Terminology goes a long way in identifying and characterizing an action. Take for example any sport – let’s say ice hockey for instance. A hockey player can take a shot on the opposition’s net in the attempt to score a goal. The term ‘shot’ is quite a general term. If you go one step further in identifying or characterizing the type of shot, a hockey player may have taken a wrist shot or a slap shot. This further breakdown gives a more defined meaning to the shot itself. But this is something only a hockey enthusiast would have known. Otherwise, to anyone else, a shot is a shot.
The same thing can be said about change and transformation. These days, the term ‘transformation’ is used quite a bit. But do we really understand what a transformation consists of and do we understand that it is not a simple change? Or do we equate a change to a transformation?
To start, let’s explain a ‘change’. If we use ourselves as an example, how many times do we tend to change our minds about something? We change the way we dress, work or eat quite often throughout our lifetime. In many cases though, we do tend to revert back to our old ways. A good example is a famous New Year’s resolution many have: we decide to start going to the gym. For the first few months, we stay on course and feel great about it. We go to the gym 3-4 times a week to make a change to our overall health. As the April-May mark approaches though…yes you guessed it…many of us go through a sudden drop in going to the gym and to the point where there is a stoppage in going all together. In other words, a return to our old behavior prior to the ‘change’.
Did we change? Of course we did but not deep enough to be considered what we call a transformation. One of the major differences between a change and a transformation is that while a change can be reversed, a transformation has no going back, in other words, you’ve moved on from the ‘previous state’. With a transformation, you have a completely new identity and while you did go through a change, you have done so for good.
I have a close personal friend who was an avid drinker of soft drinks. He would have up to 2-3 cans a day easily and without fail. While I wouldn’t necessarily say he was addicted, you would see him drinking a can often. But then he recently had a transformational moment: he decided to put a stop to consuming soft drinks due to research he made on the health hazards. He started to slowly reduce the amount he consumed per day, from 2-3 cans per day to 1-2 cans per day and then one day, he quit drinking soft drinks all together. He transformed to the point where he had no desire to drink any soft drink. In his mind, there was no going back and today, he can proudly say that he has not had soft drinks for close to 5 years.
Another example of transformation is having kids. This can be a huge transformation, especially for new parents. You are now a parent with more responsibilities towards your kids in terms of raising and providing for them. There is no going back (kids won’t just disappear – even though some parents do wish they did when they misbehave!). Therefore, while a change has occurred, it is not something we can easily revert back to our ‘old ways’ – you have now transformed.
In both examples above, individuals have gone beyond who they were to become who they are now.
So after clearly showing the difference between ‘change’ and ‘transformation’, why do people still use both terms interchangeably, especially in the business world? Maybe it has become the jargon of recent years to show the importance of a change of something taking place?
While the differences listed above will not guarantee a sudden change in use of terminology (maybe it would require a transformation), it should help organizations distinguish between change and transformation. At the end of the day, while both are changes, the magnitude of a transformation is quite intense and needs the right method of change management for it to be successful – because there’s really no going back.