“If you have always done it that way, it’s probably wrong.” — Charles Kettering, American inventor and former head of research at General Motors.
“The only completely consistent people are dead.” — Aldous Huxley, British writer
As surely as hair grows and flowers bloom, change will come rolling through your organization today, tomorrow, and always. Trying to resist it would be like trying to hold back the ocean. That didn’t work for King Canute, and it won’t work for you. Instead, take advantage of change: catch the wave, hang ten, and use its energy to your advantage.
Admittedly, that may prove easier said than done. But you can use that argument for almost anything. You can also blame someone else when change leaves damage in its wake because you did nothing. You can actively resist change, and snap in half like a rigid old tree. All these approaches fail eventually. If, on the other hand, you embrace change—in the tradition of agile flexibility that defines the most successful organizations among us—then who knows what wonders await you?
Rather than mire yourself in the mud of complacency and familiarity, learn as much as you can as change washes through, then apply Walt Disney’s famous dictum: keep moving forward. As a leader, this responsibility extends to encouraging your team to do the same, in ways both subtle and overt. Consider these three basic tactics:
1. Focus on the benefits. First of all, most changes won’t devastate you. For example, instead of wringing your hands because the company has slowed your workflow temporarily by shifting from one software or hardware platform to another—something most tech writers have faced a dozen times in their careers—focus on the buried gold and sell the benefits to your team. Look and you’ll surely find.
My dad typed his dissertation on a typewriter. Then we started using word processors, where you typed into a little window and then hit go when it was ready to type. Then we had WordPerfect for DOS, then WordPerfect for Windows, and then Microsoft Word—and before long, Word was the world’s #1 word processing program. Did you resent the inconveniences of shifting from one to the other? You knew how much the change would benefit you.
2. Reframe the challenge as an opportunity. Rather than angst about the difficulty you’ll face as a result of the change, offer it to yourself and your team as a chance to learn something new, improve your workflow, increase your mental flexibility, and hone your agility. It’s especially effective if you can see it as an adventure, something that adds spice to your life. Just accept the possibility that the change can prove good for you, if you let it.
Many people resisted remote “cloud” backup for their files at first, because they didn’t understand it and were afraid they’d lose data if they tried something like DropBox or CrashPlan. Yet this is clearly the wave of the future, and most who’ve faced the challenge squarely have found it not just easy but also fascinating, opening up whole new possibilities for improved productivity.
3. Phase It In Gradually. With rare exceptions, you don’t have to dump your old way of doing something in favor of the new right away. You generally have time to thoroughly investigate the change, dig up and share out the nuggets of gold, and provide any necessary training or tools to smooth the transition.
This represents how most pharmaceuticals enter the marketplace. It can take years for a drug to proceed through the process, from discovery to animal and human trials, and finally FDA approval. Many never make it. Some get rolled back even after long-term use. Take Avandamet, a combination of antidiabetes drugs Avandia and metformin. Separately, both lower blood sugar; but when combined, they work even better. However, early forms of Avandamet made some people ill, because the formulation was chemically unstable. The manufacturer rolled it back and reformulated several times before achieving FDA acceptability.
Keep Moving Forward
Don’t change just for change’s sake; that represents an unforgivable waste of resources. Change will inevitably find you. When it does, the secret is to treat it as a surfer would a monster wave: get a little ahead of it and ride it into shore, enjoying the thrill as you harness its power. These three steps, while representing just a few of the possible ways of embracing change as it occurs, can help you do more than just survive when the wave leaves you in the surf. They can help you come up smelling like roses…instead of dead fish.