Technological Change – Disruption and Resistance

Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.  ~Robert C. Gallagher

Early computer users existed in a world of DOS character-based screens replete with C:\ prompts, command lines and a wide variety of keyboard key combinations to navigate the system. All that started to change in 1985 when Microsoft released Windows 1.0.

The first version of Windows with its graphical user interface and use of a mouse was a significant change for computer users. Even though the first versions of Windows were partially DOS-based, the notion of using a mouse to select and click on graphical objects was foreign. Many users resisted the change.

On October 26th, 2012 Microsoft launched Windows 8 replacing the familiar Start button and menu with a screen of large, colorful live tiles and a new feature called the “Charm Bar”.  Many users resisted the change.

Change can be difficult because people get used to doing things a certain way.

According to Rosabeth Kanter, professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and a leader in the field of change management: “Even in an era where young techies are looking to get the hottest and latest, people are resistant to change,” she says.  “Software is the method by which people do their work, and if you’re requiring a radical change in how they do their work, it’s a lot to ask,” Kanter says.

Technological change can also be disruptive. Former Windows President Steven Sinofsky, who spearheaded Windows 8’s development, in a May 8 post, blogged about the damned-if-they-do/damned-if-they-don’t choice that companies face when launching a disruptive technology:

“If you listen to customers (and vector back to the previous path in some way: undo, product modes, multiple products/SKUs, etc.) you will probably cede the market to the new entrants or at least give them more precious time. If technology product history is any guide, pundits will declare you will be roadkill in fairly short order as you lack a strategic response. There’s a good chance your influential customers will rejoice as they can go back and do what they always did. You will then be left without an answer for what comes next for your declining usage patterns.

“If you don’t listen to customers (and stick to your guns) you are going to ‘alienate’ folks and cede the market to someone who listens. If technology product history is any guide, pundits will declare that your new product is not resonating with the core audience. Pundits will also declare that you are stubborn and not listening to customers.”

It appears that Microsoft, after introducing disruptive technology to stay competitive, is now seeking a balance between their damned-if-they-do/damned-if-they-don’t choice. They’re listening to customers and quickly adjusting. The expected changes coming in the next release improves upon the innovation that is Windows 8 and will (they hope) lessen user resistance to change

The similarities in terms of resistance to change with the introduction of Windows 1.0 and now Windows 8 are remarkable.  Perhaps change is inevitable, as is the resistance to change.

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