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61. Change or Die!

The company Kodak has recently gone into liquidation. There can be barely anyone over fifty who has not at some stage owned a Kodak camera. Kodak invented the flexible film roll in the late 1800s, the one-dollar Brownie was a sensation in the early 1900s, and the Instamatic was the most popular camera in the sixties. As late as 1990, Kodak commanded 85% of camera sales in the US. They did produce a first digital camera in the seventies, and devised a strategy for moving to digital, but, as it says in the entry in Wikipedia, 'as Kodak executives could not fathom a world without traditional film there was little incentive to deviate from that course.' And now they are no more. This week's tip is about change, the dangers of resisting it, and the rewards of accepting it. Do you ever find yourself turning on the telly at some random time, there's an old black and white film running and, it's so good, that before you know it you've settled down and are completely absorbed? I recall doing that a couple of years back. I have no idea of the name of the film or what it was about, I just witnessed one conversation and it has stuck in my mind. It was between two men talking in Southern States accents. It became apparent that one of them had left his southern roots and become a politician in Washington. The other, his oldest friend, had stayed locally and become mayor of their home town. They were arguing. The Washington politician was expounding his worldly, neo-liberal views while the Southern Mayor was standing up for the old values. At length the mayor gave up. 'You've changed,' he said sadly, shaking his head. 'And you,' said the other, 'have not changed at all.' Spencer Johnson, in his best-selling allegory on change 'Who Moved My Cheese?', tells the story of two mice, Sniff and Scurry, and two Littlepeople, Hem and Haw. They live together in one part of a maze. For some time there has been plenty of cheese in that place and they are well fed and comfortable, but one day there isn't any. The two mice, who are simple creatures, just pack their bags and scurry off into the maze to look for new cheese. The Littlepeople, though, do not. They like their place, they're comfortable there, and they feel sure that if they hang on and make enough fuss, the cheese will reappear. It doesn't, of course, and one of the Littlepeople, Haw, eventually sets off on his own to find new cheese. Hem stays and starves. So it was with Kodak and the Mayor. Change consultants will tell you that there are two ways to get people to change - enlighten them as to what dreadful things will happen if they don't change, and persuade them with what wonderful things will happen if they do. But that isn't as easy as it sounds - look at the Littlepeople in Spencer's story. Firstly they don't quite believe, despite the evidence, that things will get worse if they stay. Secondly they don't believe things will be good if they leave, in fact they're terrified of leaving. And that's exactly how all of us feel when faced with change that we haven't chosen, stuck between two equally unappealing options. Decisions in these instances are extraordinarily difficult, whether it's leaving that is necessary, or changing yourself so that you can stay. Some people are naturally more adaptable than others and are less risk-averse, but others can be truly paralyzed by this kind of dilemma. The root of the problem, of course, is in the thinking. The belief that things will sort themselves out is maintained by blanking out inconvenient truths, otherwise known as denial. The belief that things will be awful if you change or leave is maintained by making scary predictions about the future, ones that may or may not happen. You increase the chances of making the right decision at the right time by keeping a careful eye out for signs of change, noticing which way things are going and accepting that fact, planning ahead, and seeing change as an opportunity and an adventure rather than an endurance test. Haw found that once he'd left the 'safety' of his old place, although the going wasn't always easy, his fear began to dwindle and a new sense of optimism and excitement about the future arose. His energy was now released towards the present and the future instead of being focussed on what was quite clearly the past. And, of course, he eventually found a new and even better supply of cheese.... Try this: 1. Think of a part of your life that is no longer working for you, or is threatening to no longer work for you. It could be your job, a relationship, a friendship, a business arrangement, which supermarket you use, what you do with your holidays, a project you're working on. If your ducks are all neatly in a row at the moment and everything is working well for you, you can use these questions to examine how you dealt with change in the past. 2. Taking this part of your life, do a reality check - what is still good about it? What used to work that no longer does? What are the signs and symptoms of it no longer working? When did those signs and symptoms start? Are they getting better, worse or staying the same? What do other people say or observe about the situation? If you hope things will improve or go back to how they were, are your hopes realistic? In other words, what is the cheese situation and are you better off cutting your losses and looking for cheese elsewhere? 3. What are you currently doing about this situation? Waiting to see what happens? Waiting for it to improve? Trying to fight it or make it better? Trying to find ways of adapting to it? Complaining about it but doing nothing? Accepting it and preparing for change? Planning an exit strategy? 4. What do you think your life would be like if, like Haw, you moved away from the situation and searched elsewhere for 'cheese'? What is the worst case scenario, and how would you deal with it? What is the best case scenario and what would it be like? What would be a realistic prediction? 5. What would you like to do about this situation now? 'Lord grant me serenity to accept the things I can't change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.' The Serenity prayer Have a good week!