Lessons my 2 year old has taught me about navigating change

BenI like to think that I am someone who learns through doing. ‘Doing’ can be success, or it can be failure. Either way, I tend to only really take something in by experience rather than through theory.

The birth of a child, and the subsequent raising of said child is one area most who have experienced it will tell you that no book, theory or parenting manual can really prepare you for. It seems that only hours after this human has entered the world you are both shipped off back home, whilst you and your partner scratch your head on how to keep a little person fed, changed and content.

In my role at OMD I work every day in helping our clients and our people navigate the area broadly referred to as ‘digital’. It’s an area I’ve been involved in for the past 15 years but each day I do feel like I am faced with elements of it that seem completely new. At home we have a happy, healthy 2 year old that each day is growing, evolving and providing us with equal parts new memories and new challenges.

It seems the more I understand my son the more I feel I understand change and how to navigate it. What Ted is like in 2015 is very different to how he will be in 2020, and in 2030 as an 18 year old. It’s the same with digital – what it looks like now is very different to what it will look like in 5 or 10 years. But the way I approach change, and managing all the stakeholders, now – and will in the future – I believe will be highly influenced by the lessons I’ve learned in Ted’s first 2 years of life.

  1. Don’t rush. The best way for me to ensure Ted’s resistance is to rush. Rush the morning routine. Rush the playground exit. Rush his goodbye at daycare. Any rushing will ensure he digs his heels in until he is ready. It’s the same with change. Try and change too quickly and there will be resistance. All involved need to be ready.
  1. Reward the behaviours and outcomes you want to see. Like any parent we want to raise a happy, friendly, curious, respectful person. I feel the best way to facilitate that is to reward behaviours which demonstrate this. It’s the same with embracing change and being open to it – partners, clients and staff showing curiosity and interest around it is a behaviour we should celebrate and reward.
  1. Let them fail but protect their well-being. Every part of me when I see Ted running on the footpath at full speed wants to protect him from his inevitable falling over and subsequent knee graze and ego dent. But at the same time he has to fall over himself and experience what it feels like and learn from it. Letting your child experiment and safely fail is vital to equip them to accept failure. It’s inevitable that some change will fail, but as long as risks are mitigated within reason it’s a way of learning valuable future lessons.
  1. Relationships need time. Ted is my flesh and blood but every day our bond grows and his trust of me builds. Time is the key builder of this. It’s the same with relationship with clients and partners. Time and positive actions are needed to build trust.
  1. Celebrate the small wins. Parenting is an up and down journey full of good days and challenging days. It’s important to celebrate the small wins – the first time they tried (and spat out) broccoli, the hugs, the singalongs and even that time you managed to get them to wear a jumper on a 10 degree day despite their objections. All the small things add up. With change and innovation it’s the same. It’s more often than not an accumulation of small things as opposed to a sudden big shift. 
  1. Do as I do not as I say. It’s easy to give advice but harder to follow it yourself. The beauty of a 2 year old is they are dismissive of one rule for them and one rule for you. It’s the same with partners and clients – if you are encouraging innovation and change it will mean nothing unless you are actively doing those same things in your business.
  1. Think long term but remain flexible. There’s really no pre-defined ‘way’ of raising a kid. Things happen you never expect and plans are often changed or even abandoned altogether. On one hand resilience is key – ‘will this matter in 10 years?’ – and on the other rolling with the punches is equally important and making the most of whatever circumstances come your way.

I am sure as time goes on Ted will continue to teach me new things and that some of them will make me not only a better person and father, but ideally better in my professional role. After all, I never realised I really enjoyed The Wiggles until he opened my eyes to them.

 Ben Shepherd is the Head of Digital at OMD Melbourne and Father to 2 year old Ted Shepherd.

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