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How Many Light Bulbs Does It Take to Change a Person?

I love what I do and hope you do as well. Whether it’s coaching, teaching, facilitating, or consulting, the opportunity to help people deal with changes or uncertainty in their circumstances excites me. When an idea or thought brings clarity to the situation and the proverbial “light bulb” goes off, my joy is complete. Most of my group work is spent trying multiple approaches to get as many “light bulbs” to go off as possible.

Swimming laps, which may seem monotonous to many, is also enjoyable to me. In the quiet moments of watching bubbles slide off my fingertips, my best thinking occurs. And lately the pool has me focused on swimming in the sea of change. Or is it C Change?

Change is the new constant in our world. Just as luxury add-ons of a few years ago are now standard items, continuous improvement is no longer a luxury but a standard requirement for business survival. Whether due to oil spills, tsunamis, new technology, financial regulation, or globalization, your model for getting through the next week, month, or year is less certain than 5 or 10 years ago.

And here’s the scary part, the rate of change is accelerating. Look at your industry or lifestyle between 1995 and 2005. Now look at the last 5 years. See what I mean about the rate of change?  After spending all that time and energy to devise a planning system, you may find the assumptions obsolete before you can role them out. Funny how the statement most start up entrepreneurs often hear, “Your assumptions may not be worth the paper they’re written on” seems to be applying to larger companies with successful histories. Think of change like that current insurance commercial featuring the guy portraying MAYHEM. He gives no respect for all your prior planning. And Lloyd’s is not writing policies on business model changes.

So how do we deal with change in a profitable way? I see a new wave of learning shaping up. It’s on the horizon and I think it will be huge by the time it gets close to shore. And I think it’s probably part of a full set of seven waves, each bigger than the last. The set I see is the paradigm of teaching how to think in a changing environment. And that’s way different than thinking about or forecasting change.

Most learning is still content driven based on a set of assumptions. When I facilitate a strategic planning session, I will employ traditional thinking models that have rational deductive thinking at their base. So we will brainstorm about future industry and competitive changes over the next few years and then devise plans for making the best of those circumstances. Plans will be made to teach employees the skills necessary for the coming changes. KPI’s, metrics, quarterly reviews, ect.,  flow neatly out of the process.

Yet, when the car won’t start the next morning, most of day is spent in a non-productive emotion driven behavior. First confusion, followed by anger or self depreciation, “I can’t believe this happened Right Now!”, a little deductive problem solving, then most of the next few days spent recalling the event to everyone you see. Same thing happens when a city looses a government contract, like Mobile recently, or a competitor announces a new product unexpectedly.

The emotions take over because change rocks our personalities. In the DISC personality assessment world, almost every category has problems with change, especially rapid external change. And the people who thrive on change create problems for their coworkers. Rapid, unexpected change causes stress, and stress lowers productivity in multiple ways.

Some cultures handle sudden change better than others. Look at Japan today and contrast that with New Orleans post Katrina. Even with a cultural advantage, in an increasingly diverse marketplace, Japanese companies struggle with change.

So on top of our rational, context focused, skill based learning approaches, I believe a layer of emotional change management needs to be added. Call it Change Layer Cake and serve it up to every employee. Because ultimately, the company that can look at rapid change as something they value and excel at will be the one who not only catches the wave but has the ability to drop off a wave, paddle through the remaining set, and wait for the next set of change waves. And you need everyone paddling together to get back outside to calm water. You can only flip and go under so many waves. Trust this old surfer on that.

Since people are different, multiple teaching strategies will be needed to train change thinking. Do I have an answer for how many and which ones? My colleagues and I are working on a few new approaches. But I do know to show up with several light bulbs or “approaches/methods” for my clients and see how many of them I need to help a person deal with change as a constant.

I swim now because it hurts when I run, and I am no longer competitive in running. I know I need better cardiovascular to maintain my mental and physical capabilities. So I combine physical effort with the need for uninterrupted time to think about important issues. I come out of the pool relaxed and refreshed ready to take on the day; that is,  as long as my car starts in the parking lot. And when it doesn’t start, I turn on my tried and true light bulb, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”[1]


[1] Psalm 118:24 NIV Bible

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