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What using the iPad Pro has taught me about change management

As most people know, I use a lot of Apple products. I don’t count myself as an Apple fanboy (although I still don’t understand what possessed me to buy the first iPod shuffle) but I do like my gadgets.

Just four months ago, I bought a 12.9 inch iPad Pro. It was my third iPad (I had bought the very first generation and the first generation iPad mini) and it had been unveiled as a “laptop killer” that for most people would be more than sufficient in terms of their computing needs. This inevitably provoked an uproar amongst some of the tech intelligentsia who pointed out that this was nowhere near a laptop, and that despite the nifty stylus (sorry I meant Apple Pencil) it lacked some basic desktop capabilities that its main rival the Surface Pro 4 had in spades because that was really a laptop moving into tablet territory.

Having used the iPad Pro for several months now, I can safely say that, while it cannot completely replace a laptop in every function (most notably recording a Skype interview for podcasts) it more than makes up for it in other areas that can create its own tipping point. Yes, it runs on iOS, a mobile operating system so it won’t allow you to have 10 windows open at the same time, or allow you to customise the size of each window (and you would be surprised how many people find it a deal breaker if a computing platform won’t allow them to do these actions). But it is incredibly portable, has tremendous battery life, has a much better screen and speakers than most laptops, and apps have made use of its processing power to close the gap on their desktop counterparts. Sure, I still don’t have all the functionality in Excel (for example I can’t create pivot tables, only update them) but it does enough of the other stuff well that I don’t mind these little irritations. In fact, I find myself at the point where the iPad Pro has effectively replaced my office desktop and the incredible battery life I mentioned before is beginning to decrease as I enjoy using it more and more.

And this brings me to my point about change management. Too often, people get used to a certain way of doing things that they don’t question what were the underlying reasons for those processes and behaviours. The processes become so much a part of what they do and their identity that they are unable to break free from them. Or they are too quick to dismiss new processes or technologies which admittedly, are not that good at the initial stages but are good enough in other areas. Very soon a tipping point is reached where so many people have adopted the new technologies that there is now motivation for more rapid innovation in those spaces.

Every MBA in the world would be familiar with cautionary tales told in the classroom about Kodak and digital film. Or the late Andy Grove’s exhortations to “be paranoid”. But where the answers are less clear cut is how to convince teams and organisations to recognise that they need to change, or how to balance the need to change rapidly against the need to be sympathetic to the people who are being asked to change. As I said, for many people, the process is part of their identity and it can be a scary journey to embrace change. But I am always reminded of a graph that someone showed me when I had my first managerial position. It showed how people’s stress levels increased exponentially when the rate of change imposed by external events exceeds their own rate of change. So while it is scary to start the change process, it is much better to start that process before external events (eg in Kodak’s case, the rapid adoption of digital photos) give an organisation no chance but to change. No one wants to be like Kodak.