The Three Dimensions of Change

Change is the force that drives us forward. Whether we initiate the change or respond to it, it is essential to any development and growth. When we fail to harness change, we either remain in one place, or we lose our edge and find ourselves behind the rest. It is true in business as much as in our personal development and even in our personal lives. Whether it is our business model, skills, product or service, or relationships, change is essential to progress and success. And let’s face it, change also makes everything much more enjoyable.

We tend to think about change in terms of a force operating directly on the subject of the change: “we must change the product,” “how can we change our business model,” or “how can I develop my skills.” But change can originate from other dimensions. If we focus only on the subject, we might miss great opportunities or not utilize opportunities to their full extent.

Let’s explore the three dimensions of change, starting with the one we think of as the default.

Changing the Subject

When we think about change, we tend to think about the immediate subject in question. If we are developing a product, our initial tendency would be to think about how the product could be improved, extended, or modified to bring more value.

There are different ways to consider a change in the subject. One of the most effective ways is to break it down into its various dimensions and play with each of them. In the pre-smartphone world, mobile phones had a small screen, a keyboard (usually just a keypad), and simple software to run basic operations. When the iPhone was conceived, each element (and a few others) was radically changed. The keyboard disappeared. The screen became an input device and not just a means of presentation. And the software (and obviously the required hardware) became more robust and more versatile. Each of these changes could have been impactful. Together, they were groundbreaking.

We think of change as a force, and we think of forces as operating on something. This is probably why our attention is immediately aimed at the subject we are dealing with, be it a product, a person, or a relationship. It is that subject we think of as the center of the change, and therefore we focus on it. By doing so, we might forget there are two additional dimensions we can change. Sometimes, they stand by themselves. Often, we need to focus on them in conjunction with changing the subject. Either way, these two additional aspects will reflect back on the subject. To achieve that, we must first shift our perspective, even if temporarily.

Changing the Observer

One of my favorite activities and the one I use at the beginning of any workshop and mentoring session is asking people to look around them for things that appear to be smiling. It is so easy to find dozens of smiling things around you no matter where you are as if just articulating this task changes something in your brain and in the way you observe and perceive your surroundings. It is a perfect example of how something changes without being changed at all. It is us, the observers, who change. By seeing things differently, we change their story. We change what they mean to us and what we can use them for.

Zoom’s primary customers were businesses up until 2020. When “normal” people were outside of their organizational context, the last thing they looked for was another video conferencing service. And even if they did find the need for one, there were more accessible options like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and other similar services. Then, something changed. COVID-19 was an external trigger, but what really changed is how people perceived the video conferencing option. For many, it became the only way to communicate, not just at work but with their friends and family. They looked for a reliable and feature-rich option, and Zoom was already there to provide that experience. When COVID-19 broke, nothing was changed in the product Zoom was offering. What has changed is that more and more people now saw it as the standard, almost default, communication means.

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Sometimes, it is more effective to change how people perceive the subject than change the subject itself. Needless to say that this is far from being trivial, and in Zoom’s case, the trigger was an external event nobody could anticipate or control. And yet, it is a direction worth exploring. If you manage to change the way others see the product, the next step might be to refine it and make your offering even a better match to this new perception (and indeed, Zoom added many features since early 2020 due to the massive interest in the service). Eventually, you might end up changing the product itself. But when the starting point is changing the observers, the outcome could be completely different than directly changing the product.

It should be noted that the observer is not always someone else. Like in the smiley game, each and every one of us is also an observer. If you are providing a service, and you manage to see it differently at some point, you will create a change in the way you think about it, talk about it, and maybe even deliver it to your customers. This brings us to changing the projection…

Changing the Projection

The third dimension of a change seems closely related to changing the observer, but with a twist. With this type of change, you don’t try to change the subject nor the observer. Instead, you change something external that sheds new light on the subject. Think of it as changing the projection of a three-dimensional object by changing the source of light. The modified projection can make the entire scene appear to be completely different.

SodaStream International is the maker of home soda machines. Their competition is mainly the makers of bottled and canned soft drinks. As a consumer, the first things that you are likely to consider comparing your options are obviously the price and the taste of SodaStream drinks vs. the ready-made ones. Some would also think that SodaStream might be more available when you have a craving for a cold drink, at least when you are at home.

But then, SodaStream turned on a new light source and changed how their product is perceived without changing anything in the product or in their customers. They made their customers aware that every time they prepare a soft drink at home, they help reduce plastic waste, and therefore they help keep our planet clean. According to their website, in 2017-2018 alone, SodaStream customers stopped over 6.3 billion plastic bottles and cans from polluting the environment. The product was not modified, but this new light gave it a whole new edge.

Now, you might argue that this is just like changing the observer. But most of the people this message is directed to already knew about the environmental problem of consuming disposable plastic bottles. Many of them just didn’t see SodaStream in the context of this issue until the company turned on this new projector that changes people’s perception of the product: from merely a tasty alternative to ready-made drinks to the ultimate green choice.

You might also argue that this is merely an advertising twist. I don’t believe so. When you are changing the projection of the subject, it is not necessarily directed to the outside. If the subject is a product, the product maker is also likely to be affected by this new projection. If the new projection is genuine and honest, you believe in it too. And next, it can undoubtedly impact your decisions as the maker of the product. I’m sure that when SodaStream has to make a design or a logistic decision, they take into account that it is their mission to be the green option. The projection they have created affects them as much as it affects their customers.

Creativity is tightly coupled with change. Without change, nothing progresses. Any creative idea, and eventually any creative act, is built on some change by definition.

When we think of change, we tend to focus on the subject: changing its attributes. But no subject stands alone. There is always someone observing the subject, and there are light sources that create a projection that affects what the observer perceives. A change can happen in any of these elements. Sometimes, the most effective changes are not in the subject itself. In many cases, a shift in one dimension will drive a change in the others and create a snowball effect for an even more significant impact.

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