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|Adapt to Change -- or You May Be Left Behind|
|I’m working on a history book about a company that has grown tremendously in the last half century by doing two things well: listening to its customers and changing as their needs changed. That’s pretty simple -- listen, change. Simple, but not easy, when you consider that dozens of its competitors failed over the years. The world changed, their customers changed, the nature of the competition changed, but they continued to do business as usual.
As the president of the successful company told me: “You see your peers not able to adapt, not able to grasp reality, and it’s really the death of a thousand cuts. The key is to change when you have 50 cuts -- if wait until you have 1,000, you’re not strong enough to change.”
Enormous shifts in the economic landscape are demanding individuals change -- their financial behaviors, their careers, even their sense of identity. Change can be incredibly disorienting, and it’s easier, at least in the short term, to ignore a new reality, to get stuck, to do nothing, to keep on with business as usual and hope that the pain will stop at 50 cuts. That’s what the automakers did, and we know how that turned out. Long-term, failure to adapt and work through change in a constructive way means recovery will be excruciating, if it comes at all.
For instance, I have a friend whom I worked with in television news. When I started in TV in the mid-90s, producing a story might involve five people -- a field producer, reporter, camera person, sound person, and an editor. Earlier this year I took a tour of the digital newsroom at a national network, where technology has collapsed all of those jobs into one. One journalist can produce, report, shoot, and edit a story, then post it online. My friend, who used to do just one of those tasks, has been mostly out of work the last few years, and not by choice. Technology is pushing that specialization toward extinction. The death of 1,000 cuts.
Dealing With "Disrupted Expectations"
In his classic book 'Managing At the Speed of Change', consultant Daryl Conner talks about what it takes to deal with “disrupted expectations.” People who do it well, he says, are highly focused, organized, positive, and resilient. They are flexible and proactive -- they think about what may be next before the change occurs. They communicate early and often as change happens to reduce the accompanying anxiety.
Everyone moves through life at his own speed of change, Conner says, and assimilates it differently. “Regardless of age, position, wealth, status, motive, or desire, no individual, organization, or society can adequately absorb life’s inevitable transitions any faster than their own speed of change will allow,” he writes. “People can face an unlimited amount of uncertainty and newness, but when they exceed their absorption threshold they begin to display signs of dysfunction: fatigue, emotional burnout, inefficiency, sickness, drug abuse.”
On the other hand, sometimes we don’t have the luxury to change at the speed we choose -- we have to change first and process the trauma after the fact. My friend Helene, a breast cancer survivor, has informally counseled other women facing the disease over the years. She recalled a difficult conversation with a woman who was procrastinating.
“She was clearly avoiding [treatment], but what she was doing seemed very constructive because she was gathering reams of research for six months,” she says. “I feared distancing her but said, ‘You were diagnosed six months ago and I know you want to make the best choice and find the best doctor -- but what you’re really choosing is death. I want you to choose life.’ Who is ready to have body parts lopped off? We can’t ignore our emotional life, but there’s a hierarchy -- first you have to stay alive and then we can talk about how you feel.”
A Loss of Identity
Or consider a segment I participated in this week on the 'Today Show', about increasing numbers of men going from breadwinners to stay-at-home dads because their jobs were eliminated. Choosing to change careers is hard enough; when it’s forced on you; it usually comes with a wrenching loss of identity. For all the spiritual wisdom that suggests our self-worth is rooted in who we are, and not what we do, the truth is, when you find work that allows you to express your deepest values and best skills, and you’re successful at it, it starts to feel like the same thing.
Psychologist Jeffrey Gardere said: “What we do find is a lot of these dads -- after they get through this issue of anger -- actually accept the role and they find it’s a fantastic way to get to know a different side of their kids and influence their kids in a different and positive way. A lot of these guys define themselves by being able to make that money and bring it to the home; now…you’re able to explore a new side of yourself and recreate who you are as far as your self-esteem.”
It’s the recreating part that’s the rub. As Conner points out, it takes focus, energy, and commitment to change, whether it’s taking on a new role in a family, adapting to shifts in an industry, or dealing with an unexpected turn in our financial lives. I think the key is to stick to your values but be open-minded and creative about how to manifest them. If the goal is to nurture kids, it can be done with time as well as money. If it’s finding financial peace, there are dozens of ways to adjust spending, saving, earning, and investing to achieve that. If it’s doing a specific job, a passion can be translated into a different medium. Listen, change. It’s simple. But it’s not easy.
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|Source: Laura Rowley|