Change Management - Why David Bowie Sang About It

Optimize your process or turn and face the strange

Change Management
Ch-Ch-Changes. Getty Images

One of the earliest supply chain parables that I recall went something like this:

A new husband wanted to impress his wife, so every Friday night he would make dinner – which included a family recipe for a roast.  Week after week, his wife watched him meticulously prepare the meal, which by all accounts was delicious.  And why wouldn’t it be? 

The new husband did exactly as he had been taught by his mother.

  The meal prep was a thing of beauty – the roast was drizzled in a homemade glaze, surrounded by golden potatoes and hearty vegetables.  And just before he put his creation in the oven, the husband would cut three inches off one end of the roast and toss those three inches in the trash – just as he had seen his mother do. 

The wife watched him repeat this ritual Friday after Friday for months.  And one night, as she enjoyed the consistently fantastic meal, she finally asked her husband about the three inches he cut off. 

“Why do you cut off the end of the roast and throw it away?”

Her new husband’s response was a slow blink.  And then, “I don’t know.  That’s what my mom did.”

He called his mother.  “Mom, you know how when you make a roast, you cut off the end?”

“Yes,” his mother replied.

“And you throw it away?” he continued.

“Yes,” his mother again replied.

“Uh, why do you do that?” he asked.

He could hear his mother’s breathing as she contemplated her response.


“I don’t know,” she finally said.  “That’s what my mom did.”

And so the new husband’s mother called her own mother.  “Mom, you know how when you make a roast, you cut off the end?”

“Yes,” her mother replied.

“And you throw it away?” she continued.

“Yes,” her mother again replied.

“Uh, why do you do that?” she asked.

“Because our roasting pan was too small.”

And that is why David Bowie sang, “Mmm, yeah I watch the ripples change their size / But I never leave the stream of warm impermanence…” 

Is that what’s happening in your supply chain?  Are your ripples changing size but you aren’t stepping out of that stream of impermanence?  Are you cutting three inches off your roast because your predecessor did?

In order to recognize the need for change within your process, organizational or supply chain, you typically need to step outside it, measure its efficiencies and identify areas that require change.

And that’s only the first step in change management.  The easy part is typically figuring out what needs to change.  The second easiest part is figuring out what the changes need to be (i.e. your future state).  The hardest part is the actual changing part.

In the roast example above, for instance, the new wife had to be the one to identify the need for change.  The husband, the husband's mother and the husband's grandmother had an operating process that had worked for generations.  Indeed, the output of that operating process was a delicious roast - so the process resulted customer satisfaction.  But just because you have customer satisfaction, that doesn't mean your process is optimized.

 Costs were being thrown in the garbage, and no one knew why.  Change was needed - and the wife was the person who identified the need, not any of the stakeholders directly involved in the process.

In the roast example, the second easiest part (i.e. figuring out what the changes need to be) turned out to be "stop cutting off the end of the roast."  In your organization, figuring this out might be a little more difficult.  Many organizations bring in consultants and set up project teams - but just like in the roast example, oftentimes the process operators can tell you exactly what needs to change.

And, like the roast, your organization may find it difficult to execute and maintain the actual change.  That's what is at the core of change management.  Creating a methodology - a system of rewards and punishment, training and other tools that allow for the change to take place and stay in effect.

 In the case of the roast, after a couple weeks of head-shaking from his wife, the new husband will likely stop cutting three inches off the roast.