Adapting to Change - in conversation with William E. Oliver

Talking Trends
3 min readMar 4, 2021
image from Unsplash by Javier Allegue Barros

In life, change is inevitable. In business, change is vital.

We are in conversation with William Oliver, ambassador of positive change. Will is an enterprise risk manager and an agile and visionary leader. He is sharing with us how to best adapt to change and how to connect the dots in a situation to achieve success. He shares an inspiring anecdote of how a company adapted to remote learning in light of the ongoing pandemic.

In business, change is constant. One of your strong suits is your unique ability to grow businesses in ever-changing environments. Where does this ‘super power’ come from and how does it materialize? How would you apply this skill when serving on a board, when your leadership role is not as direct?

“There is a phrase I have often heard: ‘functional fixation’. It is a cognitive bias that limits a person to use an object only in the way it is traditionally used. But I don’t think that’s what life is like and that is not how we operate. A simple but telling example I’d like to share is from my childhood when I used to work in the yard with my dad. One day, a screwdriver was missing — however, we realized that a dime has the same dimensions as a screwdriver and can be used interchangeably — unexpected change, challenge, open mind, solution.

“When you talk about adapting to and thriving in change and what makes that my superpower, it must be my ability to really listen. I don’t think one can learn, understand and effect change if one doesn’t listen. The listening leads to the next step which is a trust which in turn creates openness, candor, and drives solutions.

“Another important aspect is realizing that you are not the only one who has an answer. Once I start listening and understanding, then I can understand how the environment is changing.

“I will explain how important adapting to change is with another example related to the YMCA, The “Y”. An old friend of mine from college started this great initiative which provided internet access to schools across America. He saw a gap in the market and filled it. He worked with major schools, then major cities, and slowly grew to most major states. However, when the pandemic hit, the students were no longer in the physical space of these schools. This posed another challenge altogether — not every student had access to the internet in their homes. My affiliation with the Y in Charlotte led us to the idea of him taking his business to community centers all over the country. Students who didn’t have internet access in their homes could now visit their local community organization in order to attend school remotely. I think this is a prime example of connecting the dots and adapting to change to create effective solutions.

“In any situation where there is chance involved, it’s so important to look at it broadly. What is the goal? I remember being told when proposing something in business — ‘Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and tell them what you just said’. The same thing in negotiation — here is what we want to do, here is how we are going to get there, and then here is how we did it. Basically, success should be repeatable.

“Being willing and able to share knowledge is also a crucial criterion in a changing environment. People today are in the habit of hoarding their knowledge. However, letting go of ego and sharing what you know is essential. Use change to move forward, don’t let it hold you back — and this can best be done collectively. If we embrace change and work with it that is when we can connect the dots and adapt to change. There is an acronym that relates to our reaction to change — SARA: Shock, anger, resistance, and acceptance. After that final stage of ‘acceptance’, is when adapting to and thriving through change becomes possible.”

SARA — that’s interesting. Thank you, Will.

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