In the first part of this series we examined some of the phenomena of change for the purpose of producing a new understanding for effective action. From the beginning it has been my intention (and hope) to have these specific examinations designed to unfold like a new spring blossom; unfolding gradually where all is not yet visible but continuing to unfold until we can appreciate the full essence of the nature of “Change” and its many different faces.
So once again, I 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 constantly experiencing.
Becoming A Different Observer of Change
Peter Senge says in his book The Fifth Discipline that ‘the structures of which we are unaware hold us prisoner”. In addition, I would claim that which is concealed by its own obviousness limits our capacity to become a different observer. Only by understanding how certain variables in our lives relate to each other and how they influence our behavior during transition will we ever reach our optimum potential for change and transition.
During any transition, whether in business , in a family, or even in a country, there is a complex underlying transition going on at the same time. This underlying transition is the transition from an interpretation of change born in another time in history and a new interpretation of change being invented NOW. Research indicates that the already existing interpretation of ‘CHANGE” we have a sa culture, may not be sufficient to produce effective right action in the rapidly changing world we now live in. The acceleration of change in every part of our lives seems to be creating confusion, fear, frustration, panic, stress, health problems and often disorientation. Moods of resignation and resentment are part of the chaos and upheaval people find themselves in on a daily basis. I believe this is in part because people are dealing with an unprecedented acceleration of change with old interpretations invented yesterday that no longer apply to what is happening around them today. This is certainly true in every aspect of business: PEOPLE COME TO WORK AND IT ISN’T THE WAY IT WAS YESTERDAY.
Let’s examine the traditions regarding the ‘already existing interpretations” of CHANGE to create a better understanding of how traditions shape our realities. Within this examination we will begin to observe that specific interpretations of change we hold as ‘truth’ were invented in the context of specific times in history. Interpretations over time become tradition and tradition is then over time held as ‘truth’. Traditions and interpretations are handed down from generation to generation until they become understood as ‘just the way it is” or ‘this is how we do it here”. There are also more pointed interpretations that sound like “this is the only way we do it…” or “you must do this, this way….”. There is often little or no understanding or observation that all interpretations are invented within the context of time and can be changed when time renders them no longer effective or useful. Interpretations and traditions create illusions which create a blindness through the automatic actions they produce in people. This explains why most people do not question into existing interpretations that no longer work, they just continue to act from these old interpretations even though it is clear they no longer produce the desired intended result. The automaticity of this recurrent action of repeating what doesn’t work is so common it is astounding.
Tradition and Interpretation
If we begin with the premise that interpretations are invented within the context of specific historical events and happenings which we call tradition, we can begin to understand how these traditions become concealed by their own obviousness. By this I mean, these traditions and interpretations are hidden by automaticity. People operate from these traditions and interpretations so automatically that they do not see that these interpretations were invented from specific historical times to deal with specific human concerns.
Misconceptions of Change
In addition there are misconceptions of ‘change’ that are widely held, especially in many organizations. These misconceptions of ‘change’ and the lack of understanding of ‘what it is to be human’ often has entire organizations taking actions that promote non-productive moods that ultimately create large scale morale issues. Revealing traditions, interpretations, misconceptions of ‘change’, and what it is to be human can open tremendous possibility for growing human potential and taking care of people during any transition. When interpretations are revealed and we understand when and why they were invented, we become different observers of historical time and different observers of action. Because actions are created from a background of interpretation, becoming an educated observer of tradition opens possibilities for invention, innovation and creative effective action. It is through this process of understanding and observing that we open the possibilities to create new interpretations that invent new solutions to act from. People can begin to invent new responses to the onslaught of changes in the workplace and in business that often create individual and collective morale issues. New educated responses that will have people live in constant discontinuous change as the norm, look forward to things changing rapidly and begin to perpetuate change as a way of developing and nurturing their human potential. For example, educating all people in an organization to become educated observers of tradition and interpretations will create a willingness to let go of all the “yesterdays” and embrace “change” as a way of “being”. This article attempts to reveal traditions, misconceptions and promote new understandings of change that allow people to create more effective action and produce competence through their learning.
Research indicates that people generally view change as a negative phenomenon. Change often represents having less, taking something away, opportunities decreasing, the future looking smaller and more constrained and certainly upsetting and not something to look forward to. I find that when people hear the word ‘change’, they automatically react with fear, panic, dread, gloom, overwhelm, resignation, and sometimes resentment. People begin to question their ability to absorb the changes, produce new action and we find they unconsciously begin to mourn the loss of what was familiar to them. In the familiar, they produced confidence, knowing, knowledge, productive actions, comfortability and consensus for truth. This broad spectrum of emotions produce interpretations and narratives that often leave people ‘frozen’, unable to act or consider other possibilities. The suffering, stress and inability to get ungripped in the moment creates collective morale issues and loss of productivity, and not only in the workplace. When was the last time you and anyone around you really looked forward to a new change about to happen in your work or home environment? It appears that for the most part, human beings do not have a history or an on-purpose learning that might embody a positive perception of CHANGE…..an interpretation that would have them automatically think of change as anticipating something bigger than they currently have, a feeling of more opportunity coming their way, or the opening of more possibilities and positive outcomes. Even where people have begun to see some changes have produced more not less, they have been unable to meet the next on-coming change with an entirely new interpretation of change that would eliminate or decrease the fear, panic, confusion and stress. My research also indicates that human beings fundamentally have an unconscious interpretation of themselves and others as non-changing beings. This shows up in a variety of ways. If someone is assessed as “not smart”, the assessment is spoken as if this person can never change or never “get smart”. This assessment is spoken as permanent; as if human beings do not have the ability to learn so change is possible. You seldom hear people say “Billy is not smart in math right now, but with study and tutoring he can become smart in math”. What you usually hear is “Billy is not smart in math”. This type of speaking indicates that human beings basically do not hold interpretations of themselves and others as a ‘changing phenomena” even though biologically we change by the second. We observe there is a profound lack of understanding for all human beings in ‘what it is to be human”. This lack of understanding produces a blindness regarding our “biological being” which is the prime example of constant change. We are a discontinuous changing phenomena and our biology is a testament to that, yet we hold interpretations of change as if they were all outside of ourselves.
Many organizations also have traditional understanding of change and see change as something that can be declared and implemented without much difficulty. Senior executives and managers while admitting and often declaring that their organizations have t change, see change as something for others to take on. Surveys reveal that these same executives do not see the need for change in themselves; they see themselves separate and apart from that dynamic. This lack of self-awareness usually becomes one of the first pitfalls to change. Change requires new models of behavior. And people can’t be ordered to change, give up control, or take responsibility if they never learned how to do it. People need to see and practice new models of behavior and they need time to learn and safe places to experiment and make mistakes.
In our next, the third part of this series, we will take a closer look at Emotional Illiteracy in the workplace and Change as a process.