A former lab geneticist explains why adapting to changes is part of our DNA
By NADIA RADHUAN
For thousands of years, different species have survived due to evolution. For example, Darwin’s finches have survived in the Galapagos Islands by changing their beaks to adapt to a specific niche in feeding.
Through this adaptation, the species thrived with sufficient food for the entire colony.
Even in our bodies, cells change their behaviour constantly depending on our daily intake of nutrients. Hence, if change takes place in our lives on a daily basis, why do we resist it so much?
The threat of adapting to changes can be real and scary. When our minds dread change, we reject it as something foreign.
How do I manage change?
During the end of my last two semesters in university majoring in genetics, it dawned on me that this was not the path I wanted to follow for the rest of my life.
After spending one semester fully committed to my final year project on Gene Identification and another semester working in a banana plant culture lab, I suddenly realised that life in the research lab was not for me.
Instead, I wanted a change, and after making this decision, my adventure in discovering new careers began.
Spurred into action
John Kotter wrote a very interesting book entitled Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions which outlined several processes on change, which I found relatable.
According to Kotter, the first step is in setting up the stage. We must first understand why change is necessary by facing and identifying problems that will in turn create a sense of urgency.
When I worked at the research lab, I had a culture plant on the petri dish from 8am to 5pm. Due to strict guidelines on preventing contamination, researchers like me were not allowed to speak. This enforced daily silence for such a long period of time truly demotivated me.
That was when I realised, I really needed a breath of fresh air in my career. This realisation spurred me into action immediately.
In his book, Kotter explains that the next step for effective change is to look for the right people. While not everyone was happy about the idea of me changing my career (especially my professors and parents), I sought out and met a few experienced people from the genetics field who gave me sound advice.
Input from the right kind of people will help you see things from a different perspective. There may be options you have not explored which can in turn help you through the process of changing.
Once the problem has been rationalised, it is time to decide what to do next, by developing a change strategy and adopting a vision.
Why do we resist change?
According to Rosabeth Kanter, professor of business at Harvard Business School:
“Leadership is about change, but what is a leader to do when faced with ubiquitous resistance? Resistance to change manifests itself in many ways, from foot-dragging and inertia to petty sabotage to outright rebellions. The best tool for leaders of change is to understand the predictable, universal sources of resistance in each situation and then strategise around them.”
As Kanter mentions in her article, Ten Reasons People Resist Change, many people fear that when change comes, we will lose control of our ship having never encountered the situation before.
We feel unsure of how we might cope. We bombard ourselves with “what ifs” and the uncertainty makes us feel like walking off a cliff blindfolded.
Adding to the element of the unknown, too many differences can be distracting or confusing. As we make space for change, we may be suffocated by the idea of leaving our comfort zone.
Many people worry that their skills will be obsolete. Worse yet, going for a change means having to learn new skills quickly, which may expose their incompetencies.
Destroy your fears by sharing them
As mentioned, one of the barriers in embracing change is the fear of the unknown. By clarifying how the future will be different from the past, we can imagine the coming reality, which will help us ease into making new changes.
However, one of the many mistakes that we make is to think that we are doing this alone and that the change is just for us.
We overlook the significant impact that our change will have on those around us. Get as much moral support as possible by communicating plans clearly to the people in your close circle.
This way, you will get their understanding and share with them ownership of the journey together.
Winning steps to change
The process of change can be tormenting. Thus, it is important to produce short term wins along the way.
In her book, Small Move, Big Change, Caroline Arnold looks into micro-solutions instead of big scary resolutions. She explains how, by producing short-term wins, you can create visible success that will be able to generate more willpower to push through for the big change.
Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying:
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Throughout my evolution phase, there have been a lot of things that I have managed to achieve, and a lot of failures along the way. Some of my experiences were very hard while others took place as if they belonged in my life.
But there were definitely no shortcuts. Change needs to occur at its own pace, and we need to adapt in order to achieve greatness.
Although change may occur overnight, and sometimes may even reverse itself the next day, the willingness to adapt must be a part of our DNA.
Today I am happy working at a company that produces leadership content and training for the corporate sector. My job lets me do things I really love, which is inspiring and developing people on a daily basis. I have had a steep learning curve and, on many occasions, stepped outside my comfort zone.
There are opportunities for change everywhere. Now, reflect back and take a long look at the past three years.
Are YOU still in the same spot?
Nadia Radhuan is a self-acclaimed part-geneticist and part-talent developer. She is a member of the Learning & Acceleration team in Leaderonomics. To connect with her, email firstname.lastname@example.org or drop her a line or two in the comment box below. For more Career Advice articles, click here.
Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 28 February 2015