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Why is Starting a New Career So Hard? Alan Deutschman on the Science of Change
Work | March 07, 2011

Why is Starting a New Career So Hard? Alan Deutschman on the Science of Change

An expert in the field of leadership and change, Alan Deutschman recently accepted a position as a Professor at the University of Nevada, Reno — where he realized that even an authority on change can have a difficult time with it in his own life. After realizing just how challenging a career switch can be, Deutschman found that, over time, our brains can literally change, depending on our job.

From The Boston Globe:
When I talked with one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, he explained that practicing a craft or profession for a long time makes your brain change dramatically. If a doctor conducted a scan of the brain of a female flute player in a symphony orchestra, the image would show that the regions that control the fingers, tongue, and lips are unusually large. All of her years of training and practice have actually distorted her brain. Whatever your particular trade or occupation, your brain becomes specialized to do your job.
In addition to the biological hurdles of changing careers, Deutschman also found that changing job paths uncovered mind-sets and preconceived notions that were previously unnoticeable. In essence, changing careers didn’t just require changing what you did, it required changing the way you think:
When I realized that my longtime fields, magazine and book publishing, were facing upheaval and uncertainty, I tried blogging for an online publication, but I quickly realized that this new medium came with beliefs and values that contradicted nearly everything I had learned and practiced in my old career. I was trained to spend weeks, even months, carefully researching a topic and then to take great care about getting the facts precisely right and forming reasonable and nuanced opinions. But in the online world I was expected to spend only a couple of frantic hours writing up a highly polarized and contentious viewpoint about a topic that I had hardly any time to research – and if the facts were wrong, I might try to correct them later. Playing by these new rules just felt wrong to me at a gut level. Blogging was such a big switch that I gave up rather than persist in learning a new approach. Cognitive scientists would say that I was stuck in the “conceptual framework” of old media and that I couldn’t get my mind around the innovations of new media.
In our rapidly changing society, individuals need to be prepared for personal change just as much as companies need to make change an organizational strength. On stage, Deutschman delivers key strategies and guidelines to help people make change positive — whether the change is structural or personal. Changing careers can be difficult at first, but Deutschman assures audiences that the positive results of change will outweigh the challenges:
The idea of becoming a beginner again is rightfully scary, especially when it has been years or even decades since we’ve last done it. But it can be done. Our brains are built for change. We need to keep in practice, and then it will be easier to do the next time … and then the next.

Read more about
change management speaker Alan Deutschman
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