“The fact is when we merely ‘adopt’ what’s happening, we tend to drift. Cultures do this; schools do this, and families to do this well. Years ago, Lawrence Miller wrote about this topic in Barbarians to Bureaucrats. He observes that companies, organizations and schools ‘evolve’ over time, but actually the evolution usually becomes a ‘drift’ away from the very premise it was built upon.
“The process starts with the ‘prophets.’ They’re the people with a vision for something new. They’re idea people. But they’re usually threatening to the existing order and are often ignored, criticized, frustrated or otherwise rejected.
“Eventually, however, people recognize the need for change. That’s when the ‘barbarians’ step in. They’re the ones with the influence to knock heads together, and again the power to implement the changes the prophets suggested earlier. They are often people like Steve Jobs, Ted Turner, or Oprah Winfrey. They conquer territory that some assumed could never be conquered and foster change.
“Following the ‘barbarians’ come the ‘builders’ and the ‘explorers.’ These people take the empire the ‘barbarians’ conquered and begin to build bridges, chart courses and develop systems that enabled the empire to grow and prosper.
“Next, come the ‘administrators.’ This type of person almost always follows, because the ‘builders’ and ‘explorers’ get bored and need someone who enjoys managing a system. They add no new ideas or wealth, but simply keep things running smoothly.
“Eventually, the ‘administrators’ give way to the ‘bureaucrats.’ These folks not only add no new ideas, but they actually suppress innovation and focus their efforts on maintaining control of the empire. Change is too messy or expensive. To keep money flowing, ‘bureaucrats’ tend to concentrate on cost-cutting and re-organizing, milking what’s left of the old ideas. It’s important to note—one of the chief goals of the bureaucrat is to suppress the rise of any new order of prophets.
“The final phase of this downward spiral is the shift from ‘bureaucrats’ to ‘aristocrats.’ They’re the ones who’ve inherited the wealth of the previous generation and occupy themselves with consuming the last benefits from the old ideas. Fortunately, they don’t last very long in a competitive climate because they get bumped off by new ‘barbarians’ who promote the ideas of outside prophets from other places. In short, change will either happened to us, or because of us.
“Adapting means we shift. Adopting means we drift.” —Tim Elmore, in Marching Off The Map