There are times when change is more than just “change.” Times when change is not simply an evolution of what has gone before, but instead is the emergence of a fundamental shift to a new understanding or attitude. This is not the kind of change that simply makes things better or different – but rather the creation of a strikingly new reality. And it can happen whether we recognize it or not.
When that kind of transformation occurs, thinking and operating under the laws of the old order not only does not work, it actually hinders the ability to quickly and effectivelhy respond to change. Maintaining a “business as usual” mindset assures failure when “the underlying basics” have changed. As a new paradigm replaces the old, the slow to adapt tend to complain, while the nimble will have cause to celebrate.
That’s because there is always a bright side to change. Change is the fuel for new opportunity. From stone to iron, iron to steel, barter to cash, and agrarian to industrial – our success, or inevitable demise, depends not only on our ability to recognize change, but also in our willingness to adapt to change.
Most institutions fear change because it can challenge the very principles upon which they were founded. Rather than dread change, institutions should seek it out as an opportunity to justify their continued existence and stature. In the same way, most individuals fear change because it creates uncertainty, and uncertainly suggests a loss of control. But individuals, just like institutions, should pray for change since in gives them both the opportunity to stand out from the pack and take an active role in shaping a new future.
This is not just pie-in-the-sky theory
In 1987, the life insurance industry was riding the crest of success and apparent invincibility. The big companies were getting bigger and more dominant and enjoying the ride. The success of the big companies seemed to insulate them from competition, both from within and outside the industry. The status quo reigned as the preeminent business plan. The leaders of the life insurance industry were so comfortable with the business environment in which they operated that they simply sought more of the same as the pathway to continued success.
In such a stagnant and closed environment “business experts” would (and did) suggest that it would be the exact wrong time to start a new life insurance company. The barriers to entry in the insurance industry were just too high. But, they would be wrong. The reality was that the life insurance industry had already entered a world of change. It was not the companies that were changing, but the very environment in which they operated that was changing.
For most of the 20th century, the life insurance industry achieved success by being focused on products that created wealth at death. But, things were changing. The impact of the advances in medical technology were enabling people to live longer and creating a need for wealth for living, not dying. The opportunity for a new company to enter the market and succeed was created because the leaders of the established companies didn’t want change, so they didn’t recognize the changes taking place.
As a result, against what appeared to be impossible odds, this new company – LifeUSA – was not only able to enter the industry, but to grow and become successful. In reality it was the larger, more established static companies that had the odds stacked against them and began to falter. What many did not understand is that odds always favor those who respond to change, rather than those who ignore or resist change. Constancy suffocates. Change inspires creativity and innovation.
And the Moral of the Story is …
No doubt about it, real change can be terrifying for many. However, what is terror for some can be triumph for others. Those who are stimulated by change will unlock their creativity and respond with innovative solutions for the new needs. They will be the leaders of the new order.
The insurance industry is again in the midst of major change. This time it is not the needs of the consumer that have stimulated change, but the manner in which the executives of some of the largest companies have managed (mismanaged) the companies. Icons of the insurance industry have been so severely mismanaged by incompetent, bureaucratic managers that the very existence of these companies has come into question. The negative impact of these actions has cascaded over the entire insurance industry by bringing into question the very credibility of the industry itself. Clearly this is change that could not have been anticipated, even a few years ago, and one that has not been encountered for over a century.
The future of the industry – if it has one – will be determined by how (or if) the leaders of the insurance industry respond to the challenges of these new changes. Those who ignore or fear change will, no doubt, be overwhelmed and pass from the scene. However, once again change has presented an opportunity. The only question is whether or not there are individuals who recognize the opportunity and will step up to benefit from it.