The last few months have been an interesting time for me. I have been working two jobs. One that seeks to embrace and encourage change through continuous process improvement, and one that knowingly or not stifles change and creativity. As frustrating and unique it has been to work in two completely different environments at times, the experience has been valuable. Earlier this week I was informed that I will be shipping out to a different base (destination unknown) by the end of the summer. It was pretty shocking and it caught my wife and I off guard. These recent experiences all share a common thread and that thread is change.
“The only thing constant in life is change” - François de la Rochefoucauld (French classical author, leading exponent of the Maxime, 1613-1680)
All of the experiences got me thinking about how we as human beings deal with change. When animals don’t change they die, as in they become extinct as a species. Humans aren’t attune to thinking in terms of a species. We think in terms of individuality. We embrace who we are as a person. However I would argue that we too die if we do not change, yet the effects are harder to see as the scope of change is typically only defined as that individual's lifespan.
We all like to latch onto the concept and buzz about embracing change and seeing it as an opportunity. However, in practice this is rarely the case. I would argue that this tendency might be some form of a survival instinct. If we find something that works we continue to do it; it really is quite rational. What we often fail to realize is that the world around us is constantly changing and therefore doing the same thing over time is ignorant and more risky than constantly changing and adapting.
I have found, and verified through my recent string of experiences, that empowerment and choice are key elements in determining how people with deal with change. As a continuous process improvement facilitator for the Air Force, I work in a lot of Rapid Improvement Events (RIE’s). Over time you start to see patterns with regard to human behavior even though the participants change. There are always people who come in pissed off that they have to participate, that they have been voluntold to participate, and they say that the stuff doesn’t work. The RIE’s typically last about 3-5 days and I can comfortably say that the majority of those types of people leave feeling that they have positively affected their process and changed something that they didn’t think they could and/or would want to change. How does this consistently happen? How does one go from Scrooge to DCC in a matter of days? The answer is empowerment.
When people are empowered to make change they embrace change. Not only do they embrace it, they see it as a important force in their personal development and their day to day happiness. RIE’s are a proven way to form a team of key players and to empower them with the ability and resources to make change. Even if they come in as antagonists they are inspired to create something. I really believe that it is an innate human desire to create.
Contrast this example with my recent relocation blindside. When I learned I was moving I was floored. This wasn’t part of my plan. I am not supposed to move yet. This ruins everything. Blah blah blah. I was not empowered to make the change, I was told. I did not go through a buy in process to verify that this change is for the better, therefore I resisted. The fear of the unknown is a powerful thing, and often when you are forced to change you are being forced into the unknown. As you can imagine this doesn’t get too many people excited.
As I work through accepting the fact that I am moving I can begin to rationalize that the change is not automatically the root of all evil. Being an optimist I even tell myself that this is going to work out to be a good thing in the end. However, positive thinking and rationality still do not change how people (or myself for that matter) react to the prospect of change. Becoming empowered to make change is the catalyst that shapes future behaviors regarding change. If you can get used to working through dealing with and creating change you are in essence familiarizing yourself with confronting the unknown. And that confrontation takes courage. Become a courageous change agent, alliteration aside it is a valuable lesson that will better your life.