Thinking about change differently makes it easier to do.
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There's a reason some people fear change: It can be scary. It can also be uncomfortable, nerve wracking and potentially embarrassing. But that doesn't mean you should avoid change. Fear of change can keep you from reaching your full potential, both at work and in your personal life.
But there's an easy way to get over your fear of the "C" word — just change the way you think about change. Chris Majer — founder and CEO of The Human Potential Project, a Washington State-based management and leadership consulting firm — thinks of change as a never-ending cycle of learning. Armed with this definition, Majer has helped corporate clients (AT&T, Microsoft, Intel) and various military agencies (Army, Navy, Marines) break down the barriers that keep change at bay, so that these organizations can achieve greater success.
In the second-edition release of his book, "The Power to Transform: Passion, Power and Purpose in Daily Life" (Rodale Books, September 2013), Majer shares the methods that he has developed over several decades for bringing about meaningful changes in his clients' personal and professional lives. From training oneself to "do" instead of think, to relearning how to use language effectively, Majer's prescribed path to transformation is both insightful and unexpected.
In an email interview with BusinessNewsDaily, the author explains why change is such a powerful tool, both at home and at work, and gives some advice on how to avoid the obstacles that can get in the way of transforming life for the better.
BusinessNewsDaily: You say that transformation is a word commonly used but rarely understood. What does transformation really mean?
Chris Majer: Transformation is simply a rapid amount of change in a short amount of time. It stands in contrast to normal, incremental change, which is what most everyone is used to or willing to believe in.
To the untrained eye, transformation can look like magic, but it is the result of a precisely designed process. Too many companies have given up on the prospects of transformation as they rely on practitioners — either inside or outside the organization — who know the lingo, but not the authentic process or practices of transformation.
BND: Why is the conventional wisdom surrounding change wrong? What's the right way to make change happen?
C.M.: The conventional wisdom treats change as an evolutionary, incremental process. It can work that way, but here is the danger: The world today is making tectonic changes, and puny, incremental responses will only leave us further and further behind.
BND: Many people who are starting new businesses are met with cynicism from others — even family members and friends. Why do you think this is? What's the best way to deal with cynicism?
C.M.: Cynicism is what we refer to as the coward's mood. The cynic is the person who lives in this generic story: "I trusted/tried X once (love, government, change, learning, skiing, whatever), and I was betrayed/disappointed/cheated/failed, so I will never do that again. Anyone who tries that is a fool, and if you just listen to me, I will tell you why it won't work."
The entrepreneur is met with cynicism from the cowards who don't want to confront their lack of courage to take a risk, step outside the box or risk the excitement of a new game.
BND: One of the first points you make in your book is that language creates reality. Is there a way to improve language, thereby creating a better reality?
C.M.: The short answer is yes — and it all starts with me. The key is rigor and intention. If I truly intend to change something in my life, then it starts with how I speak about it. It’s not "if" I make the change, it's "when" I make it. That simple little tune up sets the mind to work in a different context.
"I will never get this done," is a belief that may be easy to fall into, but it is one that sets up failure and provides an excuse to quit. "This is a challenge, but I will get there," is a different response to the same circumstances. What matters is the story we tell ourselves about the circumstances.
There is example after example of people who enabled miraculous results — be it in ridding themselves of disease, achieving great sporting results or simply turning around a messy relationship — by changing the story about it. All stories live in language.
BND: You point out that society often falls into the trap of assuming universal competence. Can you give some examples of how this trap might play out in the workplace?
C.M.: The business examples are classic and easy to see. What [I point to in the book] is the danger of assuming universal competence. My adage is that competence is domain specific. That someone was a great sales person doesn't mean she will make a great sales manager. Why? Selling and managing are two distinct domains of competence.
Look at Michael Jordan — arguably the world's best basketball player. He is a pretty good golfer and, at best, a semi-pro baseball player. Competence is domain specific.
BND: The idea that "we don't know what we don't know" is commonly applied to struggling businesses. You relate a similar idea, "being blind to our blindness." Why is this blindness detrimental, and how can it be remedied?
C.M.: This blindness is unavoidable and comes with being human. It isn't possible for anyone to know everything, and, thus, we all have our blind spots. [Blindness] is dangerous only when combined with arrogance. Assuming you know everything you need to know is where people get in trouble.
This is especially true in young companies. They get started with a great idea or product, and the founders are deeply steeped in the technology. They are frequently blind to what it really takes to build an organization, develop markets, allocate budgets, etc. The smart ones don't assume they know, and look for outside help. The arrogant ones typically don't last long.
BND: What's the difference between what you call the "drive for novelty" and innovation?
C.M.: Novelty and innovation are in no way related. The drive for novelty is the corporate tendency to chase the latest and greatest "management fads."
My favorite current example is the new fad around [employee] engagement. This is a total waste of time and money as it is a symptom, not a cause. The cause is degenerative moods. People who are living in resignation, resentment, complacency or distrust have no capacity to be engaged in things and no amount of "happy clappy" work is going to change that. This is the stuff of novelty.
Innovation is the key to the future. Innovation is an incremental or radical improvement to a product or process that shifts the practices of some community. Most organizations are terrible at innovation as they don't know how to generate it. Instead, they wait for it to happen — not a great strategy.
BND: How can the two declarations, "I always have a choice," and, "I am inherently able," help someone who is at a crossroads in their professional life?
C.M.: They are the antidote to despair and resignation, which is what stops most people from taking new, bold steps in their life. Most people are driven more by fear than possibility and look for excuses not to take a risk. When things don't go well, they look for something or someone to blame. If I hold that I choose this current reality, then I can choose another one.
BND: What role does accountability play in the workplace?
C.M.: This connects to the previous question. Today, the great American pastime is being a victim. "It wasn’t my fault. He/she/they did it." We have taken it to absurd lengths, and it is killing the drive we need to rebuild the economy.
Accountability is essential in any high-performing team. Each team member holds it as his personal mission to ensure the success of the team, setting aside individual agendas and working for the good of the team. Instilling this principle in an organization is not easy, but it is essential. And once people are living inside the choice to be accountable for everything, [then] performance, productivity and profitability all dramatically change.