Collins | Reaching Your Highest Goals Through Change

Embracing the unknown helps us own the future. Self-awareness must come first, as it requires us to recognize the ways of behaving that we’ve developed over time. The challenge is that during times of uncertainty, like we are living through now, our comfort zones only get smaller and less easy to penetrate.

“The only constant in life is change”— Greek philosopher Heraclitus

As you read this, you are likely working from home (WFH — a three-letter acronym we’d never even heard of just four weeks ago) and seeking to maintain continuity in your children’s lives, ensure parents and friends are safe and figure out how to protect your livelihood, all while trying to keep your anxiety in check.

Change is all around us. As the American Marketing Association pointed out in a blog post at the beginning of the year, “Change is a process, not an event.”  This is the time to consider how to move forward and achieve your goals. It’s true that we all have a lot to juggle right now; pulling victory out of chaos shows you have what it takes to succeed.

Business performance consultant Josef Martens tackles the topic of what it takes to realize substantial positive change in his piece “Stop Acting Like a Dog,” which appears in the March/April 2020 issue of MFM’s member magazine, The Financial Manager. I have to say that we had no idea what was in store for the world when we put that issue to bed in early February. Still, I was so taken with his subject that I used it as the topic for my column in that same issue of the magazine.

However, instead of using the quote above, I began my piece with a maxim that has been credited to everyone from President Abraham Lincoln, to management consultant Peter Drucker and computer scientist Alan Kay: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Don’t Be Content With What’s Comfortable


Martens believes that human nature is such that we are content with what is comfortable, and rather than seeking challenges, we tend to seek validation. He likens our response to change to that of a dog who barks at the unknown; our first instinct is to label anything unknown as wrong or ridicule it.

To prove his thesis, Martens suggests we look at a YouTube video featuring Bill Gates’s 1995 appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman. During the interview, Letterman bombards Gates with questions about the then-nascent internet. Rather than opening himself to the possibilities in Gates’ answers, Letterman offers reasons why his then-current way of doing things is better. In short, he’s not ready to move past his comfort zone.

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Martens points out a couple of things we can learn from Gates’ interaction with the television host. First, Gates’ reaction is calm, he acknowledges Letterman’s arguments; showing grace in the face of ignorance is immensely powerful.

The second thing is that looking back at this 25 years later, Letterman seems foolish, a Luddite. But realistically, he’s just a man who wouldn’t open himself to the possibility of an alternate solution. The future belongs to people like Gates who embrace or even invent it.

Embracing the unknown helps us own the future. Self-awareness must come first, as it requires us to recognize the ways of behaving that we’ve developed over time. It’s easy to be blind to them. In general, they’ve served us well. If we get what we want from these patterns, it only reinforces them; they are in our comfort zone.

The challenge is that during times of uncertainty, like we are living through now, our comfort zones only get smaller and less easy to penetrate.

We reinforce patterns, Martens says, because we’ve experienced success and rewards from doing things the way we’ve always done them. Yet, the downside is that we miss out on opportunities to explore new ways of doing things, and most importantly, we lose “the ability to experience ourselves as successful in a completely new way.”

To put this in economic terms, when we can see the patterns, we can begin to measure the opportunity cost of our actions; that is, the potential return from other alternatives that we haven’t chosen.

Martens offers the example of an autocratic leader who runs streamlined meetings with pre-determined action items. While this makes things move along smoothly and no one complains, “the leader doesn’t experience the power of the team’s creativity, doesn’t see the benefit of dealing with conflict in open discourse, doesn’t notice what they can gain from letting go of their need for control and allowing someone else to shape the action.”

Think about how our world has changed in the few weeks since we became aware of a coronavirus that was killing people overseas and when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. In that short time, many tried-and-true responses became infeasible or potentially deadly.

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Focus On What You Want To Create, Not Context

Martens implores us to focus less on context — the environment in which we operate, what we do or don’t know — and more on what we want to create. Envisioning what you want to happen is the first step toward making it happen, you can invent the future.

Now is certainly the time to “revisit your plans and focus on your power to make them happen.” These plans might be your business performance goals or New Year’s resolutions. This prolonged time working in new and different ways may provide the catalyst that helps us see them in a new context.

Finally, Martens shares some advice that he says will help us break through the unknown to become more like Bill Gates and less like David Letterman:

  • Be bold with your plans.
  • Be ready to stand up for them.
  • Be graceful when you see a fear of the unknown in others.

As he offers in closing, “the more you develop empathy and grace for others’ situations the less you’ll feel the need to bark.” We are all navigating in uncharted waters; it behooves us to stop barking and embrace the possibilities.

The March/April issue of TFM, which includes Martens’ article, will be available on the MFM website through the end of April.

Like many groups, MFM is working on the best way to proceed with its annual conference, Media Finance Focus 2020, currently scheduled for May 18-20 in Los Angeles. While we have been considering alternatives, we had not made a decision when I completed this article. However, we expect to have a decision before it publishes. As noted on our association’s website, our plan is to reach out to all concerned to make sure we are considering their needs as we move forward with that announcement. Taking a page from Martens, we are focusing on what we want to create and less on context.

Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary, the media industry’s credit association. She can be reached at [email protected] and via the association’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts.

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