Adapt to survive in the ‘new normal’

    I truly believe 2009 will go down in history as a year of unprecedented change. From the personal heartache over job loss, to political wranglings over heath care reform, to the financial system near-collapse, combined with the escalating uncertainties of our world – caused every one of us as parents, teachers, authors, athletes, factory workers, business people, doctors or truck drivers to experience times when it seemed like  the world had  been tipped  just a little more "on its ear."

    As I began to write this piece, it struck me. Maybe this uncertainty has been going on for a long time?
    "What do you do next as world events seem to shake your core beliefs?" is a question folks have grappled with over the course of human history..

    For you baby boomers…

    Where we ever really on the "Eve of Destruction" as Barry McQuire told us?

    When we say, ‘What is the new normal?’ is it possibly more a case of human adaptation and survival at its best? Here are a few of my personal thoughts on adapting for 2009 and beyond. They may have equally applied in 1492, 1776, 1863, 1941, 1969, 1973, 1987, 1992 or 2001?

    • I love the expression, "Change is good, but you go first." The new norm is embrace change. Accept it. Get ready for it. Find the opportunity in it. Deal with it. It’s human nature to resist change, but like some very high-profile retailers have recently found out, an inability to find ways to adapt to it can be terminal. So very logically you ask, "How do I change? How do I know what to do next?" And you say, "Wait a moment, I’m too old to change." The new norm … Continually reinvent yourself and your firm. The status quo will only get you a lot of restless nights and a new title: "old school." Which begs the next question … Are we as a nation, experiencing status quo anxiety?
    • I recently read a warning in a Fortune 500 company annual report … "Coasting may cause premature death." The new norm … Take significant action now. Be "calculated yet courageous" and trust your instincts. It is becoming increasingly treacherous to delay action. Decisions must be made not having every fact. Others may discover a new mousetrap in your business and overnight “blow your doors off”. There is potentially in this hyper-speed world much more risk to not making decisions in a timely fashion.
    • Let go of the past. Don’t misunderstand me on this one. You can always learn from the past and from your mistakes. It’s very hard for some to admit times have changed. Most of today’s unions are a great example of refusing to rethink how they create value for their membership in this sawtooth economic world of today. This point hits very close to home. The new norm … Be very flexible in your thinking, acting, speaking and learning. Change occurs so quickly you need a way to continuously adapt based on new information.
    • Knowledge is the basis of personal power and understanding. The new norm … Lifelong learning. Learning really just starts after you leave school. Aggressively seek out new information. Balance your sources for obtaining knowledge. I teach my kids to listen to opposing/multiple points of view … then decide your point of view. We need to always be searching for the next great idea to help us adapt to change.
      The new norm … Innovate till it hurts. China is catching up quickly. We need to invest heavily in our schools and universities to keep pace with the rest of the world. Innovation helps us cope with the speed of change.
    • Our society has become more and more polarized. Right, left, center and special interests. The new norm … Strive to build consensus. Respect opposing points of view but always seek to establish common ground .As we teach our kids to learn to play nice in the sandbox. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy was masterful at this.
    • Last point but not least … The new norm for spending capital … Prove it to me! Why should we do this ? What is the return on investment? How will we measure our success? In a world of tight budgets and financial controls, firms that can quantify and measure the value they bring to the marketplace will thrive.

    These are undeniably very challenging times. Our fathers and grandfathers all had to adapt to change. Today, we face the same change issues, but perhaps they are occurring much quicker.


    Training your mind to look for the silver lining, being flexible, being persistent, looking for new sources of knowledge, seeking common ground, showing respect, creating balance in your perspectives, having calculated courageousness, embracing lifelong learning, being willing to reinvent yourself frequently and most importantly, seeking consensus are, in my opinion, the new norms for survival and prosperity.

    The world has always, and will continue to, finds ways to adapt itself to change as our planet evolves. We in the United States of America are a part of the greatest nation on the planet. We always find a solution, usually while going through some considerable angst. I think they call it democracy. I always like to say the measure of a great country is to answer the question … Are people trying to get into our country … or escape from it?

    Tell you what, as I think about these "new norms" and adapting to change, I’ll commit to "go first," and in a few years we can look forward to sharing a great laugh about how we all adapted and how things turned out! Some folks refer to that as reminiscing about the good old days!

    Gary Billington is vice president of client relations at Plunkett Raysich Architects LLP in Milwaukee.

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