Figuring out how to deal with change is one of the more difficult elements of professional life. I’ve spoken at close to 1,000 conferences at this point, and the vast majority of my clients want me to help prepare their attendees for upcoming changes or to help smooth the transition from a change that got implemented a few months ago. And I can empathize with this difficulty, as I am now a new father – which means I’m having to learn how to deal with a baby who won’t let me sleep, a wife who is often too tired to listen to anything I have to say, a mother-in-law who won’t go away, and two dogs who look at me as if I’ve betrayed my promise to them by not walking them often enough. (When exactly is it that parenting becomes the best decision I’ve ever made?)
Anyway, I’ve said for a long time that most of us think change is stressful because we have somehow fooled ourselves into believing that changing is somehow new. That’s absurd, of course – after all, none of us are the same person we used to be 5 or 10 years ago, and I can promise you my wife would not have gone on a second date with me if I’d acted on our first date like I did when I was 16 – but it’s a persistent belief. In my presentations I approach this subject from a variety of angles, and today I thought it would be fun to showcase a few businesses whose founders wouldn’t even recognize the companies they themselves started.
So in case you’re struggling to wrap your head around a recent business change, here are four examples of companies whose evolution will give you hope – or at least remind you that it could be a whole lot worse.
This popular maker of smartphones and other electronics was founded back in 1865, when the market for smartphones was slightly smaller. Oh, and it started out as a paper mill on the banks of the Tammerkoski River in southern Poland. Eventually they began generating electricity as well, and then they merged with a rubber production company, and then they started producing telegraph wires, and there were probably a hundred more steps before they got where they are today. So if you own a Nokia device, you have a paper mill to thank for it.
You might not know this name, but you’ve probably used some of their products. Titleist golf balls, Master Lock locks, Clos du Bois champagne – all of these are owned by Fortune Brands. Which began as a tobacco company back in 1890, and which they did almost exclusively until 1969, when people started worrying about the health hazards of smoking and the American Tobacco Company (which is what they were called back then) decided to diversify in order to avoid getting swept up by the anti-smoking tsunami. Oh, they also sell curtains, too.
One of the largest chemical companies in the world got its start back in 1802 as a manufacturer of gunpowder, which DuPont no longer makes. They do make a lot of adhesives, though, which are really helpful for putting things back together that have been blown apart by gunpowder. Is that irony? I don’t think it is, but I don’t know what else to call it.
Founded in 1924 as Huff Daland Dusters, the original Delta was a cropdusting company based in Macon, Georgia. For several years, the company made all of its money by spraying crops for local Georgia farmers. Then, almost six years later, somebody said, “What if we flew people instead of just chemicals?” Ninety years later, Delta employs 80,000 people. Good move!
Will this necessarily make your next change easier to deal with? Probably not. But it should at least drive home the notion that changes are a constant and inevitable part of doing business. Thanks for reading. And if you happen to be nearby, I wouldn’t mind it so much if you swung by my house to change my son’s diaper. I’ve made hundreds of those changes already, and I wouldn’t mind someone else stepping in for a few of them.