(4 Minute Read or Listen Below)
We are creatures of habit, drifting through our days on autopilot. But what happens when our patterns get disrupted?
Sometimes, when we initiate the change ourselves, we accept it more willingly. (Not a guarantee, but at least the odds are better.) But most frequently, change is thrust upon us, and our immediate reaction is resistance. Whether the change is significant or minor, we resist.
Early in my HR career, the company I worked for acquired a small business of 50 employees in another state. My manager and I flew there to introduce ourselves, explain our benefits, and answer general questions. We were excited to welcome them to our organization. As we stood at the front of the room, the former owner, for the first time, announced the acquisition to the employees - he then left the room and the building. His insensitivity shocked us, and as you might expect, our plan for that visit was altered entirely.
Even though our company offered the group an improved benefits package, they were in no state-of-mind to hear about it. Unexpected change of that magnitude takes time to be absorbed before additional information can be processed. Eventually, the group was accepting, but it was challenging for them to shift into positivity.
Later in my HR career, at a different company, we had to close our location of 215 employees. With that previous life-lesson under my belt, I advocated for communication to the employees as early as possible. In the days following the announcement, we met with each employee individually. It was a rollercoaster. As each person entered the room, we had no idea what their emotional state would be. Many were excited and saw it as an opportunity to pursue dreams they wouldn't have otherwise pursued. Others were absolutely devastated.
Ours was a long-tenured group, and many were not confident in or capable of conveying their talents to a potential new employer. We offered onsite sessions in resume writing and interviewing, and fortunately, most employees welcomed the information and actively sought assistance. They transitioned out of the organization with more confidence and with a more positive mindset.
To this day, my heart still aches for those who wholly resisted or moved painfully slow to the stages of acceptance and action. While their feelings were completely understandable, they held themselves back from future opportunities because their animosity was paralyzing. It saddens me to contemplate the possibilities that slipped through their fingers because they became stuck in a state of resistance.
Even minor changes can throw us off if we aren't open to the possibilities. For many years, I used the same spiral notebook for daily notes. It met my needs beautifully. But, while browsing their website one day, I realized my notebook was no longer available. They offered an alternative layout, but it did not suit my needs at all. Honestly, I couldn't imagine it would suit anyone's needs, but that's whole other story.
With only three notebooks in reserve, it forced me to research alternatives. I road-tested several options but was not satisfied with any of them. Finally, I turned to a notebook I had resisted for years. I had always dismissed it as a possibility. When I learned a coworker had used this style for many years, I spent time with her asking questions. In the process, I learned every one of my assumptions was incorrect.
This notebook not only met my needs for notetaking, but it also allowed me to consolidate two daily tools down to one. It was a better solution all around, but I resisted it for years based on incorrect presumptions.
We can't run down every new product rabbit-hole; we would do nothing else. Still, we shouldn't completely dismiss these items as future alternatives. Had it not been for the discontinuation of my favorite product, I would never have looked into this option and gained its benefits.
Finally, on the subject of unexpected opportunities, I'd like to share the story of an American jazz pianist named Keith Jarrett. I heard of Mr. Jarrett a couple of years ago, on the NPR podcast, Hidden Brain. In 1975, Mr. Jarrett arrived in Cologne, Germany, to do a concert. After being shown to the piano, he refused to play. He considered the instrument unplayable. It was out of tune, keys were sticking, the pedals didn't work. The felt had worn away from the upper register of the keyboard, leaving the sound harsh and tinny. Also, it was too small for the venue and didn't have enough volume to reach the back of the auditorium.
The organizer of the concert, a 17-year old German girl, did everything she could to fix or replace the piano. Her attempts were unsuccessful. Her final option was to beg Mr. Jarrett to play. His empathy for the girl and acknowledgment of the sold-out crowd led him to concede and take the stage. He and his producer recorded the concert as an example of a musical catastrophe. No one predicted a masterpiece in the making.
"The Köln Concert" is Mr. Jarrett's most popular piece of music. According to the podcast, it is also the best-selling solo jazz album in history and the best-selling piano album in history. Because Mr. Jarrett had to compensate for the many shortcomings of the piano, it made the music better.
Disruption is going to happen; we can't control it. But we can strive to better manage our reaction to it. We are far more resilient than we give ourselves credit. Allow yourself time to process, but please, endeavor always to keep an open mind. Sometimes, disruption can lead to unexpected, beautiful things, and I don't want you to miss them.