Change Revisited

Opinions - March 20th, 2009
weekender-0069

I am feeling somewhat pleased with myself (something my mother always warned against).

The reason is simple: a reader, Trevor, wrote to me about a recent column. Finally, proof that somebody out there actually reads what I struggle to write for each issue! Believe me, it matters. Writing tends to be a solitary pursuit and, unless you have a good editor—which I’m thrilled to say I do—you can go for long stretches without any feedback at all.

So when a reader finds the time and trouble to comment on what you’ve written, it makes the time you spent sitting, cat in your lap, before a blank screen wondering why the words won’t come worthwhile after all.

And, no, I am not making this up: Trevor’s feedback was as completely unprompted as it was welcome. He is not my golf buddy, tennis partner, or a guy I drink with in Roppongi on Saturdays. He wrote because he felt he had something to say and good on him for doing so. (The perspicacious reader might detect a hint of a hint in that last sentence.)

Trevor’s comments are about change and my assertion in a recent column that people fear it. He argues—rightly, I think, to a degree—that it isn’t change as such that people fear, but having change forced upon them; after all there can be no growth without change, whether we are talking about personal development or corporate expansion, and so in the right circumstances, we embrace it.

In reality, there’s little else we can do because change is in the essential nature of all things. From the tiniest atomic particle to the immensity of the universe itself, change is everywhere; it is on-going and unstoppable. You and I are literally not the same beings we were a matter of a few years ago; again and again, throughout our lives, one hundred percent of the cells that make up our bodies are entirely renewed in an on-going process that leads eventually to our corporeal deaths.

Why then do we so often resist change? Why do we fail to recognize the potential for learning something new: about our jobs, our colleagues, ourselves? Trevor’s comment aside, I return to my point that it is often because we are afraid of the unknown. When we do allow ourselves to be open to the lessons that change can bring, we stand to gain a great deal and in a business environment where the ground rules themselves seem constantly to be shifting, the ability to adapt to new circumstances is an important asset for today’s business executive.

Kevin Cashman in his book Leadership from the Inside Out talks of the need to find the “true north” of self-discovery in order to successfully navigate change. I am reminded of Thoreau’s reflection that “things do not change; we change.”