How to approach unexpected change for your brand

tumblr_nm6xhcumDn1rob1pdo1_1280.jpg

My intellectual mother sent me a letter the other day and all it contained was an article about dealing with unexpected changes (http://goo.gl/OhHEZS Oprah.com How to Turn Unexpected Changes into New Beginnings). I wasn’t surprised to receive something like this from her, as I’m dealing with a significant change in my life and she is constantly supporting her children with thoughts and perspectives about life issues as we experience them. I usually read what she sends and note an interesting idea or concept. But in this case, after reading it I was changed and will keep it a very long time. Unexpected change doesn’t just happen in our personal lives, it happens to the brands we love and toil over. 

Dealing With Unexpected Change

Life is fickle. We may think we are completely in control, and suddenly it surprises us with unexpected changes. “Change” is the neutral, safe word used to describe these events by friends, colleagues, life changes and motivational speakers. But really, these “change opportunities” are - pardon my language - sh*t storms. You lose your job. Your spouse leaves you. You develop health problems. It could be one of those, it could be all of them.

And let’s just be honest with ourselves - these things are going to really, really hurt. They are ugly and they knock you on your keyster. You are going to feel really, really bad for a while and that’s OK. Something this article pointed out (and I have learned through personal experience} is that you have to go through the grieving process. There’s no shortcuts. But at some point along the way you do have to move away from feeling bad and make a choice about moving toward something. Anything. Because if you stay in that old pattern that was part of that pain and unhappiness, you may feel safe but you are going to be stuck in neutral. Being in neutral gets you nowhere. As sad as it may be, you are going to have to destroy your old self and create someone entirely new, as terrifying as that may feel.

Business Imitates Life

This reaction to change is not just true of our personal lives, but our professional lives as well. The brands we work for often get into a rhythm and flow and everything seems to be wonderful, happy and optimistic. Then something disrupts the market. A PR crisis ensues. An unexpected competitive product launches. And just like in our personal lives, these events create chaos and pain. Our fight or flight responses kick in and we get into a whirlwind of activity, analysis and worst of all, panic.

Not that this is bad - we have to react. But we have to recognize that in this day and age, there’s no going back to the way things were. We have to use this disruption as a catalyst to take our brand to an entirely new place, to pursue entirely new opportunities that we would have never imagined before. And yes, this is terrifying to undertake because guess what? We might fail.

But what’s the alternative? You can continue to fight against the change, seek to return to the status quo, but odds are that’s going to be a long, slow and painful battle. Better to rip off the bandaid and go with the new. Embrace the chaos and learn to love every minute of becoming a new brand in a new world. As Steve Jobs said in his Stanford address, it’s all about the journey.  

A Way Forward

In the article I referenced above, family therapist Virginia Satir shared a model of how a person can transition through change:

  • Late Status Quo - Everything was just fine in your uneventful present, but something is tickling in the back of your brain. Looking back, there were signs of change.
  • Foreign Element - Then something unexpected happens. You immediately know that everything has changed.
  • Chaos - Everything is turned upside down. It’s not pleasant, but it’s necessary. It forces you to have to decide on maintaining the course or doing something new.
  • Transforming Idea - You suddenly have a epiphany about something. There is a way forward, but you don’t know exactly what it is yet. But you have an inkling…
  • Integration & Practice - You start trying different ways to move forward. Some work, some don’t. You backslide many times into chaos, but that’s OK. Trial and error is what this is all about.
  • New Status Quo - You begin to fit into your new life. You start to feel peaceful. The stress and anxiety dissipate and you are proud. 
  • http://goo.gl/OhHEZS Oprah.com: Turn Unexpected Change into New Beginnings

Isn’t it amazing how these stages actually offer a beautiful way forward for an unexpected change a brand might experience?

If you start to organize your work around these stages, it suddenly removes a lot of the stress and uncertainty and gives you direction and purpose. You know these things are going to happen, so you can quit worrying about what might happen, and start focusing on what the brand will become. As the article beautifully describes, you can focus on the best part of life, which is experiencing all the wonderful, crazy and beautiful things going on around you - whether it be in your personal life or your brand life.

And there is one incredible, amazing benefit of deciding to move toward something and stop worrying.  You’ll do the best work of your life.