To succeed in the modern world we have little choice but to embrace change. Whether that applies to learning new skills, taking a new direction in work and life or indeed adapting to new environments and innovations, change is at the very core. Yet interestingly, in a world that is so dependent on the need to reinvent, for many, this continued fear of change and the unknown still haunts us. In fact, the concept of change itself is quite possibly the greatest contradiction of the modern times.
It is widely documented that the majority of people are known not to like change and yet the modern era not only requires change, but it demands it. It was Alvin Toffle who said: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Easing the journey
So how can we ease this trepid journey of change? Perhaps we should begin by acknowledging the level of change we have already endured (whether consciously or not)? For those people who started work during the 1980s, from a technological and cultural perspective they have had to consistently develop new skills all of the time from adapting to using mobile phones as a way of life, to the usage of email communications, laptop computers, tablets, the internet, social media and more.
The working environment has become challenging for almost everyone over the last couple of decades. Have you ever asked a lawyer whether their chosen career was the job they always dreamed of? Very few people will privately answer yes to that question and mean it. Many will simply admit that sometimes they are able to achieve good things. Arguably, one of the core problems for the legal profession is that its structure is not modernised or user-friendly for the present era. The industry itself is supposed to be about justice and upholding the law but the reality is, it is often far more complicated than that and this can take its toll.
Many economists will also admit that they have become very narrow in their thinking today and this is putting much greater pressure on them. Business leaders in every sector are being pushed and pressurised on margins. Shareholder expectation is unrelenting and we have since created a model whereby the shareholder expects almost by rights, a return; consequently the focus becomes increasingly narrowed and pressurised.
Fear of failure is growing
The truth is there are professionals from pretty much every sector seeking change today. This magnified fear of failing has grown and grown in the present day. Traditionally, failure used to be a simple fact of life – you win some, you lose some. But today failure is deemed as unacceptable, when of course the truth is exactly the opposite; only through failure does one learn, develop and grow.
The whole concept of the need for reinvention has arguably never been more important, for two reasons. Firstly it is a modern reality and secondly many need to reinvent themselves to find true job satisfaction and purpose in life.
Many people will tell you that as one reaches their fifties, the focus is less on being an alpha, being competitive, proving oneself; and instead it changes to become more about legacy, about what one can do for the broader world and context. At this stage, many want to find new purpose, a renewed purpose.
However, change is difficult and to do it alone is daunting. So the onus cannot just lie with the individual to new roads; we all need to understand that there is a need for evolution and change and to work together to allow this to happen. This is important because it will help to maximise the talent that is out there, to build a greater sense of purpose and to nurture good people.
Reinvention for the new world
The level of depression and mental illness amongst professionals today is too high. It is unacceptable. We need to understand that we are losing not just in terms of productivity but also purpose, innovations, ideas and plain energy.
The world has changed and the old models are out-dated. Perhaps instead of creating outplacement programmes we should have “reinvention” programmes that focus on how a person can use their skills in a different way and within a new role? Maybe this would broaden our focus and narrow thinking?
The red lights of change are flashing and we need to stop, take notice and understand that change is not a nice-to-have it’s a requirement now and for the future and to fear it, is something we must challenge ourselves to overcome.
Chris Sheppardson is the founder at EP Innovates.