What is the thing we want more than anything else in the world – and yet we don’t want it at all? In my experience, that would be change. It’s as if our brains somehow think that the order of the universe is stability and equilibrium. Nothing could be further from the truth. The order of the universe is change. From the minute we are born (actually, from the second we are conceived), we are changing. The earth of today is not the earth of yesterday. The same is true of our businesses. From the time we start them, they are in a cycle of life and that cycle includes death. The Fortune 500 list has lost 88% of the companies from 1955 to 2014. It brings to mind one of my very favorite quotes: “You are either green and growing or ripe and rotting.”
The order of the universe is dynamic, not static.
This lesson was brought home for me recently in an early season water ski lesson. The coach encouraged me to do something that scares the you-know-what out of me – create more energy and acceleration out of the turn to get to the next buoy more quickly. He said, “Do it stronger and shorter.” Once I found that body position, I was elated! Leaning that way is actually more stable and effective. So what did I do? I tried to STAY that way. In other words, I got the stronger part, not the “shorter” part. As a result, I got out of balance and almost fell. At the end of the lake, the coach said this: “Water skiing is a dynamic sport. Nothing is static. Your job is to always be moving in relation to the boat.” So what he was telling me was this: Just because you changed something in a good way doesn’t mean you get to keep that good thing forever. Dang it!
And there in lies the problem with change. No sooner do we get adapted to the “new way” than it becomes the “old way.”
It’s hard to let go of what we like in order to change to the unknown! In my banking days, we had a project that we nicknamed BOHICA. This was actually the term we used much more than the official title of the project. Before I tell you what it stood for, you can probably guess. Ok, I’ll tell you: Bend Over, Here It Comes Again. It’s pretty difficult to create positive change in an organization when everyone feels like they are getting screwed. And frankly, work sucks when we feel like we are out of control of what happens to us.
The irony of the “BOHICA” project was this: I learned so much in that project, and it launched me to a new level in my banking career. If I had actually embraced that experience as a learning moment rather than something to be endured, chances are I could have leveraged it even more. Instead, I defaulted to a bitter, cynical point of view designed by me to keep me safe and comfortable.
The problem in BOHICA – and in so many other changes – was my attitude relative to change. I developed my “strength” based on what was happening yesterday, and something new came along today to knock me off balance.
What I recognized on the ski course that day was that per my usual, I was seeking a comfort zone. I do it all the time. That little “comfort zone box” carries an illusion of safety that might as well be a gallon of Elmer’s glue. It also keeps me stuck.
Chasing comfort keeps me from growing.
Of course! Discomfort is the path to growth. Or the path to paralysis. And therein lies perhaps the biggest challenge in change. There is a range of discomfort that is productive. Too much discomfort leads to paralysis. Too little discomfort leads to stagnation.
When we manage it well, we can take big change from “here we go again” to “here we grow again.”
So what’s the alternative to chasing comfort? The first thing we have to do is recognize the reality of change. Things are going to change. Period. Hunkering down and hoping it blows over just makes it worse. So if that’s the reality, what should I be doing to manage it better?
It starts with you. Recognizing change as an ongoing reality helps a lot. Learning to develop practices for keeping your level of discomfort in the productive zone also helps. For example, I give myself a break. I really watch the inner chatterbox – any time I start beating myself up, judging other harshly, or trying to prove myself, I intentionally shift the thought to something more productive. When I hit the constructive level of discomfort, I stay in the learning and growing zone. Now, I will confess – I don’t do this all the time! Simply having the intention to do to it helps.
What strategies have you developed to learn and grow in times of big change? In what ways does your “inner chatterbox” help you? And where does it hinder you? What is the most important shift you could make in your mindset to help you consistently perform at high levels?
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Lynn Carnes accelerates change and unleashes leadership performance in organizations, especially in context of challenges without easy answers.