Can We Adapt Before Change Happens?

If a lifelong attraction to fortune tellers has taught me anything, it’s that the future never turns out according to plan. And a planner I’ve always been.

So I was fascinated when Dr. Liz Alexander posed the question:  Can we adapt predictively?  That is, can we read trends wisely enough to see what will be required for a future that’s still around the corner?

Liz, who among other things, guides thought leaders through the process of articulating and packaging their theories, pointed out that if:

  • The past is a predictor of the future
  • Corporate shelf life continues to drop (it’s now in the low double digits)
  • We remain flexible professionally, accepting that each of us will have multiple professions during our working life
  • Then, if we pay attention to mega trends, we can determine where our professional strengths can best be applied

So much depends on seeing opportunity when it presents itself.  I pulled myself away from watching the Democratic National Convention to write this. Al Franken, former comedian, current U.S. senator spoke, and I was struck by Gail Collins’ oped piece pointing out that Hillary Clinton is running for president at a time when most women are thinking about gardening, grandchildren and the occasional cruise.

These are remarkable people, obviously, but they are also tips of an iceberg of change, reminding us to stay flexible, pay attention and don’t be afraid of opportunity.  Maybe that in itself is predictive adaptation.





Don’t Let Fear Be Your Excuse

I had lunch recently with my friends Jane and Larry Graham. Their granddaughter Caroline Richards died in January from osteocarcenoma, a rare form of bone cancer.  She was 12 years old. Caroline was a sunny day kind of child: She favored dancing over walking and singing over whispering.  She had over 30,000 followers on Twitter. She embraced her disease by giving people presents, making them laugh, and celebrating her favorite pop band One Direction. Caroline refused to forfeit her time to fear, self-pity or regret.

Caroline Richards faced a rare form of cancer by refusing to let fear and pain rob her of joy.
Caroline Richards faced a rare form of cancer by refusing to let fear and pain rob her of joy.

I’ve thought of Caroline many times since the Saturday afternoon I squeezed into her funeral, a standing-room only affair packed with people of all ages and walks of life, many of whom had big bows in their hair like the kind Caroline wore – when she had hair. There was dancing in the aisles and a great deal of singing to honor Caroline’s philosophy: If life throws you a bum rap, put a bow on it and throw a party.

Easier said than done, we say. Some of us are tragedians; we tend to look at the quieter, sad aspect of life. But the lesson Caroline leaves us is to not be undone by mere predisposition. No indeed. Do not let fear be the excuse.

Most of us are blessed. We don’t face major life-and-death situations.  But fear is an insidious life-stealer.  Ever since I can remember I’ve suffered from paralyzing stage fright. I have a vivid memory of standing in front of my eighth grade speech class and leaning on a chair because my knees were shaking so hard. Stints in community theater and Toastmasters have alleviated it, but I’m still terrified when I face an audience. My task is to prepare, open my mouth and say my piece. Telephone calls have always had the same effect on me, an odd twist for someone in my profession.

Caroline's Brave Bunny Foundation awards a children who show exceptional courage with this bunny.
Caroline’s Brave Bunny Foundation recognizes children who show courage.

Caroline’s mother, Lauren, gets it. Caroline didn’t live to do what she’d wanted to do, help raise money as an ambassador for research to help save other children from the cancer that caused her so much suffering.  So her mom has taken the bull by the horns in Caroline’s honor. Lauren is starting the Caroline’s Brave Bunny Foundation that, among other things, awards a (stuffed) bunny to children who show their own particular brand of courage.

The award — a bunny with “Brave” embroidered on one ear and the child’s name on the other — recognizes courage, not winning. The victory lies in moving through the fear, be it finishing school, or mastering a particular skill. Whatever it may be. Fear is a very personal crippler.

So remember Caroline and the Brave Bunny next time you pick up the phone to make that cold call. Or take a job you don’t think you can do. Scale your guts, and think about the time you have on this planet. Let’s not let fear be our excuse.

Values and downsizing

I’m downsizing from a 2200 square foot house to a 640 square foot apartment. I always thought I’d be a little old lady in a rambling house with tomatoes and cats, but that may not be the case.  I have to admit:  it’s painful. I pack a box, then unpack it and add stuff to my Craigslist and Recycled Reads piles.

Do I need this clock?
Do I need this clock?

My mom’s books and Bibles; my dad’s medals and fishing gear.  My piano and couches the dog (not me) sits on.  Reckoning time:  how much can I afford to store?  Will I ever again (honestly)  have the space to have these things with me?

My eureka moment came when I was staring at  an anniversary clock my dad bought when he was stationed in Germany in the 1950’s.  There’s no doubt my dad considered the clock valuable. He built a wooden packing box and encased it in straw like a nativity set. He bought extra globes in case of breakage.  He shipped it back to the States, then to Turkey and back.

But the clock doesn’t fit anymore.  It’s too delicate, and I’m not going to have space to display it.  It’s going on Craigslist.

What I want to keep are the character traits the clock represents, the ones my dad drilled in — responsibility, tenacity, honesty, loyalty, hard work, a sense of fairness and punctuality (alas, that one is touch and go).

Luckily (some solace) It’s not just me.  We live in a world with more people and fewer resources.  Organizations have to be more agile, more collaborative and less tied to the shards of their pasts.  A box full of memorabilia from my days at IBM: a hardbound commemorative issue of that grand benchmark of corporate publications, Think, resource binders doled out through continuing education programs and lots of award plaques.  I only vaguely remember the projects.  But the values I keep:  respect for the individual, friendship, collaborative teamwork and innovation.  

I’m hoping someone will see the clock on Craigslist and value it for something it represents to them. The past is precious, but there’s a lot more to think about, and I need to move faster to get where I want to go.