Adventures in Entrepreneurship: Managing Change

Editor’s Note: The following article is part of a series written in connection with the American Express OPEN “Adventures in Entrepreneurship” event, featuring Richard Branson. The event includes an online “panel discussion” around certain questions posed by Clay Shirky, our Facilitator.I and two other blogger panelists have been asked to write about business topics posed by the Facilitator. The following is the third question.

Question: How do you manage change?

Response: One of the most important ways to manage change is simply to stay in tune with the world around you.

Why is it that as people age, we still listen to music that was popular in our younger days? I still prefer to listen to “The Who,” the greatest rock band that ever existed in my opinion. They haven’t put out any new material in years. But that doesn’t stop me from buying the latest digitally remastered copy of “Who’s Next”, one of their best albums.

We become comfortable with what we know and what we liked when we were younger, that’s true.

Along with being comfortable, I think we just stop investing the time and effort into keeping current in many avenues of our lives, and that includes our businesses. It takes extra time — hard work even — to stay on top on what’s new and changing in the world around us. And failing to invest time in staying current is the crux of the matter.

We all get busy and focused on the day-to-day. There are fires to put out, payroll to meet, customers to satisfy. Many times we are so focused, we get tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision is not always bad, of course. Sometimes a good case of tunnel vision in a time of crisis is the only way our businesses have managed to survive. Our single-minded focus gets us through it.

But tunnel vision all the time is dangerous. Tunnel vision is when you are so focused on the here and now, that a new competitor comes out of left field and eats your lunch. Tunnel vision is when your products stop meeting customers’ expectations, because your customers have grown but your company has stayed the same. Tunnel vision is when you wake up one day and suddenly realize something big has changed in the world (like the Internet), and your business is not ready for it.

The good news, however, is that managing change may actually be easier than most people think. Nearly 50% of managing change is just to make ourselves aware of it — to stay on top of current events and culture. Most of us readily have the tools at hand. We simply need to set aside time to do it.

How should we stay current? One simple way to start is by reading, listening and watching what is happening around us in the form of books, magazines, newspapers, films, TV, radio and the Internet.

Earlier this year, I had the chance to meet and speak with small business expert Steven Little.

He advocates that every small business owner read 50 magazines a month (or Web sites, newspapers, radio shows, or other sources of information). Break it down and the number sounds do-able: it amounts to fewer than 2 a day. And, remember, they’ve repealed the law that says you have to read a magazine cover-to-cover. Skim parts of it and read one or two articles that catch your eye, that’s all. This is a simple strategy we can all do, if we set a goal to do it.

Then, if you want to take it one step further, Little advocates learning how to listen to “weak signals,” those faintest initial indications of change around us. He described the concept of listening to weak signals in a guest column here at Small Business Trends on this very point, Using “Weak Signals” To Identify Opportunities.

The bottom line is, that if you start with something you can control, i.e., devoting some small amount of time each day or week to staying current on what is happening around you, change will not seem so dramatic and difficult. You already will be in sync with change. You will have taken the first big step to dealing with change.

Read what the other two participating bloggers, Dane Carlson at Business Opportunities Weblog, and Rob May at BusinessPundit, have to say about this question.

What do you think? How do you manage change? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts. (To comment, click on the small “comment” link at the bottom of this post — it will bring up a small pop-up window where you can type in your comments.)

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Follow the conversation at Technorati: OPEN Adventures

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The opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect those of American Express. If you post on the blogs, be aware that any personal information you post will be viewable by anybody reading the blogs.The facilitator and bloggers for this event have been compensated for their time by OPEN from American Express.

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.