Lesson: it’s not about Change, it’s about how we react to Change

The lesson is that the need for security and fear of change is a powerful force for us human beings.

But then there is something else.

The problem is not disruption, the problem is how we react to it.

Change and Disruption is not a thing that just happens, and that we can’t do anything about. Quite the contrary, we have agency, we can react to change, we can develop new options.

Fear vs Fear

Fear can be a helpful survival mechanism. Climbers do worry before they climb a free solo, leaving the rope at home. Founders have sleepless nights. Athletes worry before their matches. And that is just natural. It helps us be alert of what can happen. That doesn’t mean however that we should not challenge ourselves to cross that line to the unknown.

But fear is not necessarily a bad thing. There is an irrational fear and there is a rational fear. If you are in Europe and you are afraid of a spider, that’s quite irrational. If you are in Australia, and you are afraid of spiders, that’s rational.

In private equity, when developing plans for the future, we focused on those elements that we or the management teams of our portfolio companies could control, versus those that we had no control over. Focusing on the initiatives that you can control, and keeping alternative scenarios in mind can take you a long way.

In a more extreme fashion, Alex Honnold, one of the most famous climber's of these days, said in an interview that he intuitively separated fear between rational fear, where his body reacts to a danger and the perceived fear. In the Interview, what he does intuitively is linked to psychological research by researcher Armita Golkar.

View extreme climber Alex Honnold explain this with psychology researcher Armita Golkar

Watch the two and a half minutes of the interview, or more to hear them explain.

Focus on the options

The important element in times of change to see and develop options for action. This helps us eliminate the irrational fear and lets the rational fear prevent us from making mistakes.

When extreme climber Alexander Huber faces a key passage of the wall, he focuses on how the route will continue after this passage. This takes the focus away from this key section.

For us as well, we can focus on our goals and then find the paths to arrive there. What we also did in private equity, is that we created 100 day plans to see where we needed to go. We even have one big advantage over climbers. Often we have different alternatives to arrive at our destination. We can adapt on route.


It’s time we re-learn the choice-security equation. It’s time to focus on the options for action that we have.


In times of change and disruption we need to free ourselves from the restrictions of our assumptions and habits. Once we let go of a presumed outcome, then we can respond adaptively. This not only enables us to properly respond to the reality of our current environment, but it also offers us a richer variety of options to choose from.

One way to do this is to get into “play” and exploration mode. In his book ‘Free Play’, Stephen Nachmanovitch makes the distinction between ‘play’, in the form of improvisation on the one side and ‘game’ on the other side. He explains that “Play is the free spirit of exploration, doing and being for its own pure joy. Game is an activity defined by a set of rules.”
He writes “A creature that plays is more readily adaptable to changing contexts and conditions. Play as free improvisation sharpens our capacity to deal with a changing world.”

Why did nature equip dogs with this joy of play? Play helps dogs learn motor skills and prepare them for unexpected things to happen. Likewise it helps us explore new outcomes from our activities.

To play, we have to forget the preconceived outcomes. Everything around us becomes new and fresh. It becomes about the process of discovery instead of the goal. We start anew.

What helps to get into this mode of play is to understand our preconceptions and assumptions, and to focus on the situation, and act less than more.

There is an ancient and proven tool that comes to help when we want to become aware of our hindering thinking pattern. The tool, of course, is mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us pay attention to our thoughts without attachment. It helps us become aware.

One mindfulness exercise is to sit quietly and notice your thoughts. You don’t force any particular topic, you just let them flow and notice them. When thoughts arise, you can take a mental note, not of the content of the thought, but of the fact that thoughts arise. The important thing about this exercise is that you do not try to control or judge the thoughts, you just notice them.

At it’s core this provides us with agency. When we are aware of how we operate, what thoughts influence us then we are better able to choose options of action without preconceptions and unhindered by external stimuli.

So when you feel that change is not going your way then try to make mental notes when you try to play by some rules from the past. Try to identify the moments when try to start with beginner eyes. Wondering whether Tesla or automotive OEM’s will win the race? Just forget what you think a car is, and explore what current and future user needs this ‘device’ has to satisfy. We have to change our concept of what a car is in the future.

hink that wearing a mask is too much of a burden for restaurant employees? Why not take a step back and think about all the things required to make your guests’ visit an valuable and safe experience for them? We wouldn’t question as to whether a clean kitchen is part of the offer, would we? Just because we haven’t used masks before doesn’t mean that they don’t serve the same function as a clean kitchen. We have to adjust our concept what a good service offer is during the current times.

Breaking these habits and enabling play is also what creativity and innovation are about.