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Past or Future

By: Nan S. Russell




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Watching a rerun of "What Not to Wear" on The Learning Channel, I was struck by the dialogue between the individual being transformed and the cast of experts. While agreeing to follow the advice and input from these style-masters, "Joyce" was closed to the ideas presented of what she should wear, how her hair should be cut, and her make-up enhanced.

Her resistance sounded familiar. It echoed reasons proclaimed by people at work who cling to their comfort zones, eager to maintain the status quo, not rock the boat, or stick with the same skills. These people are past-focused, parroting phrases like, "But, I've never done it that way;" "I tried it once and it didn't work;" or "It's more work."

While Joyce's opposition to the ideas and suggestions from the expert style team contained similar expressions, what I found most interesting was the nature of this event. This change was not forced on her, nor did it blind-side her or threaten her livelihood. This modernization of Joyce was a change she sought, said she wanted, and heralded as a chance to make herself even better.

Yet, as ideas surfaced which required significant adjustments to her present style, she argued with the experts, even professing she knew more than they did about fashion and style. With great reluctance, Joyce tried on suggested outfits only to dismiss most as not practical for her, or not to her liking. She refused to cut her hair or make changes to her outdated make-up. The resulting look kept her hugging the past.

I've know too many workplace Joyces. People who embrace the idea of a better way, a new skill, or a changed approach, but when the reality appears they firmly resist. People who seek out experts to help them enhance their workplace culture or develop their skills, only to resist the ideas presented as impractical. Or people who encourage others to embrace new updates or technology only to remain tied to their inefficient, out-dated systems and tools.

These are not people who are winning at working. Instead, their actions mirror economist's John Kenneth Galbraith's words, "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."

But people who are winning at working don't try to prove there's a reason to stay in the past. Accurate assessment of where they are helps them decide a direction. They don't argue and debate and ignore the experts they engage. Thoughtful analysis helps them process that input. And they don't let the difficulty of change stop them from embracing it. Focusing on the future keeps them moving forward.

People who are winning at working are open to the possibility and necessity of change. And while that change isn't necessarily any easier for them, they see it differently. They see change as progress, transformation, and evolution. To people who are winning at working, embracing new ideas, changing their point of view, and being open to different ways to do things, are part of their success repertoire.


©2008 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved. Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008). Host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on webtalkradio.net. Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at http://www.nanrussell.com.