TITLE: Thriving in a World of Constant Change
It is indeed my great pleasure to be here today and I am honoured to be speaking to a room full of future leaders and world changers. About 38 years ago, I was seated in an auditorium like this brimming with life and excited about the journey I was embarking on. As a student of Civil Engineering at University of Ile-Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University, I had a decent picture in my mind of exactly who I was going to be, what I was going to do, where I was going to go, and how I was going to get there; just like many of you today. Well, let me be the first to tell you that life hardly goes the way that we plan, and that is probably the best thing about it.
If you are like me, you have calculated the number of years you will spend here, the grade you plan to graduate with (for me it was first class and I got it), the type of job you will get immediately after your National Youth Service Corps year, the comfortable apartment you will have paid for from the nice salary you are earning; and maybe, just maybe, the type of woman or man you will marry and build a beautiful life with.
All of that is good, but what happens if there is a global pandemic that stops life as we know it in virtually every sphere for the better part of a year and more? Actually, that has already happened and as you can expect, many people, businesses and even countries, were left trying to play catch up, tossed to and fro by new and life-threatening discoveries about the Coronavirus, COVID-19.
Economies were plunged into never before seen levels of unproductivity, schools were shut down on all levels, businesses had to transition to virtual survival mode – and many lost that battle, humans had to cope with unprecedented levels of change – and its attendant stress – in dealing with the effects of the pandemic. That word, ‘unprecedented’, if you were paid for every time it was used last year, you probably would be on vacation somewhere nicely retired before your careers even begin – as much as COVID-19 will allow, anyway. The bottom line is that we live in a world where the unprecedented can happen at any given time.
What is important today may not necessarily be important tomorrow. The skills that are in such high demand right now, may become obsolete tomorrow. Discoveries that are hailed as ingenious today, may lose all relevance when faced with the needs of tomorrow. When it happens, where will it leave you? That is the question we are here to answer today. You are starting on a path of learning that will teach you how to think not only about yourself today, but how you can situate yourself in tomorrow’s world successfully. You will not be given simple steps or formulas to follow that will solve every problem, but you will be taught, inspired and challenged to think and act progressively. And that learning begins today. Today I will be speaking to you on Thriving in a World of Constant Change.
So, What is Change?
Change in its simplest form is defined as an act or process through which something becomes different. It suggests that something which was a certain way before has now become something else, either based on a morphology in its form or attributes, or the perception of someone or something else. For instance, an Orange seed when planted in the ground does not remain a seed. Rather, it grows to become an Orange tree such that you are unable to separate the seed from any part of the tree that you come in contact with. What we, however, also see from this example, is that change is often in response to some sort of stimuli. This means that something always triggers and nurtures change, no matter how natural it may seem.
Now, we live in a world that is moving from being predictably complicated to a state of constantly changing complexity, with ambiguous challenges and infinite solutions. If you look at the world around you today, things are vastly different from how they were exactly a year ago. Even if we take a broader scope, ten years ago we were a far cry from the level of digital sophistication or global connectedness that we are today. All of this is simply because the needs of the world changed, and different industries and sectors were forced to evolve with these needs. And in the harsh reality of the world we live in, those who refused to change with the times, quickly became irrelevant. Case in point – Yahoo, Nokia, Blackberry – to name a relatable few.
the air and just move with the tides of change, there are appropriate responses that once activated, set us on a path to use it to our advantage and it all begins with you. I have learnt over the years that when things are changing – especially when it takes us by surprise – we have a tendency to overreact or overcompensate by going in a certain direction. This should not be so. Effectively leveraging change requires that you have a clear line of sight into what the elements of the change are and how they affect you. Often, this requires that you take a step back before making any decision.
Once you have a clear head and you know what is required, you must have the requisite expertise to deal with it. Now, this does not mean that you have to know everything. What it means is that you must be able to tap the necessary resources – human, mental or otherwise
– that can help you navigate the waters successfully. This is where your lecturers, mentors, coaches, what you are reading, etc., come in to guide you down a thought process that helps you move in the right direction. Always remember that if you are constantly gathering new knowledge and seeking the right perspectives, you are better positioned to navigate the rollercoaster that is life.
At this point, I must say that you all seated here today have made a giant step in the right direction. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” That takes things a step further from constantly reacting to change, to being the one initiating it; a move that many of us are bold enough to take. Personally, over the course of my career, I have stood at many thresholds where I could have waited to react to change, or be proactive and kick start a process of necessary change chose to be proactive and I am proud of those results today.
I think this would be a great time for me to salute those of you seated here today who will be bold enough to choose as I chose. In the famous words of Rob Siltanen, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Leading the Path with Resilience
The beautiful thing, however, that we must remember is that none of us exists in a vacuum. As such, every day, we are faced with decisions that will determine if we will continually play catch up or we will lead the path of change. The continuous evolution of life as we know it fuelled by changes in innovations, human wants, technology, etc., requires that we must transform our spheres of influence with increasing speed. Beyond those who will emerge leaders, there is the expectation that we must all demonstrate agility, emotional intelligence, and strong motivation in addition to the existing skill sets that we have as members of the community. A key factor in determining your success is, therefore, resilience. Resilience is the key to not only surviving but thriving through constant change.
You see, Resilience is the capacity to adapt positively to pressure, setbacks, challenges and change in order to achieve peak performance. Bear in mind that it is not an inborn personality trait that you either possess or do not, but a capacity which can be developed or enhanced. I have come across several subordinates, colleagues and even personal friends that have continued to demonstrate remarkable resilience in the face of significant circumstances that would have killed their spirit when I first met them. Some of you maybe confused or unsure of your choice of courses today. It is not peculiar to you.
So, what are the traits you need to develop to build up your resilience?
Self-belief: There is saying, “If you can think it, you can do it.” Another way to say that is you will never be able to do what you do not believe that you can do. Do you see yourself as a person who shies away from responsibility? Are you too scared to fail that you do not even try? Are you easily discouraged by setbacks or challenges? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you must part ways with such behaviour today. You must have the confidence in yourself and in your abilities to do whatever it is that you want/need to do. If you believe you can solve a problem, you are well on your way to solving it.
Purpose: You must have an outlook or a target. In demonstrating your resilience, there must be a tangible outcome that you hope to achieve. Change occurs in a particular direction – either an improvement or a regression. You have to be disciplined enough to create a specific vision that you can then begin to make targeted actions towards. For instance, do you desire to graduate with a First Class Honors.
Adaptability: while you must be resolute in your vision, you must be adaptable in your approach. Not every solution will be an ideal fit for the problem you have identified or what you are trying to achieve. You must therefore be willing to adapt not only your approach but your behaviour in response to circumstances. External factors can be particularly dynamic, but without a flexible mind-set, one would quickly be derailed by obstacles.
Ingenuity: You have to be able to find answers, either by leveraging on what you know or what others know. Thinking both within and outside the box must be second nature to you because it allows you to explore all the different solutions that can be deployed without missing out on the sometimes simple solution that is right in front of your eyes. Ingenuity does not always mean you have to come up with something new all by yourself, sometimes, it is refining another person’s idea once you have considered the underlying cause behind the issue you hope to apply the solution to.
Mental balance: Your ability to remain calm and in control of your emotions and your mental capacity is critical to your success in embracing and thriving through change. For those who are easily frazzled, it is important that you begin to engage in exercises that develop your ability to remain in control of your emotions so that you can make rational decisions and continue performing effectively even when under pressure. This is a skill that will serve you well in your studies and in both your professional and personal life afterwards regardless of where you find yourself.
Receiving Help: stop thinking that you can do it alone; better still, stop thinking that you have to. Working with others is integral to your success in life, with or without change. Ensure that you build a strong support system around yourself that constantly keep you rejuvenated and focused on your goal. This support system will provide you not only with the intelligence you need, but with an emotional, mental, physical and possibly, spiritual backbone that you need to stand up and keep going.
Summarily, there is a lot of deliberate effort that will be required of you to become the person that can ride the waves of change; start building today.
Technology and Innovation?
Now, it may seem like a long while yet before you are tossed into the ‘real world’. Some of you will go into the courses/careers you have envisioned for yourselves today; others will veer off that path completely and discover other passions; and many others will become entrepreneurs in existing or completely novel fields. Whichever the case for you, one common thing you will all face is the fast-paced change in technological innovation, and you have to be ready for it. You simply cannot afford to be so caught up in whatever obtains now that you lose sight of the potential.
If someone walked up to any of you seated here today and said they wanted to give you a phone and they brought out a 10inch box the size of your laptop, with the receiver and the dial pad connected by a curly wire and which had to be situated in a particular spot in the house to maintain it connectivity with a network provide, would you take it? In fact, I am certain many of you here do not even realise that I have just described a landline that used to sit in our homes where you could make calls to friends and family – but within limit of course given outrageous bills. You would not take it because times have changed. You can make calls on the go and take the phone wherever you like. In fact, you can wear a wireless headset and go wherever you want within your home without losing connectivity.
This means that if you were a telephone maker in the 90s and you did not have the foresight or develop the capability to make cellular phones, and then smartphones, you would be virtually out of business today. Similar stories can be found in virtually every sector of the economy from automobiles to Agriculture, Health, Education, Financial Services, Commerce, Law and even Entertainment. The question is, how do you know what is coming next or how to prepare for it? The truth is that you do not. What you can do is focus on what motivates these seemingly sudden shifts in innovation, and how you apply yourself to put the technology equipments to use.
Summarily, advances in technological innovation is here to stay. You have a unique opportunity to get a head start on many of your peers in a University like Dominion University on how you can be in the forefront of change in your chosen area of study; do not waste it.
Let me tell you a story about my career. If you have paid attention you will recall I mentioned being a student of Civil Engineering at the beginning of my address. Yes I was and I graduated with a first class. I worked with NNPC and as a very young corper supervised the construction of a pipeline project. (insert personal anecdote on leadership) I went ahead to become a chartered accountant, then a management consultant, became a technology consultant, a cyber security expert and now a policy developer and advisor for both the private and public sector. What kept me going and still keeping me is the constant thirst for knowledge, the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn. In all that we have heard today, this is a critical aspect that I must touch on.
Unlearning and Relearning
You see, growing up we are taught all kinds of things about what is supposed to be and what is not, and we equally observe different norms, cultures and methods from our experiences. But, what do you do when the methods that you – or those who have gone before you – are used to employing to deliver results suddenly start to fail? Do you close shop and walk away? Or do you find other ways of doing things? I am hoping you chose the latter, because if so, it shows you are willing to unlearn and relearn – two concepts that will be critical to your success in becoming a world-changer despite how the world changes.
Where unlearning is discarding previous knowledge about a thing, relearning is learning to think, behave, or perceive differently, when there are already beliefs, behaviours, or assumptions in place (that get in the way), at either the individual or communal level. It means that unlearning is not complete until relearning has occurred. These two actions are borne out of you recognising that what you already know, may prevent you from knowing more and taking deliberate actions to expand your thinking capabilities.
The first thing you must understand in this process is that you do not exist in a vacuum. You live in a world where external factors will always be critical in determining what happens to you. If you choose to stay in a world where you believe you will always need physical keypads on your phones, you will struggle to embrace the sophistication and value delivery in the touch screen, and as we have begun to see today. You must be sensitive to the times in order to realise quickly what is not working anymore and what can possibly yield the results you want to see, or you will be left behind.
As in all things today, technology also plays a role in this process. But this time, I would like to point out how you can use these technological advancements to your advantage. Explore the world from behind your screen. It will break the limitations on your mind once you see what is achievable in a different clime under a different set of rules and with different resources. You are all very familiar with social media and playing games on your phone, Ipads or Laptops. Yes, the social aspects of technology are great and should be enjoyed, but beyond that, what value can your digital exposure add to your educational life that will help enhance your comprehension and application. In addition, also make you the sort of thinker or innovator that can provide relevant solutions to problems of the present and the future.
At this point, you are probably wondering what the practical steps to unlearning and relearning are. As presented in The Art of Unlearning – What Works by Chris Cancialosi for Forbes, it can be summed up like this:
- Continually prove that what you believe to be true actually is.
- Force yourself to ask, “Is there another way?”
- Acknowledge that you may, in fact, not actually know what’s best.
- Challenge the beliefs and assumptions prevalent in your sphere of influence and be open to letting people challenge the beliefs and assumptions you, personally, hold to be true about what ‘right’ looks like.
- Give yourself time and space to master new ways of thinking and behaving.
- Ask a trusted friend or classmate to give you feedback on their observations of your mental model and how it shows up in your interactions with others.
Remember, those that will thrive in a world of constant change will be those who are able to pull themselves out of the rut of complacency, even when it looks like success, and challenge themselves to unlearn what has always worked for them; be one of those people.
Writing Your Name in the Sands of Time
As I bring this address to a close, I would like to tie it all together by saying that while there may be uncontrollable situations evolving around us, every day, we remain the masters of our own destiny. It is my hope that the lessons I have shared with you today will challenge you to not only brace yourself for the unexpected that may lie ahead, but to inspire you to ignite the change that is needed within your sphere of influence.
Career success coach, Kathy Caprino, points out that many people have incredibly inspiring visions for their life or simply hope to achieve greatness without actively working on the steps that can bring this to fruition. A critical piece of advice that she gives and has worked for me both personally and professionally is to identify people you deeply admire who are making the sort of moves you want to make, and place your focus not only on where they are today but on what they’ve been through and done to get there. This could be a course mate that is doing well or excellently in his/her studies.
A good example of such a person is the recently appointed Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Not only is she the first female to achieve such a feat but the first African to do so, and she is no stranger to these firsts. How did she come about such great achievements? By laying the foundation early on in life. Many of you may look back on their time here at Dominion University many years from now and wish they had done things differently, while many others will be thankful for the decisions they made. What will it take to be named among the latter?
Stay Focused – You cannot make any kind of mark in this world if your attention is constantly split between too many different things. If your goal is to be a prominent activist, you must be able to determine what cause is paramount to you and focus your attention on the sub-activities and skills you need to achieve that. If it requires saying no to other things, then so be it.
Create Something that Helps Others – To make a positive mark in the world, you have to create something that actually delivers value to others. If you create a solution to which there is no problem, you will find yourself quickly frustrated and end up starting numerous projects that are dead on arrival. Cultivate the habit now of providing solutions that help others.
Don’t Be Driven by Fame – In a world where fame is seemingly the social capital opening doors to economic prosperity, you must not get so carried away with the glory in what you want to achieve that you neglect the work. Focus on actually doing good in the world and you will find that you are constantly at the forefront of change in the society.
Think Beyond the Work and Be a Good Person – At the end of the day, you do not have to live with the work you have done or your achievements, you have to live with yourself. If you gain your success by trampling on others or cutting corners, you have simply cheated.
Focus on Self-Development – You have to be aware of what you can and cannot do; or what you know or do not know. You must know your strengths and amplify those; your weaknesses and develop those. Should you find yourself in a state of stagnation at any point in time, shake things up. And remember, those skills you learn today or those studies you give your time and resources to will speak for you in the future.
Finally, Believe and Commit – Trust your vision. Believe it. Commit to it. And take steps to manifest it.
Today, I leave you with the words of Barack Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Thank you for listening and I wish you a rewarding experience here at Dominion University.