Tag Archives: change management

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.

Small Successes

I’ve been thinking a lot about small successes.  The ones that encourage us to take the next step. It all started when a group of friends and I took in a dog whose owner, also a friend, died. A trainer recommended rotating the dog, Indie, through four foster homes over a month’s time. The goal was to make her more confident.  I’m not sure if she went into shock or truly became more adaptable, but by the end of the month, she seemed ready for anything.

Or maybe she just figured out that whatever it was she feared losing wasn’t worth it.

It’s become very popular to tout innovation and risk taking, but Indie’s experience seems to be the case more frequently than not. We take one step, a project, a cold call, a blog post. It doesn’t kill us, so we try another.  As time passes, we get bigger, hopefully in our hearts as well as our ambitions. Somehow it all works out, though maybe not as we planned. But hey, that can be good. Remember the Post It?

Orphan cattle dog Indie's experience showed me that small successes change us for the better.

Orphan cattle dog Indie’s experience showed me that small successes change us for the better.

Most useful was the push back I received from people who thought we were doing the wrong thing.  After all, it’s very possible she would have arrived at the same point had she been in one, much less confusing, spot.

But the passionate people brought to their protest drove me nuts. I had to go back to Eisenhower’s famous back-up note he crafted as a statement should the D-Day landing have failed (yes, a bit dramatic but whenever you can call on greatness, do it!)

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

Back to Indie. She’s still an orphan. Cattle dogs aren’t trendy these days.  Loyal, attentive, protective, they have their faults. But also their strengths: absolute devotion to their owners, the ability to break away from a momentum (eating, growling at another dog) to attend to their person. In other words, they’re imperfect, just like us.  So I know she’ll keep trying.

Accommodating change — and everybody else

Everything was set up to start spring cleaning, and this little guy stuck his head out of an abandoned sparrow nest nestled between the rear window and an outdoor shade.  Okay, so I’m a little late on the cleaning.

It’s an anole lizard, a charming little reptile — sometimes green, sometimes brown — seen darting across rocks, fences and buildings in warm weather (just about all year in Austin).

A reptilian squatter, seen through a (dirty) window.

A reptilian squatter, seen through a (dirty) window.

The little guy (it may be a gal) is homesteading.  I can tell it thinks big — it’s taken over the entire foot-long nest.  Anolis lizards are fiercely protective.  When I pointed the hose, it girded its loins, as the ancients used to say, and made ready for battle.

Nature vs. woman – one of the life’s four basic conflicts.  The compromise?  Abandon the project and am work out an accommodation.  I mean, what if it’s a single mom?

Austin’s kind of like that: thinking big and figuring out how to accommodate record growth.  There are lots of out-of-state license plates on packed roads. Housing is getting harder to find.  All of which goes hand-in-hand with excitement and energy — and a nexus of talent, energy and resources.

Does growth have to be Darwinian?  The anole reminded me to pause and make way.  To make room for those of a different stripe and enjoy the expansion.

The disputed territory -- can the anole and I accommodate one another?

The disputed territory — can the anole and I accommodate one another?

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting is the new smoking

A friend gave me the news: Researchers have discovered there is no way to compensate for sitting.  Forget the morning run, yoga, walking the dog, weights. Sitting is the new smoking.

My back and shoulder had warned me. I felt long fingers of gravity pulling me down in the chair, tugging my thoughts and hopes down with them.  Down, down, down.  A change was in order.  A new $500 chair?  An iPad?  Everything investment is a risk.

So I did what any risk-aware 21st century American would do:  I posted my gorgeous Amisco computer desk on Craigslist and waited. I waited and forgot about the desk.  Weeks later, two emails popped up, out of the blue.  Lo and behold, there was a market for the desk.

What to do?  Go with the flow.  Linelle pulled out her $65. cash and took the desk away.  I think she’ll give it a good home.  And when I turned to look at the vacant spot, I had a rush of hope.  So many possibilities!  I could put a table in the middle of the room to use for cut outs and thinking.  I could type standing up (my back had been hurting anyway).  I could rethink my entire working life.

So here I am, in my new phase:  typing on the top of a tiny old bookcase my mother kept in her bathroom.  It’s the right height but a little teetery.  I’ll have to look for a larger surface. I’ll have to innovate.

Change is good. It never comes when we expect or even want it.  But it’s good.

I don’t wanna …

A colleague mentioned that he couldn’t wait until February when everyone’s New Year’s resolutions pooped out, so he could get in and out of the gym faster.  I had a sudden vivid memory of waiting in line for a swim lane at the YMCA at 5:30 a.m. in January, shivering my skimpy Speedo and as the minutes ticked by, calculating how long it would take for a slot to open up.

So what happens in February?  “I don’t wanna” outweighs “I’m gonna.”

I don’t think I’ve ever done anything worth talking about that didn’t start with “I don’t wanna  …”  So many excuses, so little time:  I’m afraid I’ll fail; it takes too much time and energy; the traffic is bad; I didn’t know anybody there(!).

It's 9 a.m. and you're still in bed?

It’s 9 a.m. and you’re still in bed?

There are people who are smart, gutsy, competent and land in just the right place at just the right time — taking a job just as a company starts its climb back to the top, starting a company just before the market takes off.

But if I dig a bit, those people are disciplined and driven. They have a goal, and they’re committed to achieving it.  They are not whiners. They make choices and act. Sometimes they fail.  Can anyone imagine anyone more prolific than Seth Godin and his spare wisdom?   Or locally, Maura Thomas‘ disciplined hashmarks, Marc Miller’s prolific Career Pivot posts, and Pike Powers’ iconic pike-o-grams?

So, I’m raising one last glass to 2013 and (slightly) revising the iconic Nike slogan:  “If it gets you  closer to your goal, just do it.”

Get on with it!

A battle cry of innovation

I’ve found my battle cry for 2013: a quote from Georgia O’Keefe (who died at 98 in 1986) that’s tailor-made for a world where best laid plans collide with black swans:

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica: Vol 17 (1943), photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, 1918 © www.arttoday.com

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica: Vol 17 (1943), photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, 1918 © http://www.arttoday.com

The quote suggests that O’Keefe rarely operated in her comfort zone.  I looked through a big book of her paintings I bought when I was in college.  Each picture is distinctly O’Keefe’s:  giant flowers, towering landscapes, skyscrapers.  But she somehow struggled to stay raw and alert, testing her premise and refining her distinctive style.  She figured out how to get better and better.

It’s really hard not to want to be comfortable, to respond in the same way, go to the same restaurants  see the same people, walk the dog on the same safe street.  But even if that were possible, it’s not the way I want my obituary written.  So I’m trying to make experimentation a habit. The bugaboo is that it it’s neither quick nor easy.  I have to let myself block out the time, fail and get better.

At the organizational level, this process is called innovation.  Companies and institutions pursue research and development in-house, by participating in incubators (a future post on this intriguing area), through partnerships, strategic alliances and spin offs   None of these routes is fool-proof, far from it. Sometimes they work; other times they don’t. It’s all about changing for the better.  I mean, who would have thought the local toll road would be doing radio spots, the post office would  partner with the grocery store and PayPal, and tiny cars could be rented on the street?

Scary stuff, but oh so necessary.