Change : Mastering Change: The New Realities

Mark Sanborn is the president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea lab dedicated to developing leaders in business and life. An internationally recognized speaker and author, he has authored seven and co-authored five books, over 20 videos and numerous audio training programs on leadership, change, teamwork and customer service. His books include: Upgrade! Proven Strategies for Improving Personal and Professional Success, The Fred Factor: Every Person's Guide for Making the Ordinary Extraordinary, and Teambuilt: Making Teamwork Work. He has presented over 1700 speeches and seminars in every state and 10 foreign countries.

Mark is a member of Speakers Roundtable, 20 of the top speakers in the world today. He holds the Certified Speaking Professional designation from the National Speakers Association and is a member of the exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame.

And he's a founding professor of, an internet-based knowledge transfer company ( ).

Contact Mark Find out more about Mark Sanborn on the Sanborn and Associates website


"Change is the law of life. 

And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
John F. Kennedy

Change is inevitable in all facets of life. To stay on the leading edge requires the skills of mastering change. I focus on just that: helping you develop the paradigms and sk ills to become a change master in your personal and professional life.

First let us discuss how to think about change. Thought determines action; correct thought determines correct action. Mastering change requires... The very nature of change has undergone both subtle and dramatic changes. It is important that our views about change and its implications are contemporary and sound. Let's look, then, at the realities of change.

1. The World at Large isn't the same as the World of One

It's been 25 years since Alvin Toffler published Future Shock, a book based on the dread that most people felt about the future. Peter Schwartz interviewed Toffler for Wired magazine ( a must read for people on the leading edge ) and asked what big things he didn't anticipate, Toffler said that one central error of Future Shock is that it wasn't radical enough. He went on to relate:

I once had a class of 15 year old high school kids and I gave them index cards, and I said, "Write down seven things that will happen in the future." They said there would be revolutions and presidents would be assassinated, and we would all drown in ecological sludge. A very dramatic series of events. But I noticed that of the 198 items that they handed in, only six used the word "I." So I gave them another set of cards, and I said, "Now I want you to write down seven things that are going to happen to you. Back came, "I will be married when I'm 21, "I will live in the same neighborhood, I will have a dog." And the disjunction between the world that they were seeing out there and their own presuppositions was amazing! We thought about this, and concluded on the basis of just guesswork that the image of reality that they're getting from the media is one high-speed rapid change, and the image that they're getting in their classroom is one of no change at all.

I suggest yet another explanation for what Toffler observed. We tend to think that change especially significant changeis something that happens to other people. We don't really think it will affect usuntil it actually does. In other words, we don't believe the world at large is the same as our world of one.

It has been astutely noted that the difference between a recession and a depression is this: in a recession, your next door neighbor loses his job, in a depression, you lose your job.

Impersonal change is an abstract concept. We can't be adequately prepared for the future until we realize that the changes impacting others will almost certainly affect us as well. The world of one is very similar to the world at large.

2. Change is normal but not natural

At a biological level, change and adaptation are normal and natural. The biological process of life is one of continual change. But at an intellectual level, it seems that change is any thing but natural. Most deny or resist it, few embrace it.

The natural world offers some useful metaphors for dealing with change. Consider how trees deal with strong winds. The tree is incapable of controlling the strength of the wind any better than we can control the world we live in. Rather than resist and break, the tree bends and sways. It moves with the forces of nature in such a way that it survives and prospers.

3. We aren't taught how to be change adept

Dealing with change is a crucial skill, and yet we aren't taught how to do it. It is assumed that the basic skills taught in the classroom will somehow "add up" to make us change adept. I doubt that they ever did.

Events are redefining "stability." It is foolish to look for external sources of stability. The only real stability in times of change is based on internal resilience. Our own values and beliefs are our gyroscope in a wild careening world.

4. Change is painful

If corporate America has been guilty of ignoring an important aspect of change, it is this.

Writing for Fortune magazine ( "How Will We Live With The Tumult," 12/13/93 ) Stratford Sherman points out, "The era of revolutionary corporate changestill just beginning promises enormous economic improvements at an exceptionally high cost in human pain."

In the same issue, the cover story reported that GE, Ameritech, Tenneco & Allied Signal have shed nearly 250,000 jobs under their present leaders while creating $104 billion in new wealth. This is one of the dismaying paradoxes of business today: the simultaneous cre ation of wealth at the cost of great pain.

It is easy to become insensitive to the human cost of change. Even when it is necessary for organizational survival, real people suffer jobs are lost. Men and women like ourselves agonize over decisions about their career and relationships. Don't downplay or discount the pain of change, for yourself or others.

5. It will never be"back to normal," but rather "forward to normal"

"Nothing endures but change." Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

We can't rationally look forward to things getting back to normal. They never will be the same again. No amount of wishing, hoping or waiting will make them so. Change-adept leaders look forward to determine what "normal" will be.

6. Change is relative

Some people and/or industries are being rocked more severely by change than others. I recently spoke at a public utility that was experiencing layoffs for the first time in their 107 year history. As you might expect, they were traumatized much more than those industries where downsizing has been going on for the past five or ten years.

You present change-resilience will be determined in part by how much change you've been accustomed to in the past. Because of their employment background and experience, some peopleeven within the same department or familywill be more change adept than others.

7. The skills and beliefs necessary for dealing with change are transferrable

When it comes to change, the world is your classroom: whether at work or at home, with a spouse or a colleague, we have plenty of change to learn.

Context and circumstances change, but truth is truth. That's why it is important to learn the fundamentals of change.

8. We are not in control of many of the changes that affect us

Some changes are initiated by us; others are imposed by others or circumstance. We can't count on being "proactive" to determine which changes will impact us. We must be as capable of dealing with imposed changes as we are in dealing with change by choice.

9. Change itself has changed

Jean Paul Valery said, "The trouble with the future is that it is not what it used to be."

I don't agree with those who say, "We've always had change like this..." Change is substantively different. So what specifically has changed about change ?

In the past, most change was evolutionary : we modified our organizations. Today change is revolutionary. A revolution, by definition, makes things radically different.

In the case of re-engineering, everything is being abandoned and management is starting from scratch. Organizations and lives aren't being modified or adjusted, they are literally being transformed.

We've gone from "new and improved" to "unimagined and radical." The speed of telecom munication has accelerated business, social and political change around the globe. We watch world events as they occur in the comfort of our own living rooms.

And change today is more complex. We live in an interconnected and interdependent world. Change touches many and, as such, requires their input and/or cooperation to address.

Since change is differentmore dramatic, complex and voluminous we are confronted by a new reality: the past is incapable of explaining much of the present and most of the future . We can't always use old patterns to solve new problems.

Leading Edge Lesson: The first step to mastering change is to view it positively but realistically. Do you agree with the laws of change as I've described them ? Why or why not ? Does your thinking need to change for your future success in becoming change-adept ?

© Copyright ©2000 Mark Sanborn. All rights reserved.

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