I talk about transformation a lot. Probably too much. But when one is developing a business focused preparing people for the future – and moving from traditional publishing into new media to do so – there’s a lot of change required. I started thinking about transformation when I was directing the Encyclopedia of Leadership. James MacGregor Burns, the senior editor, is famous for distinguishing between transitional leadership and transformational leadership.

I spent most of the holiday week at home with my children, seeing a few friends and working on plans for 2008 and beyond. I found myself thinking about transformation as I wrote about what we need to do with Berkshire’s reference program and the phrase “sea change” came to mind as I described what I felt needed to happen—for us and in the whole area of publishing described as “reference.” Remembering an article I read years ago about the misuse of sea change, I decided to find out exactly what it means and whether it is really the right way to describe the transformation of encyclopedias to something new. Simple, you might think, even when one is experimenting with different search engines out of a desire to not to be part of Google Nation. Answering questions like this is what the Web makes so easy.

Definition for sea change

– great change: a substantial transformation

Is this useful? Yes|NoThanks! Tell us more

Or this:

sea change

Sponsored Links

Beach Change
Low Prices, 1000’s of Choices. Explore Beach Change!


  1. A change caused by the sea: “Of his bones are coral made:/Those are pearls that were his eyes:/Nothing of him that doth fade,/But doth suffer a sea change” (Shakespeare).
  2. A marked transformation: “The script suffered considerable sea changes, particularly in structure” (Harold Pinter).

What I wanted, though, was an essay about the idea I read long ago in the Literary Review, a wonderful London magazine then edited by Auberon Waugh. God knows why this sticks in my mind when so many important things do not. The point of the piece was that certain common phrases are so consistently misused that we loss track of what they originally meant—often something that we really do need a way to express. Sea change was the example used, and I think the point was that it is misused, as above in #2, but that it should be used to describe a transformation from one thing to another through some natural process. But the Literary Review doesn’t have its archives online. (We can hope, though, as our partners Exact Editions are also providing online access to the Literary Review, and perhaps they’ll get the whole of the back issue collection online.)

One thing the Web undoubtedly makes easy – and blissfully so – is instant communication and instant publishing. I have finished this post on the train from New York, heading home and back to work after New Year’s, and thanks to my aircard and the gradually improving cellular services along the line I can post it immediately. I’ll also post photos of two kinds of natural transformation, one taken yesterday and the other last summer.

Snowfall on New Year’s Eve 2007Wisteria covering old car