In the spring of 2009, I was plunged head first into the bottom of The Great Recession. Over the course of six weeks, all my clients cancelled projects that we had begun or were developing.
Then, I thought I understood what change was about.
I did and I didn’t.
Let me put it another way.
The Path of Change
When we enter an unknown territory, like with a recession or a viral pandemic, we tend to rely on past experience to guide us through.
Take the above picture for example. You are walking up this gentle hill for the first time.
You probably assume, without thinking, that what is on the other side is just like this side, but it isn’t.
What if the other side looked like this.
If this is the terrain you find, you could be ill-prepared to face it.
For many people this is what they have experienced with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Increasing, yet manageable, hardship.
Thinking that the lock-down will last a couple months, then, boom, the bottom drops out.
Your job is gone. Not returning. To get across this great chasm, you have to descend in order to reach the bottom so you can begin to move up.
Seth Godin calls this The Dip.
“The Dip is the long stretch between beginner’s luck and real accomplishment. … The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. A long slog that’s actually a shortcut, because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path.”
When The Great Recession occurred very little of my past experience prepared me for what I faced. The degree and kind of change required of me was not what I expected. The benefit is that it has prepared me to deal with the coronavirus crisis.
A decade ago, I thought change was about looking for new markets as I “re-invented myself.”
In retrospect, my best efforts simply delayed the inevitable. By mid-summer of 2011, it was clear that my consulting practice was never going to be what it once was. We think that change is about markets, programs, branding, and organizational structure. Those are just organizational structures that follow something more important.
What I discovered is that I had to change as a person.
Even saying that doesn’t capture what I learned. It doesn’t because it isn’t about me.
Whether you are 25, 50 or 75, dealing with change isn’t about what you can do. We all have things we can do. We’ve learned skills, had experience, and know how to do the job we are assigned. But, that isn’t the point.
The change that matters is about putting yourself in the position to make a difference, to make a contribution, to create impact. This idea has been part of my approach to leadership for four decades.
In the crisis of The Great Recession, I realized that my understanding of change was too abstract, logical, and rational. It didn’t fit with reality.
Reality is what confronts you everyday. It slaps you in the face. Trips you when you least expected. Reality isn’t an idea, a slogan or a brand. It is what exists when all the words no longer explain what is going on. It is what remains with you when you give up and decide it is time to start over.
Understanding What Change Is
In my book, Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative To Ignite Change, I wrote the following.
“It is vitally important that we understand what change is. It is the living, dynamic context of our lives. Every thought, every emotion, every action, every response in a particular moment operates within a change context. Every movement, shift in perspective, or initiative taken happens within the context of change.
Change is so prevalent that we don’t even see it. It is invisible until it becomes toxic or threatening. Then, we see it or feel it so much that we want to get out of it. Change is always present. It is our best friend and our worst enemy.
The skill needed is a recognition that we are always in transition. It is not just a mental note that change is always present. It is seeing precisely what kind of change is happening in the moment. Did I anticipate my clients stepping back from the projects we had planned? I was not surprised. All around me were people I knew whose businesses were in crisis.”
Change is the context of our lives. The question is how do we embrace it.
The Speed of Change
I learned something important by facing up to reality.
I call it the speed of change.
A lot of people want to slow change down. They want time to adapt. They want to think things through. They are looking for a way out, so they don’t have to change. They are waiting for someone else to come build a bridge across the chasm.
Slowing things down only increases the anxiety and the difficulty.
We need to speed up change. Change as soon as you know you should. Do this and you learn how to master the processes of adaptation and agility.
Increasing the speed of change forces us to simplify our life and work. We have to focus. Squeeze out the non-essentials and seek for singular results.
Greg McKeown calls this Essentialism. Gary Keller describes this as The One Thing. It is simply the focus that we need to get through the hard times.
I know. It is all very counter-intuitive. The faster you change, the slower things becomes. I know it sounds like something out of the Matrix. But, it is true.
It slows down because you are not overwhelmed with the anxiety of making a decision. Instead, you are focused on how to implement the decision you’ve just made.
To speed up change, focus on the impact that you want to have. Think only in terms of what change is necessary right now. And why it matters.
Steps To Be a Creator of Change
Ask the following questions. Write down your answers.
1. What do I do right now that has the greatest impact upon other people?
How do I make a difference that matters?
Now, increase the amount of time that you spend doing that.
2. What am I doing right now that seems like nothing more than an obligation?
Begin to plan now for ending it as soon as possible.
3. Pay off as much debt as soon as possible.
Build your cash reserves so that you’ll have the freedom to stop and start again.
4. Create a list of the assumptions upon which you make your major decisions. Write them down.
Be skeptical of each assumption.
Make sure that each is valid, not simply a good sounding idea.
5. Be patient, persistent, and light-hearted.
I call this Resourceful Optimism.
Practice it and you’ll get through.
Change is going to happen regardless of what happens.
Why not preempt the change that you don’t want with the change that you do?