Reflections on 15 Years of Change Logic


Christine Griffin: I’m thrilled to be here with three of Change Logic’s Founders: Professor Mike Tushman, Professor Charles O’Reilly and Managing Director Andy Binns. This year, we’re celebrating the 15th anniversary of Change Logic. There are so many stories about our history, our research, our team, and the hundreds of clients that we have served over the past 15 years. It’ll be fun to hear your stories and your perspectives on how the firm has grown and evolved. Ready to get started?

Michael Tushman: Hey, it’s great to be with our founding team here to celebrate 15 years of Change Logic. It’s pretty crazy. We’ve had some pretty amazing clients. I believe our first client was Mike Lowry at Mysis, a really interesting senior leader. But I’d like to talk about the work we did at De La Rue, a British firm in the paper currency business. And we worked first, I believe with Leo Quinn and then with James Hussey. I think one of the great things about Change Logic is our ability to have these long-term relationships with C-level individuals worried about Innovation and change and transformation of their firms. But I do remember a Quinn and Hussey being like blown away…and by the way everybody, De La Rue printed paper. That was one of the reasons that Andy was so excited about De La Rue is because they printed cash. Literally had the license to print money. And we were talking about Innovation streams and product substitution and process substitution. And James Hussey and I believe Leo Quinn almost were floored with the possibility of different forms of currency. What turned out to be polymer currency that might have been a substitute or a compliment for their paper-based currency. So, what I think Change Logic does so well is it shocks senior teams into thinking about dynamic capabilities. And that’s sort of to me is a is an anchor for Change Logic is helping senior leaders see the possibility of being disrupted and helping them deal with it. I could go on but that’s my recollection of our first major impact with a firm as Change Logic.

Andy Binns: And I think Mike that’s just one of those examples of where yours and Charles’ teaching when not in a classroom, but in the cauldron of a real senior team just causes them to view the world in a totally different way all of a sudden and has this like dramatic impact. And of course, De La Rue now prints the UK currency, the UK pound, on polymer—a technology that at that point, they just didn’t want to hear about. And now they are the ones doing it. So that was a transition that that insight initiated.

CG: Great. Charles, how has our work changed from 15 years ago?

Charles O’Reilly: So I think when we started out, we would present concepts and frameworks to senior teams as Mike was describing. And it would be useful as for instance the De La Rue case illustrates. And some senior teams would take these concepts and they would realize that this applied to them, and they would use those concepts. But I think as we matured, as the firm matured, and as we learned from many of the clients that we were dealing with, we realized that understanding the concept is not the same as applying it. And what we saw with some subsequent clients was even though they understood this notion of innovation streams and disruptive technologies, that they had trouble implementing it. And what happened to us and to our relationships with companies over time is that as we learned more about what the obstacles were to actually implementing these concepts, we actually got better at helping our clients apply these concepts.
And so for instance now, we’re dealing with a big company in Japan. We’ve presented the concepts to them, but we’ve helped them in a number of different instances where we actually take this notion of ideation, incubation and scaling. We’ve actually helped them do that with hands-on help to do this. So you know, I think we have learned a lot from our clients over the years, and the nice thing is that it’s not just that we have learned about it. But we’ve then been able to help other clients use some of the learnings. I would say one last thing that got me in some trouble. As you may know we have a book with Andy called Corporate Explorer, and in that book I dedicated the book to all the clients that we have learned so much from. And I have to say my wife was not pleased with that dedication. But it’s sincere, the clients really helped us learn.

CG: Thanks. Mike, how about you how has our work changed from 15 years ago?

MT: I think 15 years ago, and I may be wrong there was more Charles and Mike teaching and relatively less execution. I think we do much more hands-on helping, partnering with senior leaders than we did before. I think the content of our work has changed dramatically. This most recent book Corporate Explorer, I mean that is work that was generated not by Mike and Charles, but by the Change Logic team. So, this notion of ideation, incubation is scaling, and how to do it and that that content being delivered in the book, and now being delivered to our clients is completely new and fresh. One of the things I am so thrilled about it with Change Logic is it’s a research-based consulting firm where the research impacts practice and then the practice impacts our research–and the Change Logic team is intimately involved with that.

CG: Andy you have had the Herculean effort of managing this firm for many of those years. How has the firm changed and how has it stayed the same?

AB: Change Logic has like changed almost completely, and not at all. It started as a group of friends and professionals really trying to work on stuff that excites them, and I think that’s still at the core of what we do. It’s very different, though, to hire people in as consultants and train them and build their capabilities and see them grow—watch them grow as they engage with our clients. And so that’s been an amazingly rewarding experience. And I echo what Charles says about our clients, which is that they teach us. And so that we’ve learned to adapt to what they most need. I think we used to do a lot of workshops. We now do almost no workshops. We do hands-on consulting and small group work. But I hope we’ve also retained that that thing that was called to our founding, which is that we are not trying to be expert consultants. Although we’ve got lots of expertise. What we do I think is we enable our clients to make progress to them to accelerate the impact that they have. And the victories that they have are not ours. They’re theirs…always. That’s the most important principle and I think that’s always been true. It’s just now we do it through structured sprint processes rather than large workshops. It’s a different format. But the intention is the same.

COR: So, Christine It would be wrong for us not to ask you a question since you’ve been asking us questions. You have experience at other consulting firms and you’ve been at Change Logic now for how many years? 7? 8?

CG: 10 years.

COR: 10 years. So what’s your experience of Change Logic? What is it in your experience that makes Change Logic different and hopefully maybe better?

CG: I like to introduce myself sometimes as a reformed management consultant. One of the best things that I think consulting companies do–big consulting companies–is they produce lots of analysis and a point of view. And one of the toughest things that they have trouble doing is actually helping the clients execute those pieces of advice or next steps. And what I love about our firm is that we kind of link arms with our clients and we travel that journey with them. And we check in with them and make sure that that we are transferring capabilities, that we are building momentum, and building their ability to succeed. And I think that honest and humble intent to serve clients, and our passion for their success differentiates us in the marketplace.

AB: And you can see it with new clients as we chip away at their years of experience with other consulting firms. And they relax and they realize that we’re there to treat them as human beings who we want to see have impact. And they’re not a commercial unit. We’re not standing there with performance anxiety. We’re experienced professionals who are there to help make them successful. And you can see the relationships evolve as they start to realize that that’s the case.

CG: So Andy, what does success mean to you and to the firm?

AB: Success is all about our clients, but I would say that there is something here that’s a bit of a mission? There is this notion of ambidexterity–the ambidextrous organization—or managing core and explore simultaneously. This is not a random idea. This is a really important idea to companies, to organizations, but also to society at large. If you think about this big sustainability challenge that we have as a planet. This is a core/explore challenge, you know. Somebody told me today that a Belgian water company, mineral water company, figured out that if water is sourced more than 500 kilometers from its point of consumption then it’s not sustainable. You are consuming more resources than you should in delivering that product. If that’s true, every supply chain, every product category faces a sustainability crisis. But it’s got to deliver its business today if it’s going to transform into the business of tomorrow. So, this core/explore thought–and how you manage it–is actually vital to the reinvention of our whole global economy. And so that’s an enormous reality. It’s one that we can make some contribution to. But it will take a big community of people to get. And I think beyond our own performance with our clients and as professionals, getting those ideas into the world in a way that people can use is something of a mission.

CG: Mike, what does success look like to you?

MT: Yeah, I actually love this mission thing that Andrew just described. I have forever been grappling with how firms evolve over time. From my first experience as an electrical engineer seeing this firm collapse in front of my eyes. I’ve wanted to both understand that phenomena deeply and help firms deal with that so that you don’t have a bunch of engineers out of a job. So that they actually can build their firm so it’s more successful over time. That mission I have been on for my whole career. And to be able to have the work, the basic research, that Charles and I did a bunch of years ago in our field… one of the nice things about working with Charles is that we’re able to take our field’s work, link it to our own research, and then through Change Logic, get it really into traction in the real world. And to help organizations do this core and explore, which is a hang up I’ve had since an undergraduate, is really affirming to me as a professional.

CG: How about you Charles? What does success mean to you?

COR: So, I guess I’d echo Mike a little bit. I live in Silicon Valley. I have students, 30% of my students, every year go off to found companies or work for startup companies. But I’ve always believed that a big company should be more Innovative than small. You know, they’ve got more resources. They’ve got more experience. They have more access to customers. They typically have deeper technology. But of course, the evidence, especially in the last 20 years, is that we’re seeing big companies fail. And there’s a real cost to that. There’s a cost to not just shareholders, but more importantly, there’s a cost to the people who work for them who lose jobs. You know big companies ought to be better able to compete in their mature business, but also to, as Andy says, you know to do core and explore. And so, I think our ability is to help companies do that. We’ve seen clients who might otherwise have declined to survive and prosper. A company that Andy mentioned, AGC, has gone from a value stock on the stock market–a commodity business growing at GDP, having to downsize. Now, they’re a growth stock. They’re in businesses like life sciences and mobility, and this is all because they were able to core and explore. And I’m proud of that.

CG: 15 years ago, you had the conviction and the courage to found Change Logic. Thank you for sharing your perspectives and your stories. It’s an honor to work beside you, to learn from you, to learn with you, and to serve an incredible set of clients. The past 15 years has been an amazing journey, and I look forward to the next 15.