Radical leaders understand that change isn't important for getting ahead, it's important for maintaining where we are at. There is often a hidden dilemma behind change; we have to get out of our comfort zone and immerse ourselves into uncertainty. Uncertainty that we will be able to get to the same comfort level that we just gave up. Uncertainty that the change will not be as effective as the method we just left. Uncertainty that we will be as competent in a new method as we previously were. Without change, however, one thing is certain; we will be left behind.
Obsolete Skill Sets
I was talking to a developer a while back and we were discussing his career. He was a developer in the late 80's and 90's and had made a great living being one of the best at what he had done. As he really isn't at retirement age quite yet, I asked him what he is currently doing. He explained that his work has faded out so he is just taking it easy these days.
I was shocked. I listen to podcast after podcast about entrepreneurs who are looking for great developers. It seems like everyone needs a great developer, but here is one who says that work has slowed. How can this be? So I asked him. It turns out that he specialized in code that is quickly becoming obsolete. He was the best at what he did, but there isn't a demand for his skill-set anymore. He explained that he was so immersed in his work that he never took the time to learn new skill sets. So now he finds himself proficient in a skill that is no longer needed. He played to his strengths without looking ahead and diversifying his strengths.
Change Disrupts Something That Appears to be Working
My son has come to enjoy a band that plays kids songs. The lead singer has been in the children's music business for about twenty years and has build a fairly recognized brand and found independent success.
In talking with this artist a few years back, he mentioned in passing that his income just wasn't the same as they used to be. He said, "one day I woke up and kids just stopped buying CDs," which was one of the primary sources of revenue when he toured. This musician had experienced the same shift that most of the record industry experienced in the mid 2000's.
The challenge this musician faced was that things were good for him. He was comfortable and making a good income, especially from CD sales at live events. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to adapt to change while things were comfortable and going well. As he didn't alter his music delivery channel from CDs to digital, he found himself left behind, not knowing what hit him.
To this day, he still doesn't have his music on iTunes. Changing a delivery channel can be a frightening task, especially when we have found previous success though a different method. We might even think that we did something wrong, keeping hope that we can figure out "what we did wrong" and get back to the way things were.
The reality is that new ways can be a good thing. For example, the great thing about electronic delivery is that a musician can generate word of mouth sales that are just not attainable when CDs are sold at shows. Especially kids songs.
Just imagine a mom enjoying a tune and sharing it with other moms. In an online model, the parents are now also customers where CDs sold at live shows, such as camps, leave the child as the sole customer. While instant, tangible sales are comfortable, there is a great opportunity for those musicians who are willing to adapt to this changing environment.
The change dilemma is that we must disrupt something that seems to be working in hopes of an unproven, uncertain change.
Ways to Avoid Being Left Behind
Here are a few practical ways to ensure that you don't get left behind due to change.
Keep an Ear to the Ground
Years ago, before our modern day transportation infrastructure was around, travelers would find themselves needing to cross a bridge that was built for trains. This was a dangerous task, as being stuck in the middle of a bridge with an oncoming train that you couldn't out run left you with two options: jump or get hit. To avoid potential disasters, travelers would put their ear down to the track. This technique, taught by Native American trackers, would allow one to hear the movement of a train through the vibrations of the track while a train was still miles away.
Keeping an ear to the ground in business means that we are looking ahead to see what changing landscape lies in our future. We may not foresee every potential challenge, but keeping abreast too industry trends and consumer needs will help make the change transition smoother.
Retain Supportive Advisers
When you are immersed in the details of the daily grind, it is often difficult to see the big picture. As the old saying goes, it is difficult to see the forest between the trees. Having a group of advisers that support our vision help us to keep grounded with where we are and where we need to be. They have an outside perspective that we just can't see. Just as a stream can be seen from the air, one walking through a forest may have no idea they were right next to it.
Practice Change Regularly
In order to be ready for change, we can practice change on a regular basis. Whether it is changing the route of our commute, the food we eat, or exercise habits, change can be practiced.
The more we allow small changes to take place, the easier it will be to accept big changes that are imperative to the success of our organizations.
Question: Have have you seen change affect an organization?