IEEE Must Embrace Change or Accept Irrelevance

President Barry Shoop says it’s important for the organization to adapt and evolve with changing conditions

5 September 2016

In the sixth century B.C.E., the Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus wrote, “Everything changes, and nothing remains still.… You cannot step twice into the same stream.” Change is an ever-present constant in our personal and professional lives. As technical professionals, we need to maintain currency in our disciplines and professions to remain relevant and competitive in an increasingly dynamic and ever-changing environment.

It is equally important for organizations to adapt and evolve with changing conditions. Our world is becoming more complex, more competitive, and flatter as the speed of technological advancement increases.

As just one example, global Internet traffic in 1992 was roughly 100 gigabytes per day. By 1997, it had increased to 100 GB per hour, and in 2002, the traffic reached 100 GB per second. By 2015, traffic had grown to nearly 20,000 GBps. And the trend continues.

According to Gartner, a leading information technology research and advisory company, the Internet of Things will connect some 21 billion devices by 2020. In addition, the volume of digital data we produce every year will increase tenfold to 44 trillion GB. At the same time, we are putting to use more of the growing volume of data. In 2013, only about 5 percent of the data generated was tagged and analyzed; by 2020, we could be using 35 percent of a much larger data stream, according to the 2014 EMC-IDC Digital Universe report.

As a large and complex organization supporting the technical and professional needs of our members, our professions, and the public, IEEE recognizes both the acceleration of technological innovation and the challenges this brings. After all, IEEE’s membership drives much of today’s exponential rate of technological growth.


The imperative is that IEEE understand this changing environment and evolve to position itself for the future. As GE’s CEO, Jack Welch, famously wrote: “We’ve long believed that when the rate of change inside an institution becomes slower than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight.”

To be sure, in the last several years, IEEE has made remarkable progress in accelerating its internal rate of change. Our recent senior leadership should be congratulated for taking bold steps to improve the organization’s global positioning.

In April, for example, IEEE acquired GlobalSpec and its Engineering360 information and collaboration platform.

In May, IEEE launched the International Roadmap for Devices and Systems, an extension of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors that will build a comprehensive end-to-end view of the computing ecosystem, including devices, components, systems, architecture, and software.

Earlier, we launched the IEEE Internet Initiative, which has helped place IEEE among the leading trusted authorities in the ongoing evolution of the Internet.

We also created IEEE Collabratec, which now facilitates a collaborative community numbering in the tens of thousands. And through a partnership with, IEEE established InnovationQ Plus, building a powerful platform that combines IEEE content with’s global patent and non-patent literature to aid innovators around the world. In addition, we set up the Humanitarian Activities and Global Public Policy committees and expanded our global activities in Asia and Europe.


To continue this momentum, IEEE needs proactive innovators and change agents throughout our entire organization. We must constantly rethink and improve how we do almost everything: how our societies, sections, chapters, and interest groups operate; how we communicate and collaborate across organizational and geographic boundaries; and how we make decisions.

While this sounds logical and straightforward, it is not easy. Change is hard. It comes with uncertainty, risk, and fear. Those who push boundaries often encounter resistance. Those who innovate sometimes fail. Even technology giants like Edison, Shockley, and Turing didn’t make their breakthroughs on their first attempts.

Ultimately, each of us can be change agents of one kind or another. Some prefer to lead change. Others prefer to be open to new thoughts, ideas, and approaches and to enable change by sharing their insights and perspectives. We all can drive change through our willingness to contribute to the process of change. To succeed in any attempt to change, we must be willing to fail; but, more importantly, we must be willing to rise again, learn from our experiences, and improve. As a living, learning organization, this should be ingrained in IEEE’s culture as part of our organizational DNA.

Make no mistake: When it comes to change, the stakes are high. The long-term survival of IEEE as a professional society is at stake.

In early 2000, while he strove to transform the U.S. Army, one of the world’s largest organizations, its chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, said, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” That is our challenge: Embrace change or accept irrelevance.

As our members drive ever-faster technological change, each of us must play a role in guaranteeing that our professional society remains relevant, that it is as innovative and agile as our members are, and that it continues to evolve to meet the challenges of the increasingly dynamic world around us. Contact me:

This article appears in the September 2016 print issue as “‘IEEE as a Learning, Adapting, and Evolving Organization.”

This article is part of our September 2016 special issue on The State of Engineering Education.

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