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Managing the Winds of Change.

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Lesson learned from a child’s science project.

An article in the Huffington Post lists 25 time-honored 4th Grade science projects that are still popular with today’s students. Looking back, you probably remember the top three from your own grade school days: The first experiment is to create a miniature erupting volcano by mixing baking soda with vinegar. The second is to power an electric light with a battery made from a potato and a couple nails. The third—and this is the inspiration for today’s blog—is to demonstrate why a flimsy-looking palm tree can easily survive the same hurricane that would uproot and destroy a mighty oak. To dramatize this principle, just look at the terrifying aerial photos taken after Hurricane Yazi—history’s strongest storm—tore across Queensland a couple years ago. The photos show a forest of 100-foot-tall trees leveled like matchsticks, while the nearby palm trees still wave gracefully in the aftermath of the storm—a little ragged, maybe, but healthy and intact. The lesson is clear: Oak trees are big, strong and deeply-rooted, but that makes them fairly rigid and unbending. Palm trees are slender and graceful, and that makes them flexible and adaptable to change.

Are you a palm tree or an oak?

As business leaders and managers, we too are experiencing one of history’s greatest social, economic and technological storms. Every day the winds of change blow new challenges and unprecedented opportunities your way and mine. How we react as leaders to these changes literally determines our future.

If we are as smart as 4th graders, we will remember that, in times of massive change, the big, rigid, tradition-bound companies often go down…while the more flexible and adaptable companies survive and thrive.

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