Last week I tweeted, “The only thing any of us can know for certain is that life will continue to change at a rapid pace,and the world would continue on its axis;” seemingly nothing had changed rapidly . Do I still believe this statement? Wholeheartedly yes, I do. Because if you really look, you will find out; you will see. Organisational consultant Peter Vail calls this rapid change “permanent white water,” referring to a time of ongoing uncertainty and turbulence.
One of the books I am currently reading now is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. He drives the point of change as it pertains to the progression of life as we now know it when he said that we have previously lived in a country he calls Mediocristan, where cause and effect were closely connected because life was simpler and the range of possible events was small. Now, the global community lives in a place he has named Extremistan, in which we are more interdependent, and at the mercy of “the singular, the accidental, the unseen and the unpredicted.”
No one will escape this sword of change. Whether you are the CEO of an oil-and-gas conglomerate or a fresh undergraduate who now wants to join the workforce, people of all ages and walks of life are scrambling to deal with the vast changes happening today – in every part of the world. For most of us, this uncertainty isn’t fun. But what are we to do? Keep on doing what’s worked in the past and hope for the best? Scare ourselves into immobility with doom-and-gloom scenarios? Bury our heads in the sand hoping for the best?
I’ve become convinced that the best thing—perhaps the only thing—we can do to prepare ourselves for life in the future is to learn how to change. To learn to adapt to whatever circumstances come our way, because we can’t predict what they will be. The ability to adapt is, as far as I can tell, the key indicator of success in these turbulent times. It’s the capacity to be flexible and resourceful in the face of ever-changing conditions.
Aikido masters say that to be successful in life, three kinds of mastery are required: mastery with self, which means understanding our feelings and thoughts and how to regulate and direct them; mastery with others, which means being able to create shared understanding and shared action, and; mastery with change, which means having the capacity to adapt easily without losing our centre – our values, talents, and sense of purpose. I’m talking here about the third.
Do you know how to change easily? I think it’s a very rare capacity, because most of us don’t understand the science of it or how to work with the way our brains are structured, to make it as painless as possible. Who among us took a class on “How to Cope with Change,” or had parents who said, “Now I’m going to teach you how to not just survive in life, but thrive no matter what happens?” In the past, changes happened more slowly, and our need to adapt was much, much less. Here’s just one example of the acceleration of change: Starting at 1 AD, it took 1500 years for the amount of information in the world to double. It’s now doubling at the rate of once every two years. No wonder we’re scrambling to keep up!
Adaptability begins with understanding the process in this very simple cycle I have drawn below:
We complete this process naturally when a change is small. Say you’re planning to go out to dinner tonight with a lady and she calls at the last minute and cancels. You think to yourself, well that’s out (accept), what else could I do this evening (expand)? Then you go do it (take action).
It is when changes are big, painful, confusing, and/or disruptive of your hopes and dreams that it’s hard to see there is a process at work. Being aware of the process can help us avoid getting stuck along the way, suffering needlessly, and using up precious time; for we’re not just being asked to adapt these days, but to do it speedily. What differentiates the “Change Masters” I know from other people is how quickly they can go through the process – ok, that’s over, now what? They expect to bounce back and are able to see the opportunities that change presents. Fortunately, once you become conscious of how the process of adaptation works, you too can face future changes with greater confidence and swiftness – rather than getting hung up on the rocks of denial, anger, or helplessness.
Next week, we are going to go in-depth in the art of developing our ability to adapt and also look at the top-ten “change sink-holes.” Have a great week ahead.
Peace of mind over everything…
Joseph E. Parker is a project manager for an NGO in Nigeria.
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