Getting good at change requires practice, a lot of practice. The practice will occupy your lifetime, and you can’t practice effectively by yourself.
Because humans can project a future in the abstract, we often lose touch with the reality that, like going from one room to another, we have to move through all the space between where we are now and where we want to be. No instantaneous transport. It doesn’t matter how powerful our vision. That power can only engage and motivate participation in the change. It can’t let us skip the steps between here and there.
There is a concept for this requirement that we don’t get to skip steps in a process of change. It’s called a phase space and the idea comes from physics (of course), but has been used in many other ways. From where you are, there are only certain moves you can make. If you want to get “over there”, you’ve got to pay the cost in time and resources for these unavoidable moves. No shortcuts.
We can make our efforts more effective though, if we work as a community and pursue important change at the same time as others in our community. In other words, real collaboration makes the limitations of phase space less daunting. But to make real use of collaboration as support for change, we have to give up some control:
- We have to allow members of our change community to work in parallel, without constant feedback and control. This means mistakes. It also means we don’t punish people for mistakes, since punishment would undermine the effectiveness of working in parallel.
- Instead of “master” plans, we work to make small inroads or steps in our change process and see how they go, modifying our efforts as we learn what works and what doesn’t.
- We add redundancy to our efforts by sharing the work of small steps, so that change continues even when persons who have accepted responsibility for some part of the effort are lost to us for a period of time because of changes in their disability characteristic or because they have moved on. Learning parts of other people’s jobs is a great way to soften the anxiety around change, especially when it is combined with “no punishment for mistakes”.
- We accept the unpredictability of change advocacy as a way to learn how we make what we want in our future.
We can also make ourselves more comfortable with change, especially around our change work. Organizational life has a large component of habitual behavior. It’s habitual because that is a more efficient way to get that particular task done. But habits don’t adjust themselves well even when the world has changed a lot and requires habit adjustment. An example is the inertia of software, where we continue to use an app because we have used it even when the software becomes increasingly useless.
Often, it is easier to transition from an increasingly useless current way of doing business to a newer one if you plan and pace the transition in pairs.
If we can introduce novelty into our work lives to build our skill at embracing change, we can also do the same thing in the larger environment to make our change initiatives easier to implement.
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