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A Storm Chaser's Guide to Change -- What Tornado Trackers Can Teach Us About Succeeding During Tough Times

The South has certainly seen it’s share of tornados lately, and it’s not difficult to see why the country has been so focused on the lives devastated by this latest rash of killer storms. 

So while traveling through that part of the country recently, I bumped into a storm chaser and eagerly started up a conversation. “Storm chasers” are the unofficial name we give to that slightly crazy group of professionals that actually run toward thunder storms and tornados while everyone else is running away. But by putting their lives on the line, the data, photos, and research they compile is making a dramatic difference in our ability to understand and cope with these deadly forces of nature.

After the usual pleasantries that begin conversations with strangers at airports, I jumped right in: “So what are the most important things to think about when you’re tracking a tornado?” Having just written a new book called “Jolt! Get the Jump on a World That’s Constantly Changing” I was fascinated by his answer. 

Today, the world around us is changing at light speed, and most people are simply overwhelmed. But the truth is, my new friend’s philosophy about what matters in storm chasing could be a critical key to navigating the storms that surround your family, your personal life, and your business.

1. Make sure your vision is clear. You need to see exactly the location of the funnel cloud. The storm chaser I met  told me that storms can change direction on a dime, and in a matter of seconds it can be right on top of you. And that’s exactly what happens in our personal lives as well. A significant number of people get fired, laid off, divorced, or have other bad experiences and never see them coming. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that we look ahead and make sure our vision is clear. 

In most cases, there’s pretty good evidence that your marriage, job, relationships, or business is fraying around the edges, but too few people take the time to notice. Start noticing small things in the distance, so when they arrive as big things, you’ll be ready.

2. Make sure your equipment works. Storm chasers use sophisticated computer equipment to track the movement, speed, and intensity of storms. Unless that gear is in perfect shape, the data is unreliable and useless. The same is true in our lives. Are our job skills up to date? Are we growing in our area of expertise and expanding our network of relationships? Do you have the right tools on the job? Stop waiting for the company to get you better equipment and start investing in yourself. 

For instance, buy that computer you need, and take a few classes to help you stay on the cutting edge. And while I’m at it – no matter what you do for a living, your “people skills” are the most important part of your job. Never forget that your ability to deal successfully with people is the single greatest asset to your career.

3. Finally, storm chasers always have an escape route. My new friend told me that the worst thing in the world is for a storm chaser is to be trapped with a tornado bearing down. 

Storms move quickly, and being able to get out can save your life. That means know the roads, and learn alternative routes out of harm’s way. 

Good advice. We should always be ready for change, no matter how radical or disruptive. Most of us realize we need to change some part of our lives, but we just can’t muster the courage or knowledge to make it happen. The “Change Anything” labs report that 87% of surveyed employees have been passed over for pay increases because they were unable to make the changes their boss requested. 

I wrote “Jolt!” because I firmly believe that from this moment forward, our ability to see change coming, and respond to that change will be the single most important key to our future success.

As we watch storm damaged communities in the South rebuild, it’s a good reminder that for most of us, another type of storm is bearing down. It may be on the job, at home, in our relationships, at school, or somewhere else. But each of us has a tornado of some kind in our future. Let’s all pray, donate, and do whatever we can to help the great people throughout the country recently devastated by these tragic storms. 

But let’s also learn a lesson. When it comes to life, deadly storms come in many forms, and perhaps the advice from someone who chases them for a living, can help us navigate our own.

Phil Cooke is a media producer and consultant in Los Angeles. His new book is “Jolt! Get the Jump on a World That’s Constantly Changing.” Find out more at philcooke.com.

Phil Cooke, Ph.D. is a filmmaker and media consultant.  His latest book is "Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media."  He writes daily about the intersection of media, faith, and culture at philcooke.com.