Fear of Change

Recently, I visited the Grand Canyon.  For the fourth time, I had the opportunity to witness this majestic natural wonder.  Every time I go, it takes my breath away.  If you have been to the Grand Canyon, you know that you can see the canyon from many different viewpoints.  You can stay safe and walk only along paths that have guard rails (sturdy dividers between you and the vast drop to the bottom) or you can hike down to more rugged areas and find flat cliffs that jut out over the canyon.  These areas have no guard rails and no protection from falling.

During my most recent trip, I followed a few more adventurous travelers to the less safe option.  I hiked further and further down and then out to a cliff that jutted out over the divide.  I built confidence as I went along.  Eventually, I made it to the cliff I was aiming for and began taking it all in.  Capturing the moment with a few photos on my phone.  It was a very empowering feeling.  Until the “what if” questions started popping into my head.  What if I lose my balance and fall?  What if the person standing next to me stumbles and pushes me over?  My heart started racing.  It wasn’t long before I decided it was time to head back up to the safety of the rim.  Comparatively though, now I was much more conscious of each footstep.  Ensuring that I always had something to place my hand on to steady myself as I hiked back to the top.

Once I made it safely to the top, I started to think about the similarities between standing at a ledge with no-guard rail or safety net and making a significant organizational change.  The “what-if’s” can take hold of a person’s thought process and create fear of the unknown and uncertainty.  Change requires taking a risk.  There is no guarantee or crystal ball to ensure that everything will work out as planned.  I believe this fear of change of the unknown is what holds companies back from making necessary changes to stay relevant and competitive.  It can end up causing a company to slip into a category of outdated and irrelevant; potentially even out of business.

It’s easier to stick with the path that’s safe.  It’s known to us but it gives us a false sense of safety.  Our brains even trick us into believing that our current success will guarantee future success.  However, that mindset could cause us to miss opportunities in either our existing industry or emerging markets.

To get out of the “safe” mindset, seek out others who are more open to taking risks.  Encourage and reward diverse thinking about ways to solve problems or pain-points for your customers.  Find ways to experiment with smaller, incremental changes.  Use these experiments to test your assumptions.  Then incorporate small successes into your business model and scale from that point.

The real question to ask is this: What should you fear about the future of your company if it doesn’t change or adapt? The answer may be scarier than our original fear itself.

For more on how to deal with change in your business, click here.