A challenging passage Featured

11:02am EDT March 28, 2002

Author Gail Sheehy wrote a book published in 1977 titled "Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life."

It was a huge seller that examined the challenges adults experience during the various decades of their lives and offered readers some pop psychology designed to help them through the things they were almost without doubt destined to experience.

The choices are much broader these days, thanks to the convergence of rapid and deep demographic, technological and economic change, according to Sally Helgesen, author of several books on the role of work and leadership in the knowledge economy. Helgesen made that observation at the Seton Hill College Women in Business Conference last month.

People start the business of their dreams in their 60s, have mid-life crises in their 20s, change careers and have their first child in their 40s, she pointed out. That's a lot different from the predictable patterns Sheehy described in "Passages."

And that wider range of choices available because of the changes means the shared experiences Sheehy described are a lot less universal and predictable.

"The Passages thing is over," is how Helgesen sums it up.

Replacing the passages is an environment characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, or what she labels VUCA. The traditional barriers between work and home, boss and employee, vendor and consumer and others are eroding. Workers are increasingly a company's most important asset, bosses must be enablers and coaches rather than simply taskmasters, and products and services are being customized to appeal to ever-smaller niches.

Helgesen's prescription for survival and prosperity in the VUCA environment? Help your organization create stronger connections in the community, give people in your company opportunities to extend their connections and learn new skills, and look for solutions from every level of your organization.

And, says Helgesen, build and leverage your business on relationships with your clients and customers. You need to continually innovate to keep your product or service viable, and you need strong relationships with your customer to keep pace with their changing needs.

Says Helgesen: "Involvement and relationships with the client become even more important."

How many of us are up for that passage?