Living in the gray

Thriving in change

It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.

–Charles Darwin

Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win. 

–Max McKeown

We live in a society that teaches us to color within the lines. Academia teaches us to be precise, to gather all of the information, and then to make a conservative decision. Society teaches us that “the risk isn’t worth the reward.” Some of the worst business people are those with advanced degrees. I’ve employed my share of MBAs, Masters of Administration, and PhDs. I once had a staff member with two PhDs who spoke 6 languages fluently, who was a successful published author, and was a concert pianist. I hired her for $15/hour as front office support and had to terminate her within two months. She had a very limited functional skillset. She couldn’t think dynamically and very often was flustered with small issues that would come up day to day in an office setting.

Successful entrepreneurs are not only adept at adapting to change, but successful entrepreneurs thrive in the gray. They realize that whomever is first into a new arena has the market shares. Whomever is first in a new arena gets to set the rules. When innovation happens, there are very few players in that area. Shortly thereafter however, the market begins to fill up with imitators. The supply-demand curve changes and the advantage is lost. You have the most advantage when you can control a market. In order to be the first into a market you have to either be the first one to recognize that change is happening or you must be able to predict the change. Another way that it can happen is if you can cause a change. Microsoft and Apple were innovators in the 1970s. They created a market and from that market many, many new products have been created. They created a niche in the home computer market. Before Microsoft and Apple came out, IBM had the market. IBM however, only targeted businesses. With the new innovation of home computers many new every day task could be addressed. They created a change and from this change many new products were developed. This can also be done at a local level. You don’t have to be a huge national or international corporation in order to affect change. Just like any other grassroots movement, industrial change can start by serving a local need. It will eventually be emulated and by that time you will need to have changed the game again. If you don’t change in a dynamic market, then you will be left behind. Successful entrepreneurs are those who thrive during change and in fact look for change.

Change also happens as a consequence of the need to survive. In a free market environment, you will encounter constant and unpredictable change. You’ll have to be adaptable in order to stay on your feet. The business model must be malleable. In the healthcare arena many large hospitals go under because it takes too long to make decisions and then to reposition the organization. An entrepreneur stretches his organization to be adaptable. This is done by being able to make very small adaptations at the departmental level. In order to do this each employee must be able to recognize the changes necessary at his or her level and be empowered to with supervisory or managerial permission to adapt their hat, or their position to the changes necessary. It is easier to reposition a smaller organization within the corporation, then to reposition entire corporation itself. If I were standing on a ship and I had to adjust to the rocking of the ship, it would be easier to reposition my foot then to continually reposition my entire body. In the same way as long as a department stays align with the rest of the organization, small adjustment will keep the organization from ever being malposition for change.

Changing an entire organization very often comes at a price. To make small adjustments cost a lot less money. Review of the management literature shows that 70% of change initiatives fail or underperform and that the role and behaviors of leaders of change are largely associated to the success and failure of these changes. In other words, the behaviors of the leaders are the fundamental thing that allow for change in an organization. An entire book could probably be written on the characteristics that make a successful leader. A successful leader within an organization or an entrepreneur have to be confident and secure. We are either chasing pleasure a running from pain. Running from pain allows for us to make very stupid rash decisions. I would consider fears and insecurity the same as running from pain. This will lead to overcompensation. So it’s better to make a decision from a place of security. Desperation will get you off the wall, but success has to planned with objectivity. A successful entrepreneur needs to be chasing pleasure. That pleasure maybe productivity as measured by how many homeless people that your feed, the bottom line in terms of money, to create a legacy, or so many other things. But this will lead to a fervor and a sense of urgency that will cause a productive change. An entrepreneur must also have a well-balanced since of risk aversion. Entrepreneurs who are willing to take too many risks generally burn through their capital or resources and have nothing left for the next venture. Entrepreneurs who have too high of a risk aversion tend to spend so much time planning and contemplating that the opportunities pass them by.

As an entrepreneur, you must move from a place of passion, while at the same time not becoming emotionally attached to your endeavors. If you become emotionally attached, you will not be apt to dump a failing project before it drains you dry. You have to be able to play the odds and to walk away from losing situations. You must be able to lay off or terminate employees who are not productive. You must be willing to raise new technologies and abandon technologies, policies, and procedures that are not productive. Rarely do you hear someone say I wish I would’ve stayed in that failed venture a little longer. What you generally heard said is I should’ve got out a lot sooner.

An entrepreneur must be hungry for knowledge. You should be reading 3 to 5 books per month and whenever you hear something about which you don’t have knowledge in your industry, you should immediately start researching it and attempt to gain specific knowledge. It is specific knowledge that is rewarded and not academic knowledge.

Entrepreneurs drive change. A free-market society that allows for quick adaptability and change is more productive and more innovative because entrepreneurship is enabled. Societies that have a friendly environment that offer flexibility for individuals and limit governmental obstacles will promote productivity, efficiency, and have suitable restraints and laws to protect entrepreneurs. This provides an environment that will inspire people to develop practical solutions to either real or perceived needs. Entrepreneurship drives Innovation which drives progress and increases the standard of living for everyone in that environment. As activity increases so do jobs, opportunities, variability, and education.

It is human nature to have a fear of change that results in anxiety. It’s no different than a flight or fight response when encountering danger. The same way that some people are overwhelmed with that flight or fight response and either break down and run while others fight. Some people respond to that anxiety associated with change with stress and dysfunction, while others are exhilarated and embrace it. The entrepreneur is the person that embraces that and thrives in that environment. By having an attitude of continual reading and education, you increase your breadth of knowledge. It is the unknown that causes fear. Fill that unknown with knowledge of a little bit of everything, and you diminish that fear that comes with change. When armed with knowledge, your ability to adapt gives you a distinct advantage over everybody else. This is one of the most important tips to adapting to change. It allows you to better navigate the market. It is very important to keep your learning skills fresh. The more that you exercise your brain the more plasticity that you have which allows for you to learn better and to learn faster. 40% of your brain actually increases in density as a consequence of stimulation. The same way that if you’re vaccinated and encounter a virus that you can adapt to it very quickly, if you have an increase in plasticity in your brain you can absorb new information and add that to it faster than someone who does not have the same level of plasticity. Put it very simply, your constant learning allows for you to learn even more.

Ambiguity and uncertainty in the business arena are somewhat like standing on a surfboard. If you stood on the surfboard and we’re not expecting a wave, it would knock you on your butt. But if you were at a constant state of vigilance, and anticipated the wave, you would shift your balance to accommodate the wave and you could ride it. The same is true in the business environment when it comes to change. If you anticipate that change is coming, and if you can see what change is coming, then you will generally be able to adapt to it and ride that wave of change.

You have to love when you’re speaking with someone who has a business idea and they want to keep it close to their vests. They believe that if you hear their business idea that you’re going to steal it. I have no such worry. I understand that between a business idea developing in my head and me carrying it out, that I will reposition myself several times. When I express an idea, parts of it are already outdated.

Part of success is figuring it out as you go. Successful person after successful person would tell you that they stumbled upon an opportunity for which they had no experience. They embraced it and stepped up to the challenge, creating as they proceeded. An associate who owns multiple luxury car rental agencies started out detailing cars. Once he was detailing a professional athlete’s car and the athlete asked him if he knew of someone who can rent luxury cars for his friends who were coming into town. This associate said “I can help you with that”. He then went to a luxury car dealership and talked to the manager on the pre-owned lot. He told him that these cars are just sitting here not making you any money. Here’s how much I can make from these cars and I will give you half of what I earn. He worked a deal and everybody made money. He became known as the person who can get you luxury cars to rent. Another entrepreneur received a call asking if he knew of someone who had written a book on a particular matter. He responded “I’ve written one.” He subsequently sequestered himself for three days and wrote that book. I call this jumping on the treadmill when it’s going at full speed. It’s not for the weak of heart.


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