How Fast Are You: Part 2 – How Fast Do You Change?

Change.CHANGE.CHANGE!

Over the past few years that little, six-letter word has become firmly entrenched  in our English language. Hardly an hour can pass without seeing it, hearing it, or discussing it. It is a powerful word. It is a simple word. And, it scares the heck out of a lot of people.

But most importantly, how you react to it can determine just how good you are at what you do!

In the business world, a fast company is one that quickly adapts to change. Change occurs, and the company that reacts to it best is the one that survives, while oftentimes others perish. As James Belasco noted in Teaching the Elephant to Dance, " . . . the pace of change is picking up. And the watchword is — change or die."

Things are no less dynamic in the world of sport. In fact, on a daily basis there may be more change in a sporting environment than in a business one. Coaches and athletes often have to deal with change not only minute-by-minute, but second-by-second — especially in competitive situations that can be awash with stress and pressure. As a coach or as an athlete, change is a part of the game. And it is certainly no different in the sport of rowing.

How well you change, and how easy it is for you to adapt to change will have a big impact on how much you enjoy your rowing, how long you will keep rowing, and how well you will do at rowing.

A Boat-load of Change

In the broadest sense, there are three categories of change. A category-one change is a conceptual change that is in itself greatly significant. Category-one changes usually happen rarely, but when they do, watch out– they are big! One such change happened to the oil industry at the end of the nineteenth century. Up until the late 1800s, oil companies were small manufacturers, producing oil for use mostly in machinery. In the early 1900s, with the advent of automobiles, oil demand sky-rocketed, and the oil companies had a completely new focus — supply gasoline for cars, grow at an unprecedented rate, and for a few of those companies, make more money than imagined.

Category-two changes are not quite as earth-shattering as category-ones. They tend to be more subtle, and happen much more frequently. That brings us to category-three changes, which would best be described as insignificant. These are the small changes that usually are of little consequence.

Many people think that rowing is a fairly static sport, with little or no change happening. No way — things are changing all the time! Even though most of those changes are category-threes (things like daily boatings modified, workouts altered due to weather, or training plans adapted) they are still changes. Of course there have been category-two changes (out with the "Etes Vous, Préts, Partez," in with the "Attention – Go!"), but not many of them. And there really haven't been any category-one changes in our sport for over a hundred years.

So what's the problem?

It comes down to this, many rowing coaches and rowers have difficulty with change regardless of the category, and hence aren't as fast as they could be.

Here's why.

The Heartache of Change

There are three reasons why anyone, and certainly coaches and rowers, might have difficulty with change.
The first reason is that the effort of making a change, even a change of little importance, can be underestimated. Changing the spread of a rigger one-half centimeter is a category-three change, basically insignificant in terms of the big-picture. Yet, time and time again people have difficulty with this simple change because they underestimate the time and effort it takes. Changing the spread in the boathouse on a lazy Saturday afternoon is one thing, moving it ten minutes before launching for a major regatta is quite another.

Second, when overemphasis is placed on the significance of a category, trouble can happen. Let's use rigging again. Big Blades hit the market in 1991 and  many people felt that this was a very significant change, and in fact, it would be a safe bet to suggest that some folks thought it was a category-one change. However, again in terms of the big picture, the change was small. Granted, shells with the new oars went a little faster, but rowers kept rowing, coaches kept coaching, the tax man kept coming, and the sun kept rising.

Lastly, change may have major impact on one group of people yet be totally insignificant to another group, and this can cause problems. An example would be the inclusion of lightweight rowing in the Olympics. When lightweight events were finally included in the 1996 Olympics, this was a category-two change for elite-level  lightweights — especially those in the United States. Now the door was open for a few lightweights to participate in the Olympics every four years. However, this change was insignificant for the other thousands of rowers in the United States. What was interesting about this change is that lightweights were always able to compete at the Olympics (and many did such as Gelden and Klecatsky who rowed the double in 1976, Costello and McIlvaine who won in 1928, and Kris Karlson was in the women's quad in 1992), it is just that they had to compete against heavyweights for a spot on the team.

Becoming Faster

So if you feel that change is making you slow, how do you get faster? A few suggestions:

First, recognize your discomfort. If you have a hard time with change, that doesn't make you a bad coach or rower — just a person that is uncomfortable with change. Recognizing this fact and being up front about it might make life easier for you and those around you.

At the same time give yourself credit — you might be better at change than you think. Tom Peters, author of The Pursuit of WOW, suggested that there is a lot of talk that people aren't up to the overwhelming change that occurs every day. Peters suggested that is a mistaken assumption, "Great as the changes transforming modern business are, they can't hold a candle to the personal traumas of illness . . . which most people get through quite well."

Second, recognize that change is tough. A lot of words have been used to describe the change process, and "tough" is one of the best — it is tough to change. So when a change occurs, get ready for a tough time, regardless of the category of change (although the lower the category, the tougher it is to change). As Belasco noted, "Any change is uncomfortable . . . It takes courage to change."

Finally, become a change expert. Get more comfortable with change. Read books about it, such as the classic Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson. Take a course in it. Watch how it happens in other fields (the world of business is a great place to view successful and unsuccessful change). The more comfortable you are with change, the better at it you will be.

So there you have it. Get-a-changing, and get fast!

The third installment will be coming next week. Until then . . .

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