This four-part series offers in in-depth examination of the many different aspects of “CHANGE” for the purpose of producing a new understanding for effective action.
Specific examination has been designed to unfold like a new spring blossom, unfolding gradually where all is not yet visible but continuing to unfold until one can appreciate the full essence of the nature of “Change” and its many different faces.
Throughout this four-part series, we invite you to become a different observer of yourself, others, things going on around you, and the happenings in the world that produce the magnitude of change we are experiencing. All available research and data suggests that we are in an era of dramatic transformation. So much change has already happened in a relatively short period of time. Remember when computers were big and expensive, when American-made meant quality and Japan meant cheap? Remember when your parents worked for the same company for 30 years, and TVs were small. That was not all that long ago!! It has been predicted by authors such as Alvin Toffler and William Harmon that our world as it is now will look slow and uncomplicated compared to what it is sure to become within the next decade.
One must create purposeful distinctions within the various examinations of the different aspects of “Change”. These distinctions are important if one is to become a different observer and begin to understand why we must become more efficient at what we have always done and shift our frame of reference about maneuvering in constantly churning rough waters. It is quite obvious that change is going to intensify and become more complex. New skills will need to be acquired to live harmoniously in constant transition as a way of being in the world. The consequences of inadequate responses to change and the lack of skills to manage change will become more costly than ever.
Living Organizations/Continuous Learning
Research over the past decade indicates that to keep pace with the acceleration of change in the world, business entities will have to become ‘living organizations’. Living organizations are organizations that are purposely designed to be in the constant and continuous state of learning. This continuous state of learning produces constant and discontinuous change. An environment of continuous learning requires that we as individuals promote and nurture change and growth in ourselves. “Living organizations” provide a safe environment for learning and a safe environment for making mistakes as a process of learning. These purposefully created environments promote the unfolding of human potential capable of navigating the waves of change like highly skilled sailors or competent choreographers. Organizations that take the initiative to become “living organizations” will begin to understand that a continuous state of learning creates change through the evolvement and wholeness of people.
The Speed of Change
Historically, people have always had to confront the effects of change.
What has changed about change that makes our traditional responses to current change so frustrating, confusing, often late and ineffective?
What has changed about change is the magnitude of it. The volume, complexity and momentum of change is accelerating at unpredictable speed. The number of changes we have to face within a given period of time is higher than at any other point in our history. Just about the time we figure out how to implement a change, another change becomes necessary. The diminishing ‘shelf life’ of the effectiveness of our responses to current changes is mind-boggling. Too many transitions are occurring too fast and many are occurring all at once. Never before has so much changed so fast with dramatic implications for human beings and the world. Not only are social institutions in dramatic transition but the social role of human beings in how they relate to themselves, others and the world around them is shifting. The work place is a sea of change with always more advancing technology changing the way we work, relate to each other, communicate and find solutions to problems we face.
New changes occur daily, but people cannot seem to absorb the effects quickly enough to keep up. The capacity of the human mind is far greater for inventions than its ability to assimilate changes those same inventions produce. Faster and faster changes are coming our way that affect every corner of our lives. Educational systems which don’t work, politicians who are incompetent to get things done, leaders who don’t lead, government systems that we don’t trust, escalating substance abuse, rampant unemployment, global remapping and continual transitions of power, to name just a few. Fundamental thinking about family, business, religion, education, government and human behavior that remained relatively stable for decades now don’t seem to apply anymore. Traditional ground rules don’t guarantee the results they used to, and in many cases are a hindrance to effective intended results. Many of the things we used to take for granted, we either no longer do or no longer can… the security of one’s job, the values and principles of the people who oversee the educational system, the integrity and dignity of those who govern, the competence of those who lead, the trust you used to place in your doctor and the faith you used to place in leaders.
The world is changing so rapidly that confusion and the inability to function have become more the norm than the exception. When people can no longer deal successfully with the amount of change in their lives, they begin to lose their ability to function. Fear and stress are usually intense and the emotional trauma of one major change after another often leaves people distant, irritable, preoccupied and unproductive. These are both individual and collective actions and can be seen in most organizations today where “change” is not designed as a continuous learning process.
Complexity of Change
The complexity of the change that is occurring on so many different levels requires deeper looking into the serious implications and the decreased time frames we have to respond before another change demands our attention. The magnitude of this complexity can be mirrored in marriages that include children from other families, people from totally different cultures having to work effectively together in the workplace, acquisitions occurring during downsizing, technology that changes before we completely learn it, alliances with those we formerly feared and distrusted, and transitions of power that we don’t understand. The workplace is a complex mass of change. One day is not like the next. Ever advancing technology continues to change how we work, when we work and where we work. Just as we think we’ve learned it, it changes and we are again thrown into a complex set of circumstances and learning.
HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT CHANGE CAN CONTINUE TO INTENSIFY BOTH COMPLEXITY AND RATE OF SPEED?
There are some fundamental issues that contribute to the magnitude and intensity of the changes we now face: faster communication and knowledge acquisitions, growing worldwide population, ecological distress, constant transitions of power, increasing interdependence and competition and diversifying political, ethical and religious ideologies. Human transformation is also complex. Change is not an event that occurs by linear progression; rather it unfolds on many different levels at once. People are a part of the ecological structure of the planet- they evolve and unfold. We all seek our own level of predictability and order. Major change limits our ability to be at peace and live fully. Our entire history as human beings is to understand, control, and dominate our environment. Unanticipated change shatters our expectations. It is not the events of change that cause so much confusion and overwhelm us, it is the unanticipated implications these events bring into our lives. Change cannot be demanded like flipping the switch on a machine, change is a complex emotional process of transformation. People can face unlimited amount of uncertainty and newness but when they exceed their absorption threshold, they begin to show signs of dysfunction, fatigue, emotional burnout, sickness and ineffectiveness. Until we learn to increase our capacity for not only accepting but flourishing in constant transition, the results are high levels of stress which most often show up in relationship conflicts, ulcers, suicide, divorce, burnout and resignation. When human beings can no longer assimilate change without becoming dysfunctional in their behavior, they don’t stop changing, they just become less and less effective both in their personal lives as well as in the workplace. The ability to successfully manage change has become one of the most important skills needed for personal happiness, success of organizations and the health of our environment.
Change can be interpreted as a mysterious phenomena or an understandable process that can be anticipated and managed. It is important which specific interpretation is used because it can make the difference between people feeling victimized, viewing change as something that happens to them or an interpretation that promotes confidence, knowing that change can be skillfully implemented. Senior executives and managers can learn to create interpretations of change within their organizations that empower people, build confidence and make them competent over time to ride the rough waves of constant churning waters. Purposefully building and designing interpretations that enable people to grow their capacity to transition and change saves time, money and human damage. All too often organizations allow “change” to appear as a mystery guest with no explanation of how it got there or where it is going. Communication is often lacking or unclear and there are no on-purpose designs for learning, understanding and acquiring the skills for transition. Change can be introduced as a learning process. When people learn that change often can be anticipated, planned for, and expected, they begin to see change and transitions as an opportunity for learning and growing. Through this learning process, assumptions, misconceptions and traditional interpretations of “Change” that, although widely held, are based more on fear and prejudice than fact, can be altered. However, because this kind of unconscious indoctrination is so widespread, most people report that they expect to fail or do poorly during transition.
Myths Regarding Change
Like so many myths in any culture, most myths consist of unconsciously held beliefs that are seldom discussed or examined openly. In addition, many people respond to these myths so automatically that they are often not even aware that they hold these beliefs. They are also not usually aware of how widespread these beliefs are…..so often they are concealed by their own obviousness. Some specific examples are:
- People are born a certain way and probably can’t fundamentally change
- Change always produces less of something
- People who implement change are good and those who resist are bad
- Older people can’t change, they are set in their ways
- Change always causes loss, anxiety, stress and overwhelm
- Effectiveness and efficiency are decreased when changes are implemented
It’s important to create environments where these myths are discussed openly as a process for learning. Open examination in a safe environment for learning produces enlightenment and brings myths out of the darkness into an arena of understanding and learning. This produces emotional strength and fortitude in people which are necessary ingredients for growing human potential and protecting the human spirit.
In the second part of this series, we will examine the traditions of change and how past interpretations inhibit our ability to be flexible during transition.