Dealing With Unexpected Business Issues

By Scott R. Singer Print this article Print

In today’s world, a critical business skill is the ability to confront and overcome unexpected obstacles.

You may be an inspiring leader, able to rally divided individuals into a winning team. You could be a brilliant visionary, able to invent innovative ways to train newbies or track data. Or you might be a compelling communicator, able to charm executives and captivate potential customers.

In the past, possessing any of these talents would make you a business All Star. But today, it will only mark you as a phenom: someone with potential. To become a hall of famer—a long-term winner—you need to prove that you know how to hit a curveball by confronting and regularly overcoming the unexpected.

Hitting curveballs has become the indispensable skill for long-term business survival in this economic environment. If you want to have a future as an entrepreneur, an independent professional or an executive in a corporate structure, you must be able to deal with unanticipated events and scenarios. The unexpected has always occurred, and business leaders have always had to deal with it, but things are different today because of four distinct, though interconnected, trends.

First, we’re in a transitional period, politically, economically, culturally and technologically. Politically, the United States might emerge as the sole superpower, but the European Union, China, India and Russia might all vie with the United States for dominance. Economically, business is becoming increasingly global in both structure and operations. Culturally, America is close to becoming a “minority majority” nation, resulting in a diverse and potentially less-predictable culture. And technologically, everything is happening too fast to even generalize about.

Second, the pace of change is constantly accelerating, and this has placed a greater strain on everyone in IT and business. We have to think and do everything faster. Opportunities appear and disappear with blinding speed. The line between work and life has blurred into nonexistence. The only certainty is that everything changes—unbelievably quickly.

Third, it’s more than the pace of change that’s problematic. The changes are coming in areas and in ways that can’t be predicted as accurately as before; every purposeful action produces unintended, often-unavoidable consequences. The unstable nature of this era and our inability to predict consequences become even more difficult when the accelerating pace of change is added.

To make matters worse, the fourth trend is that we seem to be less resilient than ever. The quality of America’s infrastructure and technology has spoiled us. We know that hospitals will have the drugs and medical care we need in an emergency, that the supermarket will have the ingredients we need to make tonight’s dinner, and that the fire department, police department or ambulance will come when we call.

But, when things don’t turn out as we planned—when the servers go down or the network hiccups—we don’t know how to deal with it. We’ve lost what psychologists call resilience, defined as the capacity to withstand stressors without becoming dysfunctional, whether it’s clinical depression or just a flash of anger.

Resilience is largely a learned trait. The more often we face unexpected or stressful situations and overcome them, the more confidence we gain and the more resilient we become for future crises. Confronting and overcoming little hurdles throughout life prepares us for the big obstacles. But having to face so few minor hurdles during our daily lives has left us vulnerable to major curveballs when they come our way.

These four trends—the transitory nature of our current era, ever-accelerating change, increasingly unforeseen consequences and the decline in the psychological resilience of the average American—mean that learning how to hit a curveball is today’s single most important skill for success, not just in IT and business, but in life itself.

This article was originally published on 2010-06-28
Scott R. Singer is a strategic change expert and author of How to Hit a Curveball: Confront and Overcome the Unexpected in Business. He has spent the past 20 years advising companies on how to adapt to change and embrace technological advances.
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.