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How to Make Change Work for You

Practical advice from Scott Steinberg, the author of a new book on this

In work and in life, change is inevitable. But Scott Steinberg, a business strategist who just published Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty thinks many of us are caught flat-footed by it.
As you might imagine from his book’s title, Steinberg has a few suggestions on not only how to manage change but how to make it your friend.

(Change is the topic of a slew of new business books. I recently interviewed self-described “change junkie” David Pottruck, about his latest: Stacking the Deck: How to Lead Breakthrough Change Against Any Odds.)

(MORE: 5 Ways to Make Positive Change in 2015)
But back to Steinberg, the CEO of TechSavvy Global, a management consulting and market research firm. He thinks people over 50 need to address head-on any fears they have about change. Steinberg actually thinks their age is a plus, not a minus, for dealing with change.

I just spoke with Steinberg for his advice about how to make change work for you. Highlights from our conversation:

Next Avenue: Why did you write this book?
Scott Steinberg: I felt there was a pressing need for it. In the past few years, the world of business has fundamentally changed and our careers and personal lives continue to do so rapidly. But I wasn’t seeing a lot of insights to help people change effectively.
How do people generally deal with change?
We often tend to fall back on the standard advice: Play it safe and keep your head down. Obviously, after the recession, those watchwords are becoming outdated.
The corporate ladder is looking overcrowded and rickety. Startups are constantly upending the status quo in every industry. Skillsets that people have relied on are becoming outdated.
A lot of very capable people have suddenly found their heads spinning by all this change.
(MORE: Advice for the Overworked and Overwhelmed)

How do people in midlife feel about change at work and in their lives?
Humans are hardwired to operate in comfortable patterns. We crave constancy. By the time we enter our fifth or sixth decade, we are fairly set in our ways.
But we are 100 percent capable of adapting to any challenge. Often, though, when you’ve been doing things a certain way for a long time, it’s not a simple thing to realize that it’s time to do things differently and shake yourself out of a comfortable groove. Just about anybody, regardless of their age and background, has the ability to do frigging amazing things if they put their mind to it.
You have some advantages when you hit your 50s. You have a wealth of real-world experiences you can draw upon. It’s just not necessarily second nature to recombine those skills in creative, new ways.

(MORE: How to Lead Breakthrough Change at Work)
What holds people back?

Their fears and misconceptions. People don’t know how to start dealing with change ,or if they’re capable. But when you look at the studies, you discover the power of positive thinking can work wonders to transform your potential.
The important thing to remember to make change work for you is to keep an open mind and not be afraid to experiment and tinker.
You don’t have to be perfect at it overnight. It’s a challenging process. Just keep pushing yourself.
So people need to take more of an initiative to handle change?
Right. There’s nothing stopping you from going online to learn how to code, for example. It may not be second nature, but you could figure it out. My first piece of advice for dealing with change is: Assume you can.
If you’ve been at a Fortune 500 company for 20 years but you could do the job in your sleep and the salary is good, it might be good for you to go to a startup and take a drop in pay but learn new methods of operating. The time to start broadening your horizons is while things are going great.
How does flexibility make you future-proof?
Being flexible is as close to becoming future-proof as you can get. You put yourself in a position to be more adaptable and to push your problem-solving abilities in new directions.
A key skill to survive change is your ability to improvise and adapt.

And you’re not just talking about work, right?
Right. Anything can happen in business or in your life. You could have a sudden divorce or you could lose your job in reorganization. You need to figure it out.
What is the FEAR model and how should people use it?
FEAR is a problem-solving method to help you make better decisions, become more productive and respond more effectively to any scenario. It stands for Focus, Engage, Assess and React.
Many successful people use the FEAR model. It’s about studying a problem objectively, knowing the challenges you’re facing, coming up with an action plan and then assessing the results of your plan. Then, react or course-correct your strategy, and keep tweaking it until you find success.
Let’s talk about some of your rules to make change work for you. One of them is: Be courageous.
I know a woman who wanted to break into publishing without having any experience. She submitted applications to publishing houses and was soundly rejected. But she was courageous and persistent. So she decided to intern at one. Now she’s successful at one of the largest digital publishers.
You also say people should turn anxiety and paranoia into awareness. What do you mean?
If you fear your job may be in danger, maybe you need to acquire some new skills or take on side projects or online courses or go to night school.
When we feel a twinge of fear, often we don’t want to deal with it. But sometimes we can use it to propel us to make necessary changes. The former CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, said: Only the paranoid survive.
Anxiety is unpleasant, but we need to try to think of it as a trip wire that can alert us to things that need to change.
You also write that “good enough is no longer good enough.” Why?
We operate in a world of infinite competition. So, in business, you need to figure out: What can you do that nobody else can offer? If you are easily replaceable, rest assured that you are going to be.

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