"The only person who truly welcomes lots of changes is a baby
with a full diaper."
Occasional changes, in work or personal life, are exhilarating
and challenging. Past that point, rapid, unpredictable change is
simply wearing and stressful, as reflected in an ancient Chinese
curse, "May you live in interesting times".
The past 10 years have been, to say the least, "interesting"
for North American corporations and their executives. In this period:
nearly half of all companies were restructured; over 90,000 firms
were acquired or merged; 240,000 companies were downsized; nearly
half a million simply failed.
Even change has changed. In the good old days, we experienced and
learned how to deal with "more" changes, and with "faster"
changes. These hard won learnings, today, have limited value, since
most here-and-now changes are no longer linear, i.e. moving in old
familiar directions, only faster. Hence the term "hyperchange".
Hyperchange is only secondarily about speed. It is mostly about
novelty and unpredictability. Many of the changes demanding space
on your desk, or in your boardroom have not been seen before. Certainly
they have no off-the-shelf solutions.
For example, consider the hydro electric generating corporation
which, until recently, was the largest design-and-build construction
company in North America. Now, there is literally nothing to build.
Or, perhaps, the 90 turn (some would say 180 ) faced by a digital
switching telecommunications manufacturer when they discovered their
market had become digitally saturated. No longer able to remain,
first and foremost, a manufacturer, they are becoming leaders in
software-based, value adding applications for the switching equipment
they had already sold.
Most profound and widespread amongst the, until recently, unthinkable
changes are those faced by employees, at all levels and of all professional
stripes, who are now slowly realizing "we're all freelancers
now". The tacit yet cherished belief in employment for life
has been badly frayed, if not broken, in even the most staid of
Being a value adding freelancer where the corporate criteria defining
what's valuable may change radically in six months' time is difficult...
and, in the early stages, highly stressful. Yet, asFortune
magazine recently reminded us, the concept of a "job"
and "job security" are historically very recent creations.
About 125 years ago, most of us didn't have "jobs"; we
simply did whatever we had to to make a living for ourselves and
Core Beliefs of Those Who
Thrive in Hyperchange
Since the early 1980's, I've been asked to work with several dozen
corporations, and thousands of employees dealing with hyperchange.
Some thrive. Others just get weaker.
The watershed difference between those who grow stronger and those
who barely survive in meeting the challenges of change is these
four committed beliefs:
"Life is difficult." (one of Buddhism's "noble
"If you would only accept how tough life is, you would find
it much, much easier." (advice offered by the financier J.P.
Morgan to his son)
"What doesn't kill you ONLY makes you stronger IF you learn
"We can't wait for the storm [of change] to pass. We'll all
have to learn to work in the rain." (P. Silas, Chairman of
Personal Best Practices
for Thriving in Hyperchange
- Accept that rising stress is the totally normal response in
the early stages of turbulent change. Difficulty concentrating,
the inability to "shut down" on weekends, or being impatient,
boiling over at a tiny irritant are biochemically inevitable (if
you're a human). The high octane hormones that fuel the stress
response are triggered automatically when we encounter too much
uncertainty. Whether confronting an unusually silent spouse, or
an ominously vague memo, we humans are programmed, when in doubt,
to expect the worst. So don't be surprised that stress is providing
you the energy to meet the challenge. In fact, expect it; allow
for it. Only if the anger, the anxiety or the depressed mood persist
is corrective action warranted.
- Carefully choose, and write down your answer to: Who, specifically,
do I want to be (known as) when times are tough and turbulent?
Flexibility in your self concept, in your expectations of yourself,
is an asset, to a point. Beyond that, "going with the flow"
and "keeping all options open" is a common trap, leaving
many feeling uncentred and over- stressed in response to conflicting
- Review and reaffirm the unique strengths you bring to your work,
especially in the changing situation. In the face of firefighting
and related time pressures, many of us lose sight of what our
past successes have taught us about ourselves. Our sense of our
own value can become limited to whichever of our talents allowed
us to wrestle the most recent issue to the ground.
- Practice a simple method for breaking free of wheel spinning
worry. Target one of your recurring worry situations and honestly
answer these four questions. Can I change it? Will I change it?
(How?) If the situation goes badly, what's the worst realistic
effect on me? If it does go badly, what's my specific plan?
- Reacquaint yourself, in very concrete terms, with your work
"satisfiers". For you as a unique person, what are the
specific work experiences that might leave you, at the end of
an admittedly tiring day, saying to yourself as you drive home,
"That was a good day"? Write down your answers. Then
plan for and take several simple actions to get on e of your satisfiers
more frequently into your work day. My clients report that these
and related steps have yielded 30 to 50% increases in their work
The health effects of becoming more actively self-satisfying are
even more impressive. My research on stress and rate of aging indicates
that high levels of self- generated satisfaction at work not only
protect against, but may also reverse the corrosive effects of high
levels of stress hormones. Stress levels are not the problem. Health,
motivation, and marriages seem to suffer only when stress "investments"
are not met by commensurately satisfying "returns".
Richard C.B. Earle, Ph.D. Dean,
Academic Programs Selye-Toffler University
Box 665, Station "U" Toronto, Ontario Canada M8Z 5Y9
Tel (416) 237-1828 FAX (416) 237-9894