How Managers Can Shift Their Thinking and Respond to Change

Published: Aug 08, 2018
Modified: Jun 01, 2020

By AMA Staff

Managers need to alter their thinking patterns and try new things to respond to change. They may be stuck in a rut, however, which makes it hard to meet those challenges.

Jonah Sachs, co-founder of consulting firm Free Range Studios, talked to AMA’s Edgewise podcast program about this leadership challenge. “We run into change all the time, and we can sense that we need to change in order to meet it, right? But how do you change yourself when that’s really difficult for the human mind to do?” said Sachs, the author of Unsafe Thinking: How to Be Nimble and Bold When You Need It Most (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2018).

He offers several ideas in the podcast that can help people get unstuck:

Think of yourself as an explorer, not an expert. Everyone needs to build expertise, but we can reach a point at which what we know becomes a trap, says Sachs. We fit new information into old patterns.

Sachs notes that with a game like chess, where the rules never change, greater expertise leads to better intuition. But that’s not the case in a changing business environment. When the rules continually change, he said, "being attached to a single way of thinking and processing information can make experts blind.”

His advice: “Gather as much knowledge, get as much expertise as you can. But never identify an expert. Aim to be an explorer.”

Avoid the “cultural fit” trap. If you always hire for cultural fit, this process can become a trap as well. Sachs believes that new possibilities can sometimes open up when you work with people you don’t approve of or like.

“Bringing people into our company who are our fiercest critics, or maybe see the world through a different political lens, can really make us understand our customers and the wider world a lot more, as opposed to being so internally focused on our own culture,” he said.

Use stories to define yourself and your purpose. Sachs offers the example of dealing with anxiety, a common feeling during times of change. By telling stories about breakthroughs you’ve had when facing change, you’ll see that you overcame the challenges by moving toward your fears. “If we reframe anxiety as fuel for creativity, we have that ability to move toward it and not always shrink back to the safest solution we can find,” he said.

“Telling stories organizationally is incredibly important,” Sachs said. “It’s how you define yourself. It’s how you define your organization and your purpose.”

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