Change Never Ends

Over two thousand five hundred years ago, the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, "Nothing endures but change." He wasn't wrong. As R. D. Laing has it "We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing."

Significant psychological and systemic challenges result when negotiating the complex and dynamic nature of organisations. This is particularly the case when leading change initiatives and responding to unplanned change.

Change in our circumstances calls for change in our selves. Significant change is often experienced as the opposite of stability, stimulating feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, anger, and even helplessness.

Mind-Sets and Images

Our responses to change are influenced by unconscious assumptions that guide subsequent feelings and actions. A common response to the complexities that emerge in periods of change is to narrow our vision and fix our mind-set. We agree with John Kenneth Galbraith that the unfortunate truth is that "faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."

This may manifest as over-focusing on planning, goals, deadlines and deliverables in an attempt to control and predict the turbulence in the environment. More often than not this is a tactic to manage anxiety associated with changes. Peter Drucker wrote that for managing and leading the "greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday's logic."

Leading change requires a capacity to sit in uncertainty, manage with less of a sense of control, and foster situations in which innovation can emerge. As Morgan summarises:

"Organisations have to embrace the idea that in rapidly changing circumstances with high degrees of uncertainty, problems and errors are inevitable. They have to promote an openness that encourages dialogue and the expression of conflicting points of view. They have to recognize that legitimate error, which arises from the uncertainty and lack of control in a situation, can be used as a resource for learning. They have to realise that genuine learning is usually action based and thus must find ways of helping to create experiments and probes so that they learn through doing in a productive way" (2006)

However these capabilities often go against the grain of many organisational norms and our own assumptions. If managers need mindsets that allow them to facilitate the process and flow with change how are these best developed?

Using Imagery to open mind-sets

A starting point is to examine our deeply held assumptions about change. Traditional cognitive activities, discussion and debate often fail here. Long held ideas often resist a logical counter argument. We agree with Morgan (2006) that "all theories of organization and management are based on implicit images or metaphors that lead us to see, understand and manage organisations in distinctive yet partial ways" (p4).

What is required are methods that bring our un-thought assumptions to light. One method of doing this is through image. Recently we developed the e image (see the e image below) as a visual representation of a dynamic view of change. The ideas represented in the model are derived from complexity theory and include:

  • Change never ends (hence there are no end states)
  • Change is an on-going and dynamic process characterised by movement, openness and continuity
  • Control is illusory. Action is best directed at creating spaces and places for ideas to emerge and generate
  • New ideas expand and can break existing patterns
  • Experiments attract movement and attention in new directions
  • The change lead is a facilitator and opener
  • Think in loops rather than lines
  • Think systemically

The image poses a series of on-going questions for leaders and individuals to consider across any change project. Click on any of the e words for a sample of these. Although these may appear sequential they should be seen as interrelated and three-dimensional. Emergence is at the heart of the image. It reminds us that ideas, break throughs, hunches and innovation emerges across all stages and moments of a project. These are not restricted to a moment or step in time.

We use the e image at the beginning of projects and coaching programs as a counter point to linear ideas about change. We facilitate thinking using the image. In examining and critiquing the image groups quickly recognise the implicit ideas they carry about change. With this new information teams and individuals are able to begin a realistic conversation about how to organise and pursue change in their environment.

Contact us for more information on the background and use of the e framework.

Managers need mindsets that allow them to facilitate the process and flow with change


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