We often view change as something that happens to us – an external force that rudely imposes on our comfort zone and forces us to think, feel and act differently.
Lately, I’ve been really interested in change from an organisational perspective – how businesses adapt to stay competitive in the market but also how the best businesses create an employee culture that embraces (rather than fears and resists) change.
The textbooks use buzz words like ‘stakeholder engagement’ and ‘strategic communication’, but I’ve discovered that the human process for dealing with change is universally the same – whether it’s a billion dollar corporate merger or switching from your usual brand of peanut butter.
There are those that resist change because it can be hard and they’re stuck in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. And then there are those that embrace it – the ones with the much preferred “evolve or dissolve” mentality.
Recently, I was recommended a book called Who Moved My Cheese (thanks Dad!). You’d be forgiven for judging this book by its cover, but it’s one of the best-selling business books of all time. Why? Because in less than 100 pages, in large font, with pictures and using a story about two mice and two “little people” searching for cheese, it explains everything you need to know about change. The four characters represent the four most common approaches to dealing with unexpected change – and the cheese, a metaphor for what you want and value most in life. A simple story with a few simple messages:
Take stock of your cheese
It’s easy to get complacent and take people, things and opportunities for granted. As soon as you feel entitled to what you have, you become a victim when it’s taken away. Instead, always be in the driver’s seat – be aware of your circumstances and try to have an attitude of gratitude. This way, if you lose the cheese, you’ll be less inclined to wallow and more inclined to proclaim c’est la vie and start the search for better cheese.
There’s no such thing as out of the blue. It might take hindsight to get that 20/20 vision, but often the small hints that change was coming were there and simply ignored – in the legal industry, we call this wilful blindness (aka the ‘head in the sand’ approach). Instead, we should accept and expect change – as Ross would say, be in a state of “unagi” (awareness). This book goes further to suggest that if we not only expect change but actively look for it, we will naturally adapt faster and be stronger, happier and smarter for it – change will inevitably lead to a new and improved you, Version 2.0. This process is neatly summed up in four words – move with the cheese.
Get back into the maze
Life often has a way of forcing us make decisions when we don’t necessarily feel ready for it. Suddenly (see ‘Expect Change’) you’re newly single, changing jobs or industries, house hunting, relocating, working for a new boss or required to use a new program/process/gadget – perhaps your long-term hair dresser has moved on or your favourite perfume is discontinued. Your metaphorical cheese has turned bad or has been taken away all together. In this book, the mouse that accepted this and went back into the maze (life) to find new cheese was happier and more successful in the long run. He realised that being scared but in the maze looking for cheese was preferable to the alternatives of sitting with smelly old cheese or starving to death with no cheese. The maze can be a scary place but visualising yourself at the “finish line” can help reduce that anxiety and actually increase your chances of finding the fabulous new cheese. So picture yourself enjoying a lazy Sunday brunch with your new beau/belle, living in that awesome warehouse conversion in Brooklyn or landing that dream job – whatever your dream cheese is. The Law of Attraction is pretty powerful stuff.
Be a mouse not a man
We humans are complex creatures – the rational brain has significantly developed since the caveman days and basic instincts now include over-thinking and over-analysing. Mice, on the other hand, are simple and uncomplicated. This book shows that, when it comes to handling change, it’s best to resort to basics – don’t think about the change too much, just do what has to be done. And more importantly – when you realise you’ve been latching onto smelly cheese or wasting time analysing how the cheese disappeared, laugh it off! Don’t waste even more time beating yourself up about it. This is one of the few times where it’s better to be a mouse than a man.
Finally, this book poses the question – what would you do if you weren’t afraid? It’s amazing how often fear is the only thing really holding us back – and it’s often at the heart of every excuse we come up with to avoid and resist change. Change is a neutral term – neither good nor bad – but it tends to elicit the worst-case-scenario thoughts. For me, it’s that increased likelihood of mistakes and exposure of vulnerability. But take the fear out of the equation and suddenly anything is possible. Isn’t that a wonderfully exciting thought?
If you’re anything like me, after reading this post you’re craving a French triple cream brie (or a delightfully aged cheddar, if that’s your thing), some quince paste and a glass of red. And, for what it’s worth, you have my blessing! Every time you approach change in your personal or professional life, you’ll remember to move with the cheese.
Beautiful photograph taken from here.