Brexit, Breakups and Sudden Change

Ok, so I’m going against Conventional Wisdom here, but Brexit is not the end of the world. Perhaps it’s the long-term end of the European Dream and certainly the end of British economic stability for a while. The English break-up is causing near-term pressure in the bond markets, scary dips in the equity markets and political fissures that other nationalist movements will exploit. But somehow the global economy will adjust if the UK ultimately bows out of the European Union (EU) in two years and business will find new ways to survive.

And so it goes with any kind of unexpected change. Yes, the polling right before last week’s Brexit vote showed that the Leave contingent was gaining traction. But many ignored the data because, well, they just couldn’t fathom that nationalist passion would overcome economic logic. What those who voted to leave the EU primarily wanted was to express their frustration at being left behind by globalization and a desire to return to a period when Britain was, singularly, a master of its own fate. They wanted to end what felt like a bad relationship with a conglomerate of countries that could not possibly understand what it meant to be British.

When sudden change happens, it seems surprising because it powerfully exposes what is hidden. Yet rarely does change come entirely out of the blue. It’s a shift, a re-balancing of what had been churning underneath the surface, much like an earthquake. Earthquakes don’t just happen. We perceive them as sudden because we are not naturally attuned to their buildup.

In October of 2014, I wrote a two part series for this blog entitled “The Delicate Nature of Change.” In it, I spoke to the issue of managing change as being part discipline and part acknowledgment of uncomfortable truths within an organization. In other words, identifying what is happening under the surface.

Change is essentially neutral. To be rather Zen-like, it just is. We ascribe value to a particular change depending on where we sit in relation to it; this change is “good” because I see how I benefit while this change is “bad” because all I see is loss. Our perception in no way reflects the fact that the change was inevitable. Things that are out of balance have a way of finding balance again, whether it takes seconds, years or eons. Once a crisis of balance hits (ie, once change occurs), you are presented with a choice: How do I react? With panic? Relief? Fear? Exultation? Do I react directly at all or just try to decipher where things are moving and adjust accordingly?

In one’s career, a well-chosen reaction is the difference between a skillful step and a calamitous fall. I once worked with a senior executive who advised never to react immediately to a big change. Figure out what is happening, fully, and see where opportunity lies. If the opportunity is attractive to you, follow it through. If not, then leave. But don’t fall into the trap of reacting based on partial information, over-stretched emotion or fear of loss. In that case, you’ll find yourself in a cage of your own making, consigned to outcomes you unskillfully created.

Good advice, for countries and working professionals alike.

Before Brexit, the UK had a choice, especially the ruling Conservative Party who thought the illogic of leaving the EU made any other option impossible. They didn’t recognize the tremors under their feet. Otherwise, they would have explored that discontent and addressed their population’s fears and concerns head-on, ushering in change that wasn’t so seismic. Now an entire nation is faced with figuring out how to react in the days and months to come. Let us hope they react with skill instead of panic.

 

 

 

 

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