If I look back over just about every aspect of my life, my career, and most importantly as I look ahead, the ONE THING that is most energizing, frustrating, and constant is the dynamic of change. As I search for some understanding that distills the essence of change, I’ve come to believe that there are three aspects that allow me to gauge if change is possible, within what timeframe, and with what catalyst will the change be enacted.
Let’s start with a simple example. We know that water changes to steam at 100 degrees Celsius, the molecules change and convert from one configuration of H20 to another. At another temperature, 0 degrees Celsius, H20 converts to a solid, ice. Temperature is a proven catalyst required for water to change. Switching now to a business application, do you know the catalyst for you or your organization to change? We all have an uncanny ability to wait for severe, even acute pain before we change. Knowing how bad it has to hurt to change can take years to fully understand.
The second aspect of change can be viewed through the lens of a from > to. The first law of thermodynamics states that energy is neither created or destroyed, it simply changes form or is transformed “from this to that.” This is also known as the conservation of energy theory. This perspective matters in organizations and in our own lives because unless the current and future state of the thing changing is clearly understood in its current and future state, and the energy transfer is embraced, the resistance to change will delay the change, if not kill it all together. Just think about the change underway from internal combustion engines to EV’s; working from home vs an office; changing from one job to another, or transforming an in-person event into a completely new experience including digital, mobile, virtual and in-person. It requires more energy transfer from sources of energy that may need to be included that are new to your organization.
And finally, now that we accept a catalyst is required for change, and the current and future state of the entity to be changed is understood, the final requirement for change is addressing the fear of change that is often the primary barrier that overtakes the logic and rational aspects of the change process. There is a name for this fear of change, metathesiophobia and, in my experience, this is the factor that requires the most effort to unpack and resolve.
There’s a great quote from Gordon Livingston that I’ve found to be true: “Only bad things happen quickly.” Car accidents, earthquakes, or hurtful words in an argument. Good things and in particular, good changes take time. Relationships, healing, understanding, rebuilding, and just about every other good thing in our life and our work.
I’ve spent my life and career in some form of change, just as you have. Influencing, adopting, resisting, and benefiting from change. Looking back, I see how the change thrust upon me from the outside was almost always the result of something I did or didn’t do. What’s made the difference is when I recognized the catalyst soon enough and acted upon it rather than wait for it to act upon me. The energy transfer is smoother, less expensive, and more successful when converting from one state to another when I was an active part of the change.
Change is inevitable, a positive outcome is not. When we are part of the change process the odds go up for success, lasting impact, and all parties feeling better about the future.