Guest article by Tor W. Andreassen.

Change is the only constant in life. In all our roles—as citizens, employees, customers, investors, or leaders—we must navigate the ever-present currents of change, even as we yearn for stability. This tension can be taxing, and regrettably, it doesn’t become any easier with age.

Much like the rest of the developed world, Norwegian society and businesses are undergoing profound transformations. In our small, open economy, we are acutely attuned to global shifts, even as we drive our own transition toward a less resource-dependent industry or when we embrace new technologies like artificial intelligence. Finally, we’re grappling with what’s often referred to as the Silver Tsunami—a demographic shift characterized by a growing elderly population.

To effectively navigate these substantial changes, we must shift our perspective. Change shouldn’t be seen as a threat; it’s an opportunity. What makes this issue particularly pertinent and challenging is that the willingness and ability to change tend to wane with age. We’ve spent a lifetime shaping our understanding of the world and ingraining habits, making adaptation more daunting.

In Norway, it’s projected that by 2060, 40 percent of our population of 5.5 million will be over the age of 67, ushering in what we call “The Silver Tsunami.” Norway is not unique. Change isn’t solely about adjustment; it profoundly impacts individual health, well-being, and quality of life. Let’s delve into this further.

The crux of change is that it disrupts our equilibrium and induces stress. Some resist, clinging to the status quo, while others adapt. In medicine, there’s a concept called allostasis—the process the body undergoes to regain stability and balance after a disturbance, like a cold or excessive sugar intake. In my context, allostasis means that some individuals can reestablish balance after experiencing voluntary or involuntary change, whether it’s a job change, death, divorce, or adapting to new technology and innovations. But what sets them apart?

A recent article in The New York Times suggests four key considerations to maintain mental equilibrium during change. First, we must acknowledge that change is an inevitable part of life, not something we can sidestep. Second, we must remain receptive to new ideas, as change often brings fresh opportunities. The notion that “everything was better before” doesn’t hold water. Third, flexibility is paramount; we must reinvent ourselves in new situations. Retirees can explore new horizons they couldn’t fathom before. Fourth, we must focus on the positive aspects of change and how they foster personal growth and development.

Resistance to change is normal, but what if we could mitigate half of the stress, frustration, and resistance that typically accompany change? What would that mean for our adaptability, well-being, and quality of life? It’s not a question of whether we’ll experience resistance to change; we will. The crux lies in how we manage it.

By embracing change and the opportunities it presents, we can not only navigate transformations more effectively but also enhance our overall quality of life. Addressing resistance to change is pivotal for successful innovation and societal progress, especially in the face of the Silver Tsunami. Our goal should be to foster a culture that welcomes personal change and innovation into our lives. It’s not a choice; it’s a necessity. We must learn to switch hands when needed.

The message to researchers is that we need to better understand the antecedents to individual well-being and how they may change as a function of aging. Therein lies service innovation and insights to business leaders and policy makers.

Tor W Andreassen is professor of innovation at The Norwegian School of Economics. He is associated with the DIG research center, the founder of The Norwegian Innovation Indexand The Innovation Index Coalition

Image credit: Ross Findon.