I'm one of those souls who gets restless and bored when things are running too smoothly. But when immersed in a seemingly impossible situation, my ennui dissipates, and I can’t wait to see how I wriggle out of whatever mess I got myself into. Those who know me would probably put me into the change agent category, but change can overwhelm me, and the resulting fear can (and often does) knock me down.
According to change consultant and coach Gary Bradt, there is an 80% likelihood that you are neither a change agent or a naysayer. Bradt tells me that only 10% of the population is made up of those who love to adapt and actively embrace change, and 10% is made up of naysayers, those who say, “Hell no, I won’t go!” That leaves the remaining 80% of us uncomfortable with change but not against it.
Personally, a crisis brings out the adventurer in me. Hurricanes would make a fine example. When a tropical depression starts to form out in the Atlantic, my pulse quickens. As the storm builds in intensity, so do I. As the storm develops hurricane-force winds and prepares to hit land, I prepare to hit the road and embed myself with linemen on the front lines. I’ve covered enough storms that I realize there are only a few essentials required. I have a bare bones checklist: Spare gas? Check. Nonperishable food? Yes. Cash? Take $500. A place to sleep? To be determined. First stop? The Great Unknown.
I like to tell the story about when I was covering the industry’s response to the damage inflicted on the T&D system by Hurricane Ike in September 2008. I called my friend Jim Greer with Oncor who suggested I first stop in Lufkin, Texas, as I was making my way down to Galveston, Texas, where the hurricane first reached land.
I was welcomed to Oncor’s big service center and was even given a “premium cot” (that is, one that has a steel bar at each end so the cot doesn’t sag in the middle). I had real forebodings about being assigned this cot. Sure enough, after midnight, when I made my way to my assigned spot in the gargantuan tent already populated with 200 snoring linemen, my cot was nowhere to be found. I am sure it was put to good use and occupied by someone who weighed a lot more than I did. It was not a problem, though; I had my ear plugs, a sleeping bag and my sleeping pills, so I just knocked myself out.
The next evening I was talking with Eddie Dean, the caterer at the Lufkin service center. I asked Eddie why he was working this hurricane. I never forgot his answer: “Most of us are fear-based, but some of us are opportunity-based.” Eddie had seen an opportunity to make both a difference and a dollar in a situation.
For those 80% of us who are somewhere in the middle, take heart. Bradt says that if you are feeling uncomfortable, good. That means you see a situation that needs attention. He suggests, “No matter how bad it is, there is always opportunity.” He calls it finding the ring in the rubble, but he warns us not to listen to that irrational voice within that spreads fear by whispering, “What if it gets even worse?”
Most of us chose to work in power delivery because we want to make a difference, but we need to let go of whatever is keeping us down or holding us back. To keep from being sidelined by fear, Bradt suggests we focus on what we are passionate about and tackle it with persistence and patience. And when the decision process gets tough, he says we need to take a step back, take a deep breath and do the right thing. We can’t afford to let circumstances dictate values.
In all industries, Bradt sees four common trends that drive change:
- Government regulations
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Global economy
That pretty much nails our industry, too. Brandt goes further to uncover technology innovations that are common to industry:
- Cloud computing
- Social and mobile
- Legacy versus modern
- Big data and analytics.
Once we get a good grasp of what issues we are facing and determine what tools we can apply, Bradt encourages each of us to lead change. However, we must think differently if we expect to act differently. A new mindset leads to new results.
Let’s accept Bradt’s premise that “life is change.” If change is a given and if we want to avoid being on life support, we need stay ahead of the change curve. How do we do that? First, Bradt recommends we ditch that perfectionist’s mindset.
Instead, let’s be willing to fail fast and fail forward.
Where do we start? This wasn’t obvious to me, but Bradt says we start by facing our biggest fears. We start where we are planted with an attitude that “I will adapt or die trying.” Change starts when we take steps within our sphere of influence that turn “I will” into “we will.”