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April 11, 2023
CTO Musings
Embracing Change
April 11, 2023
CTO Musings
Embracing Change

Change is a fascinating experience, especially when living in the moment of it.  It is both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time, especially when the perception of change is new to someone.  As human beings, we are not good with change.  Our tendency is to fight to hold onto the familiar, even when it is obvious that these things no longer matter or lack any valuable service for our needs. 

Even those gnarly few who are experienced in change, and see the benefits of it, find the process hard.  In fact, these wizened few have learned how to adapt by leveraging learned behaviors and skills to overcome their personal apprehension to the shifting sands around them.  In essence, they have faith in the end state, despite the challenges involved in getting there.  It is this perspective that they use to drive their ability to adapt.

But this begs the question, what is it that makes people adapt more easily than others?  In many cases it is because their perceptions are shaped by an understanding of history and experience.  They know the obvious fact that our environment constantly evolves to circumstances and innovation.  Armed with this knowledge allows them to make the transition to the new state, and this ensures their success while others falter.

Talking of history and innovation, I personally recall a time when I was part of a small group that used to put on school movies over the winter months in Scotland.  Every Saturday evening, we would pick up the 2-3 reels of 35mm film and haul it over to the projector room in the old school gym, where we would set up the movie in preparation for our captive audience.  We got to remain inside where it was warm, while the audience waited patiently outside dealing with the cold and dark Scottish winter.

It was a tricky role as the projectors were old, finicky, and required some handholding, but this came with a sense of camaraderie and skill that was valued amongst our small group.  But this all changed, when video sprang onto the market, which allowed for the movies to be piped into each of the houses, so there was no need for a movie night adventure during the Scottish winter. It also expanded the availability of films by a fraction of the price. Nevertheless, it was a blow to our small group of projectionists, which left us without a purpose or the well-honed identity we had built around the group’s service.

However, we did have a teacher who had lived through many changes in his life, and he embraced video without hesitation.  He did this despite our protestations against the shift in technology and culture at the heart of the projectionist team.  Through his leadership to the change, he was able to repurpose us to embrace the new technology by showing us a new path of opportunity.  He made us part of the solution to support the future state.

We built up new skills that were used to deliver a multi-channel video network across many school buildings.  We ended up delivering a new media experience to support our distributed audience across the school.  We grew from facing the new challenges and learned that moving forward is always the answer, despite the nostalgia we had for the old medium.  Our teacher’s perspective and calm in the face of our frustrations helped to bring us together and we delivered a better experience for our audience, without them journeying to the gym in all weathers during the dark hours.  It was, in the end, the right course for us all.  It also left me with invaluable experience on how to deal with change at a young age.

This perspective helped me see that change is the true constant in our world, the only risk to our success is by not embracing it.  Without a doubt there will be challenging moments for us personally and as an organization to overcome.  This calls on all of us to have the perspective that it is not as bad as it seems, especially against the backdrop of our own experiences in managing through change.  In fact, it reminds me of a verse from my school’s hymn which went, “[n]ot for ever in green pastures do we ask our way to be; but the steep and rugged pathway may we tread rejoicingly.”  It is a verse that registers with me, because it calls on us to embrace challenges rather than seek the path of least resistance.

Grasping the fact of the inevitability of change, and acknowledging this fact, it is important for us to get comfortable with the ambiguity change brings by remembering:

  • People are the difference:  The thrill of seeing people come together around a common goal is hard to beat.  It comes from being able to communicate at much higher levels than is usual, as we strive to find common ground upon which the team can rally together and execute on with success.  We must seek comfort from each other’s ideas and approaches to solving the challenges of our vision.  We must each make a sacrifice in service to the bigger opportunity, while delivering an impact beyond our individual contributions as a result.
  • Without history there is no context: History is just that, history. But it sure can provide context—and inspiration.  Even as we see that life goes on, history can provide an anchor so that we don’t forget. It’s not about how strong we are—but just the opposite. We see how fragile life can really be. And that brings a dose of humility—and also of hope. And only history can provide that context.
  • Embrace ambiguity: I vividly remember a group of people trying to convince an established institution to switch to Zoom, instead of holding in-person meetings all over King County.  The logistics, prior to Zoom, were a nightmare as we tried to organize meeting rooms and secure attendees for the meetings.  The excuses for not adopting Zoom were plentiful and ranged from “I’m too old to learn something new” to “it is expensive to set up” as examples.  But when the pandemic struck, that goal was accomplished in a matter of weeks across the County. After all, it takes courage to challenge old ways of thinking and a willingness to embrace ambiguity.
  • Buckle up for the long haul: There is a saying in mountaineering that goes: “when your reach the summit, you are only half-way through your journey.” Reminders to the mountaineer that they still must return safely. Ensuring a successful bid for the journey requires preparation both in terms of fitness and logistics, where the climber must be wise enough to understand themselves, the environment they will be engaged with and how to apply their acquired experience with the right skills and equipment, to ensure a successful bid for their summit.  This analogy can be aptly applied to creating software.  Software environments demand that you become adaptable to change, trust the people around you to bring the skills necessary to support this change, while constantly learning to find ways to ship great products.


As each of us reflects on how far we have come together and what we have accomplished, it is worth noting that our best work is still ahead of us.  In a few short years we have put AstrumU on the map around a simple idea that we can level the playing field by quantifying the value of education for everyone.  Bringing this idea to life is complex, although exhilarating in the knowledge of the possibilities we will enable for everyone beyond our company’s walls.  

We will continue this journey of change at AstrumU, together, and embrace the ambiguity and lessons learned along the way.  Why?  Because, as another verse from the same school hymn reminds us, it is: “[n]ot for ever by still waters would we idly rest and stay; but would smite the living fountains from the rocks along our way.”  For this is how we embrace change.

/ Kaj Pedersen, CTO