Business Strategy | Leadership / Management | Organizational Development

Conquering change: Less DNA, more ESP

The January 2013 edition of National Geographic is devoted to exploration, and it includes a fascinating passage about what makes people want to explore, take risks, and conquer change.

Part of it might be genetic. A variant of a gene that helps control dopamine, "a chemical brain messenger important in learning and reward," is carried by about one in five humans and is related directly to curiosity and restlessness.

"Dozens of human studies have found that (the variant) makes people more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities; and generally embrace movement, change, and adventure," author David Dobbs writes.

Staying ahead of the pace of change, it seems, is at least partly genetic.

The rest of it, though, is about identifying trends and anticipating what our clients, our employees, and we ourselves will need before we need them.

Futurist Andrew Zolli would call it "scanning the horizon for weak signals of disruptive change." Best-selling author Daniel Burrus would call it "flash foresight."

"Customers today don't know what they want, because the things they most want are things they don't yet know are possible," Burrus writes, citing Apple's iPod as an example -- no one knew they wanted an iPod until they saw one. "The new Golden Rule in business is this: Give your customers the ability to do what they can't currently do but would want to if they only knew it was possible. … See what problems they are going to have and solve them before they happen, so that by the time they're just starting to experience the problem, you already have the solution."

Doing that's not easy, but it's not impossible, either. It merely requires that we adopt a future mindset -- that we focus less on the daily grind and more on the trends that are swirling around us, and that we understand how those trends will transform our clients' lives … and our lives as well.

Change is the new normal. Dealing with it is our new differentiator. It's what will set us apart from the competition.

If it's not in our genes, then we'll have to learn how to do it, and soon.

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Bill Sheridan