the book focuses on a grand strategy of technological change that is simple but not easy:  ignore the irrational, target the willing, harness the converted, and sway management in one’s favor, before the author gives some final thoughts and cautionary tales about how past successes can lead to future difficulties when success is siloed or when a solution is so popular that the reasons for its adoption are forgotten and it becomes a new problem in the future.

In reading a book like this, one must see not only an opportunity to manage the resistance that other people have towards change, but also to examine oneself as to one’s own resistance to change and where it lies.  Looking at myself, I would not see myself as a person who is irrationally opposed to change, but at times I have had moderately cynical tendencies, at times I have been burned or uninformed, and quite often I have been part of the herd or time-crunched, either generally in favor of a change but lacking the confidence or interest in pushing it, or being so overwhelmed with the matter of coping with normal tasks that I have lacked the time to give certain aspects of change a fair hearing.  No doubt my issues in this regard are not uncommon, and therefore I highly recommend this book not only as a way of how to handle the change efforts that one wishes to lead but also to examine oneself into how we as readers are often barriers to potentially beneficial changes in our own worlds.  For we are all creatures of habit, and this is certainly true of me and also certainly true of many other people as well.  Recognizing it and dealing with it is part of what makes one a force for good in the world and in one’s organizations and institutions, seeing as where we are is seldom if ever where we should be.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Book Review: Driving Technical Change

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