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Letters to a Young Manager

The Benefits of Pain, #71
LTYM > Leadership and Values

Dear Sophie,
I agree that change is hard. Yet change is constant in today’s business world, especially when it comes to technology. One could argue the change is the new normal. I learned that from Moore’s Law [1]. While the density of computer chips may be slowing, it is a phenomenon we see in new technologies, like 3D printing and mobile networks.

I remember when a new CEO, Stephen Elop, took the helm at Nokia. Nokia had been the leader in mobile telephones, but the Apple iPhone and Google Android blew past them and quickly dominated the market. Elop recognized that radical change was needed. He wrote a (now famous) memo to staff drawing an analogy to a burning oil rig platform in the North Sea. The workers were faced with jumping into the frigid sea or getting burned alive; they had to choose, and they jumped. Status quo was not an option.

The urgency of a burning platform became the metaphor for do-or-die change. What this made me realize was that change happens when the pain of the status quo becomes greater than the pain of change. It also helps if the change has a sense of rescue and survival. People have a strong survival instinct and will act to reach safety. So if you dial up the pain of a burning platform, paint a picture of safety on the other side. Your team will embrace the change.
Best regards,

[1] Gordon Moore, Intel’s co-founder, observed the acceleration of change in computer technology. “Moore's Law asserts that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years, though the cost of computers is halved.” See the Investopedia, April 20, 2019, article on Moore’s Law, here:
[2] The Elop memo was reproduced in Engadget in August, 2011, here:


The pain of change needs to be less than the pain of the status quo

Discussion Questions:

1. Have you been on a team that resisted change? What were some of the ways the resistance manifested? Were some more subtle than others?
2. Is the “burning platform” message too stark? Why or why not? What would you substitute for it?

For Further Reading:

See story #366, “The Burning Platform”

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