Did you know that the process to getting yourself out of a difficult situation is pretty much identical to having to get a nation or a company out of one? It is to undergo a process of selective change. Ultimately, first one must identify what the problem is and then work out what does and does not need to change. So, whether you are going through some sort of midlife crisis or your government has just been overthrown by a military coup, the fundamental steps remain the same to find a solution. This is the premise of “Upheaval” by Jared Diamond who analyses several key challenges within a countries history and how you can use these lessons to solve relatable problems. So, what exactly can we learn from the book?

It all starts with selective change

Whether you are experiencing a personal or nation crisis, both require selective change to find a solution. Crisis can be sudden, such as a relationship ending abruptly, or having some sort of accident or medical diagnosis. They can also develop gradually, such as someone refusing to change their behaviour that leads to an eventual, inevitable incident of some kind. But one thing is for sure, most people experience a crisis when life challenges them, often during times of life transition, such as adolescence, midlife, marriage, retirement etc. But as with individuals, the same is true of nations. A relationship with another country can change dramatically, leading to war, loss of income or other type of disaster. A country can age, and then realise that its infrastructure is no longer able to keep up. They could experience some sort of military coup or insurgency or nationalist movement that acts like a cancer eating away at the nation.

There are a number of factors that need to be taken in to account in order to find a solution. The first is to actually acknowledge that there is a crisis. After all, it is impossible to fix a problem if the person or nation refuses to acknowledge its existence! Then responsibility has to be accepted to actually respond to the crisis. If you do not take ownership, then it will not magically solve itself. But when taking responsibility to solve the problem, its important to understand what you are willing to change and what you are not. For example, if your spouse left you because you were too career orientated, are you willing to give up your career to be in a happy relationship, or instead find a partner that understands that your career is important to you? There is a big difference between the two. This then helps you learn the relevant steps and pursue the relevant action to remedy the situation.

Digital Transformation is not a new phenomenon

On July 8, 1853, the US Navy presented Japan with demands from the US president to ensure that Japan provided the US access to some of Japan’s ports. The threat was clear, that if they did not, they would return with their advanced Naval Warships and give them no choice in the matter. The implication was that Japan should either be ready to meet these demands when Perry returned a year later, or else face some unpleasant consequences. This was hugely troubling for Japan, which has a proud history, but was technologically obsolete in comparison and even though their official policy was to be an isolationist nation who did things how they have always been done, other world powers were keen to impose their will on them. They of course had no choice but to agree and shortly after were also forced to sign similar agreements with Britain, Russia, and Netherlands. Japan found this incredibly dishonourable but had no choice in the matter, technology had moved on and even though Japan wanted to do things how they were always done, had two choices. They could either adapt and embrace change or fall further and further behind. This led to a revolution the kicked off the Meiji-era as Japans leaders realised that in order to remain relevant, they had to embrace the modern era.

Change doesn’t mean you need to lose your identity

The most amazing thing about Meiji-era Japan is that it showed an amazing ability to maintain its identity while adapting to the changing world. The Japanese leaders realised that it was impossible, as an island nation in the Pacific, amidst expanding international trade, to keep out the rest of the world. Once they went through the hard part of acknowledging the reality of their situation, they performed an honest self-assessment. They knew the leading world powers saw them as an outdated country with no military influence and this perception needed to change. So, Japan began making selective changes that would eventually succeed in transforming it into a respected world power. They sent their people abroad to learn from the British, Americans, Germans, and others. They took the lessons learnt in education, government, and military, but they did not try to do things in the same way as the other countries. Japan’s changes were selective, and the nation also remained steadfast in many of its cultural traditions. Yes, it was incorporating Western knowledge of military and government but, the Japanese adapted all these things to their own unique society, circumstances, and beloved traditions. Japan is now seen as one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, but very few would claim that Japan is just like every other developed western nation. It has claimed its place in the world, while still remaining very much Japanese.

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