Change is constant, yet frightful … especially, if it is seismic. A seismic change occurs when the world, as we know it, alters fundamentally. This shocks us, as more often than not, such change is thrust upon us unexpectedly. In personal lives, it may occur by sudden turn of events such as death of a parent, a job layoff, or even a promotion! In the lifecycle of a business, it can be caused by competition triggered by a new enabling technology (e.g. E- retailing or mobile cab-hailing services) or an M&A activity or political head (or tail) winds such as globalization or nationalism.
I have struggled through my life to understand how best to face seismic change. I don’t claim to have found the elixir that can prevent death by change, but can surely share a few strategies that helped me. Here they are …
1. Don’t be in denial – Human mind tends to shut itself down when faced with discomfort. It turns delusional and assume that no change has happened even when change is self-evident. Many great economic and stock market crashes occurred only because we, as a society, have failed to see the obvious realities unfolding all around us. Wall Street kept playing the Mortgage Backed Securities game even when it was clear that borrowers were unable to pay for these mortgages and that led to the infamous global financial meltdown of 2008! This delusional behavior is true about our own lives, too. You see change happening all around you, yet you behave as if nothing has changed. That is a sure recipe for pain!
2. Be open to the possibility that the change might be good (if you can sustain initial pain) – If you believe that the change could possibly be a positive thing, you can open your minds to locate the bright spots. Remember, perception shapes the reality around you and if you perceive the change to be negative, it will turn out to be negative. Have an open mind and ask if everything that is resulting from the change is worse than the old state of affairs?
3. The (post-change) future is not perfect but remember, neither was the (pre-change) past perfect! I have often fallen victim to the anti-change bias that makes you focus on the imperfections in the changed environment while being completely blind towards imperfections that existed prior to the change. This bias makes having open mind towards change even more difficult.
4. You can influence change only if you are part of it – Not only can change be good but in fact, you can actually influence the change in a positive way; however seismic the change might be. Of course, you have to first be the participant in the process of change to influence it! Change is inherently a fluid, not a rigid, process. Perhaps, there would a way you could use this fluidity to influence the direction or the shape of change. Even during the desperate days under Hitler’s Nazi regime, Oskar Schindler managed to keep humanity alive by using the elements within the changed environment. Changes we face cannot possibly be so bad!
Once again, you cannot avoid change but you can surely survive it. You can even be a winner in the new environment, if you can successfully navigate the change!