Connect with us

David Kepron

Brain Food: Change Doesn’t Care if You’re Uncomfortable

Constant change makes being in the present moment more important

mm

Published

on

8:15AM: I CAN HEAR them in the distance. There is a growing sense of agitation you can feel in the air. It starts low with a simple call joined by others until a cacophony breaks through the morning mist. It sounds like they are readying themselves for take-off. It won’t be long now.

8:20am: The sound continues to grow. Urgent in its tenor.

8:25am: The first sortie is off, and they rise over the treetops as I look south over my backyard. The flight formation, a simple “V.” Hundreds of Canada geese calling as they fly across my yard. This volley will be followed by others on five-to-10-minute intervals for the next half hour.

Change is in flight.

This morning’s experience will repeat for the next few weeks. The coffee beans will be ground, releasing an aroma that signals a new day. The boiling water poured over the heap cradled in the funnel-top of my ChemEx coffee flask will churn, releasing a steady stream below and a whisp of twisting steam above. And, my wife and I will hear the geese, stand on the deck and watch the orderly flight of flocks into the Eastern sky as the sun rises from beyond the trees.

It’s a little bit of magic that we are gifted each day.

Advertisement

This recurrent spectacle of change, of takeoffs and return landings, reminds us that everything is in a state of flux. Every day the geese fly from an overnight nesting ground west of our property to someplace to the east. And yet, every day, the path is slightly different. Some days it’s directly over our house, other days they fly low over the treetops and further to the south away from us.

There is an inevitability to this morning ritual of flyovers. There is also the inevitability of change, that tomorrow it will be different.

There is change that is instinctual, built into the system of everything.

Growing older, the change of seasons, sunrises and sunsets and geese flying south. This is change that presents limited uncertainty. We not only expect it, we rely on it. We take it as a given. It doesn’t unnerve us, throw us into a panic or existential crisis. In fact, if this sort of change didn’t happen, we would be deeply confused and concerned that the order of the universe was being upended.

There is the change we choose.

A career path, new job, life partner, relocating to be closer to aging parents. These are the decisions we toil over, considering the pros and cons, and make thoughtful and sensible decisions about. In these moments of change, there is a sense of agency and empowerment that we are controlling our destiny and making stuff happen. This sort of change reassures the part of us that believes, despite the fact that uncertainty is all around us, that we are controlling a little bit of the outcome.

Advertisement

Then there is change that is thrust upon us.

In these moments, shifting circumstances open the door to uncertainty. A sense of clarity or purpose dissipates into a swell of unknowns and a deep discomfort settles in, making everything seem tenuous. A friend recently said to me that he had once read something interesting about the feeling we have when change is set upon us. He explained, “Some people don’t like change. Turns out that change doesn’t much care.”

I have often mused on the idea of the exponential rate of change and how it is more like “forced change,” the kind of change we don’t much like. We didn’t cause it (well, actually, we often have) and we feel more swept along by it, feeling victimized with it being seemingly out of our control.

This sort of change demands an openness to confront the necessary things we have often held so dear, or the veracity of the things we’ve believed about the world around us, ourselves and others. This type of change asks us to embrace the unknown and find an opportunity for transformation in the ambiguity. This kind of change is the hard stuff that John F. Kennedy referred to when he said “…we choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” Growth is not found on Easy Street but on the Slip ‘n Slide-bumper-car-rollercoaster of occasionally scary life experiences.

Doing the hard thing, asking the hard questions, making the hard decisions, this is where the growth is. Yet often, when confronted with the choice, we don’t follow Robert Frost’s “road not taken.” We don’t step into change and embrace the unknown. Our deeply ingrained neurobiological imperative to avoid pain allows our fear to override executive functioning and the potential experience of awe born out of wonder and discovery.

And so, it’s easy to fall for nostalgia. It’s cozy, welcoming and reassuring because it is familiar. It’s easy to continue to keep doing the same thing we have always done thinking there is security in choosing the familiar versus going on an adventure.

Advertisement

The unfamiliar signals potential danger and our biology is geared to sounding the alarms when the unfamiliar lurks near the edge of uncertainty. The paradox is that we both seek to avoid the perceived danger of the unknown while being driven toward the novel and unexpected because that is where learning lives. To use a great Indigo Girls lyric, when “…up on the watershed, standing at the fork in the road, you can stand there and agonize until your agony is your heaviest load.” Uncertainty can cause entrenchment in the familiarity of nostalgia or induce inertia. Nether a good thing when what we need is to be leading into the future with a willingness to do the “hard thing.”

The problem is that change doesn’t much care that you’ve pulled the big cozy sweater over your head. It has raced on, careening along the sharply ascending exponential rate-of-change curve. When you surface from your cozy place of the familiar, you’ll be like Dorothy realizing you’re not in Kansas anymore. The world is changing. Quickly. Exponentially. This shift is particularly acute with a generation of experience-seeking consumers for whom the past may not be as vital to their understanding of the world as in previous generations.

As culture shifts in response to exponential change, we have another challenge at hand. An emerging generation of experience-seeking consumers who may be less tied to tradition as a benchmark for their engagement with a brand. They live in a series of nows. The fluid nature of the digitally enabled world might suggest that what has worked in the past is simply no longer relevant today, tomorrow or in the next moment. This group seems to be more deeply connected to experiencing moments than they are to monuments.

Let us consider that as we speed ahead at an exponential rate of change, we naturally become disengaged from tradition and derive less meaning from legacy because the contextual connection becomes blurred. As this happens, it might just be true that “in times of rapid change, experience might be your worst enemy” as J.P. Getty once said. It just might be that we can’t apply past thinking, practice or principle to the present or future circumstances. Relying on the past to predict the future requires that something has survived the test of time. As we move into a new experience paradigm of continual change, failing fast and continual iteration may become de rigeur because constant change will demand it and make it mainstream in order to remain in sync with change.

You’ve heard the expression, “the future is now”? Well, in a very real way it is. And, for a new group of consumers now is simply more relevant than what has been. This presents a particular challenge to brands who have relied on traditional narratives, like many luxury brands, because culture shifts swept by rapid change may not look backwards when “back” fades quickly from a front row seat in a bullet train. You can’t lead into the future by looking into the rear-view mirror.

It is profound to live in the present moment, fully aware of the immediate experience rather than referencing some past or conjuring a yet to be experienced future. Yes, it is a challenge to stand in the presence of a future absence and the absence of a future presence because this is a place of extraordinary ambiguity. This is the sort of change we have had set upon us in the past 18 months. It is a change that has asked us to both speed up and slow down. It is the sort of change that has made living in uncertainty a certainty. It seems that this place in time has invited me to consider that there has always been this simple truth about change that I have avoided leaning into. Perhaps I should be even more open to not finding change so disagreeable.

As I consider the fluid nature of this in-betweenness, it feels like a dry run for how things will be as we move exponentially quicker into the future of digitally mediated experience.

Then again, if anyone tells you they can predict what the future will bring, call their bluff, because I think it is quite impossible. As we speed into next moment and then the next, I think it becomes increasingly difficult to say what’s coming next other than whatever it is, it will be coming at us quicker and feel more fleeting, unlike the previous “big thing.” Is this a challenge? You bet, because we have simply not evolved to adapt to this sort of change. This sort of perpetual change will demand a paradigmatic mindset shift to being more agile, flexible, adaptable, growth oriented, regenerative… and doing this will be a Herculean task for those that don’t like change so much.

8:35 am: The next sortie is cruising above the treetops. Just then, a huge Black Vulture rises amidst the flock. It has taken flight from a tree and directly into the path of the oncoming geese. In an artful twist of airborne acrobatics, the huge vulture twists downwards to the right as the geese separate out of formation, spreading around it, each of them tilting left and right to avoid a mid-air collision. The perfect formation spreads open, missing the slow-moving object in its path, and reforms like a zipper closing as though nothing had dared challenge its trajectory.

Change then flew unyielding into the Eastern sunrise.

David Kepron is formerly the VP - Global Design Strategies – Premium Distinctive Brands at Marriott Intl., responsible for the strategic design direction for Westin, Le Meridien, Renaissance, Autograph Collection, Tribute Portfolio, Design Hotels and Gaylord Hotels. He is also the founder of Retail (r)Evolution, LLC and NXTLVL Experience Design, LLC. In his latest venture, NXTLVL Experience Design, Kepron brings years of retail and hospitality design expertise to the making of meaningful customer connections at brand experience places around the globe. His multidisciplinary approach to design focuses on understanding consumer behavior and the creation of relevant brand engagement moments at the intersection of architecture, sociology, neuroscience and emerging digital technologies. As a frequently requested speaker to retailers, hoteliers and design professionals nationally and internationally, David shares his expertise on subjects ranging from consumer behaviors and trends, brain science and buying behavior, store design and visual merchandising as well as creativity and innovation. @davidkepron; www.retail-r-evolution.com.

Advertisement

SPONSORED VIDEO

Embracing Whole-Brained Thinking in the Design Journey

Strategy needs creative, and creative needs strategy—yep, having both is really the only way of unifying all disciplines with a common vernacular with an eye toward building a strong creative vision that is foundational to the processes. Hear from Bevan Bloemendaal, former VP, Global Environments & Creative Services at Timberland, how to connect the dots between disciplines, claiming and creating a clear differentiation for the brand and ensuring that any asset (experience, product, ad, store, office, home, video, game) is created with intention.

Promoted Headlines

Advertisement

SUBSCRIBE

Advertisement

Facebook

Most Popular