IMD International

Shift happens!

Why not make the best of it?

June 28, 2012

Indomitable optimism is the trademark of a woman whose energy translates into innumerable activities. Best-selling author of eight non-fiction books, Canadian-born Catherine deVrye is also Australia's 2010 Keynote Speaker of the Year and former Australian Executive Woman of the Year. She shared her insight on the challenge of change during IMD's Orchestrating Winning Performance 2012 session.  

Bouncing on the stage with an explosion of music, her gestures extravagantly spoke to everyone in the auditorium. Catherine deVrye had arrived! "I can hear a number of you thinking: 'Oh no'. Well, don't worry… It can only get better!"  

Using the ocean as a metaphor, deVrye said that every day we ride the waves of change, even when we are surfing the web. And just as oceans are changing, so do companies. And just as storms can arise, or obstacles get in the way, we need to learn to keep on surfing.  

Shift happens in spite of us, so we might as well try to make the best of it. Speaking from experience, deVrye explained how hard knocks, given a chance, can often be transformed into opportunities. When she lost both her parents at the age of 20, she packed off to Australia for six weeks, and never came back.  

That is how a young woman from Calgary made it so far. From university lecturer after ten years at IBM to local government advisor and now one of the most sought-after lecturers on change, she's even carried the Olympic Torch at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.  

"Keep your eyes on the summit," she remembers Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Mount Everest, telling her. He also said "It's not the mountain we conquer, it's ourselves."  

A keen sportswoman, deVrye continues to set herself new challenges. In a humorous account of how she started surfing (at a more mature age) by picking out equipment in a local shop, she took an opportunity to emphasize the importance of attitudes towards customer service. Good Service is Good Business, the title of one of her books, translates into her own life because she never set foot back in the first shop that had received her so poorly.  

Leaders are shifters, deVrye said, adding that no goal is too high if approached with confidence, common sense and commitment. Sometimes circumstances shift, and a leader loses control. Sometimes you can't turn back the tide, she said.  

But change is also an attitude. Rather that become a victim, leaders become victors when they learn to make do with the tide. "Change is inevitable. Learning from change is optional," she said, pointing out that the seven most expensive words in the business are: We have always done it that way.  

"You can't discover the ocean until you leave the shore," de Vrye stressed, topping the remark with: "It's not whether you are good that counts, but whether are you good enough to get better."

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