I like to picture change as a river, with us in canoes. If we’re not paddling, we’re drifting. There’s no status quo on this river, no staying in place. We can’t be passive. We must be aggressive.

  • Competition increases as more players get into our industry.
  • Business models evolve, making the models that worked in the last decade completely obsolete in the next (think Blockbuster here).
  • Thanks to the internet, consumers have more ability to explore competitive options than ever before.
  • Globalization and technology are increasing the rate of change and the breadth of business opportunity.

Working with business leaders I find the river metaphor helpful. Leaders are inspired by it. They use it to talk about change with fellow workers, who get inspired too.

That’s because there’s something inside us that loves tackling a challenge. We love to improve. Paddling the river triggers a deep sense of happiness. Whenever life hands us a challenge we feel we can tackle, we come alive. It’s the reason we challenge ourselves in sports and hobbies and video games. We love to drive forward, develop our skills, and win in life.

At the same time, it’s easy to get caught resting in success. We imagine we can keep doing the same things year after year and get the same results. We forget we’re doing business in a dynamic ecosystem, where competitors are innovating and client expectations are evolving. What was exceeding expectations last year is only meeting expectations this year, so if we’re going to thrive in the river of business, we’ve got to recognize the river and get paddling.

So, here’s the big question: Will you rise to the challenge of change? Will you and your workers learn to love paddling the river?

Erik Van Alstine is a northwest-based leadership strategist and author of Automatic Influence: New Power for Change in Work and Life (New York: Stone Lounge Press, 2016). His 12-lesson online leadership course released in September 2017.

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