managing change

Life isn’t fair. The world is full of injustice and inequality. Billions live in horrible poverty. Brutal wars kill and maim millions of blameless people. Corrupt governments destroy entire countries’ quality of life. Crooked leaders bilk thousands of investors out of their life savings and drive economies into ruin and throw people out of work. Genetic illnesses disable or shorten the lives of even those with the healthiest of lifestyles. Pandemics infect the globe, cutting down young and old alike. Drunk drivers kill parents, kids, brothers, sisters, spouses, friends, or themselves. Mental illness strikes individuals and families in random patterns. Alcoholism wreaks havoc in the lives of some “party-hearty drinkers” and not others. Natural disasters destroy one community while sparing others. Entire races are excluded or murdered because of their skin color.

Life isn’t fair. The world is full of miracles and narrow escapes. A fierce tornado destroys two homes completely, but one home right between them is untouched. A car careens out of control, flips, rolls, misses two trees, comes to rest on its roof, and the passengers walk away uninjured. A tiny minority of the world’s population enjoys a vast majority of its wealth simply because of the country, family, or time they were born in. A heavy smoker lives a healthy life into their nineties and dies peacefully during sleep. An average, dependable employee shows up for work every day at a start-up company that grows a thousandfold; he or she gets a few stock options and becomes incredibly wealthy. An entire generation is presented with economic growth and vast job options. People with the same skin color, gender, and ethnicity as those in power are promoted. Some people have a natural immunity to lethal diseases that strike many around them. A distracted driver enjoys decades of crash-free cruising. Multitudes of people are born with sound minds and healthy bodies to loving and nurturing parents in peaceful countries. Countless millions have an abundance of consumer goods, shelter, clean water, and healthy food available.

As the late-night comedian and former host of The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson, quipped, “If life was fair, Elvis would be alive, and all the impersonators would be dead.”

Life is turbulent, life is impermanent, life is ceaseless change, life is unpredictable, and life is unfair. All of these are life’s external conditions that each of us inherits the day we’re born. Life is life. Whether these outer conditions are good or bad, positive, or negative, or make us happy or unhappy depends on our inner conditions. It’s up to us.

We may be getting an incredibly turbulent ride in this life, or we might be coasting along smoothly. We may not choose what life throws at us. But we do choose how we respond. Life gives us the power to create our own reality.

Blowing or Growing in the Winds of Change

We’re living through yet another major world shift. This is another of dozens in a centuries-long line of disruptive pivot points. Part of nature’s rejuvenation is a phase of cleansing and purging. This usually rocks current frameworks, expectations, and maybe too-comfortable lifestyles. Cleansing and purging make room for the new order.

Depending on our perspective, a hinge of history like we’re currently experiencing is either an invigorating or a cursed time to be alive. If we choose to thrive on turbulence and change, this time is a rare gift to participate in, and help shape, new ways of doing and being in our personal lives, organizations, communities, and societies. Years from now, we’ll look at this hinge of history as an era of upheaval and renewal that inspired us to a higher and different order of prosperity. If we continue history’s long trends, we’re moving toward a great renaissance of spirit, cooperation, love, redefined wealth, and care for the earth’s environment.

During our strategic retreats, particularly team-planning sessions, we often compile a list of the best external trends creating the biggest strategic opportunities for this organization. We then list all the external trends creating the biggest challenges for this organization. Very often, many of the same trends end up on both lists. These include technology, customer expectations, competition, globalization, business/organizational models, product or service response/development times, workforce demographics and cultural diversity, government regulations, employee attitudes and expectations, environmental issues, and economic gyrations between rapid expansion and sharp contraction…

Babe Ruth, the legendary baseball player, also known as “The Sultan of Swat” and “The Home Run King,” once said, “Yesterday’s home run won’t win tomorrow’s ballgames.” Yesterday’s solutions are creating today’s problems — and opportunities. Today’s solutions plant the seeds of tomorrow’s challenges — and opportunities.

Think about lucky and unlucky people you know. Don’t the “lucky” people adapt better, bounce back from tragedy or adversity more quickly, learn from change, whether good or bad, and deal with things in a way you admire? We might ask ourselves, “How do they do that?”

Mayhem, madness, and miracles: life is out of our control. Our reaction to it, though, is not. How we face the uneven, random, and unfair winds of change determines where we end up. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, “The answer, my friend, is growin’ in the wind; the answer is growin’ in the wind.”