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The 'Change Evolution' Path

An extract from the book and presentation '2 Dangerous Things A year'. Buy the book

There is a real concern amongst leaders that their people are unfit for change. Being unfit for change leads to disengaged and burnt-out people who won’t develop themselves nor meet their goals. The lack of development and unmet goals further reinforces negativity and contributes to a downward spiral. I call this ‘Change Extinction’.

The more positive alternative choice (and it is a choice) is a pathway I call ‘Change Evolution’.

Be it a natural predisposition, or be it the result of influence and experience, people will find themselves at some point on the ‘Change Evolution’ path. These points do not define or describe the people themselves but the circumstances in which they find themselves. There are four distinct stages and one indistinct middle state:

  1. Change Sloth
  2. Change Strain
  3. Change Inconsistent
  4. Change Workouts
  5. Change Fit

It’s beyond cliché to say that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step but sayings don’t last millennia without some solid wisdom behind them. I’m championing some very specific first few steps. The means to take those steps is doing 2 dangerous things a year, following my ‘Change Evolution’ path and adapting your ‘Danger DNA’ to put control back in your hands and create collective momentum. Fear is compounded by surprise. By practising it yourself, you eliminate the surprise. It’s the aggregation of many small things that matter and create matter:

  • Asking small questions can dispel fear and inspire creativity (ABC: Always Be Curious - “What shapes our lives are the questions we ask, refuse to ask, or never think to ask”. – Sam Keen)
  • Thinking small thoughts can develop new skills and habits
  • Taking small actions increases the probability of success
  • Solving small problems creates relief in the face of being potentially overwhelmed
  • Bestowing small rewards and recognising small moments reinforces momentum.

I’m going to step you along this ‘Change Evolution’ path. It’s pretty simple and people I’ve introduced to it have been relating to it intuitively. Let’s start with the Y axis, or as I like to call it – the ‘Why’ axis because it’s why we are doing this.

The horizontal X axis is going to mark out over time the four stages of the ‘Change Evolution’. The vertical ‘Why’ axis is going to be the measure of success (or lack thereof) at each of the stages.

Your ability to survive or succeed in the face of change is a measure of your resilience. I call this your ‘Change Muscles’. If we’re intending to move from ‘Change Sloth’ to ‘Change Fit’, it makes sense to compare your ‘Change Muscles’ at each stage.

The factors that contribute to you or your team’s current state of resilience in the face of change are:

[proactivity + passion]
+ resistance = resilience

You want more of the first two and less of the third.

Indicators that you’re not in a good place regarding change are:

  • Avoiding difficult, uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations
  • Refusing to consider change
  • Getting left back in learning
  • Falling back to familiar patterns and choices (Do you have the same lunch every day?)
  • Reacting instinctively and unthinkingly
  • Trying to change the world instead of ourselves
  • Fixating on the past.

Let’s now look at the first stage along the ‘Change Evolution’ path – ‘Change Sloth’. Again, I want to reiterate these stages and descriptions are not about people, they are about the circumstances in which people find themselves. I won’t judge anyone for where they find themselves. I might judge them based on what they do after they realise where they are.

In the ‘Change Sloth’ stage, you’re unaware of, nor actively looking for, changes even just over the horizon; you expect tomorrow to be similar to today; you’re caught up in ‘business as usual’; and you use phrases like “If it aint broke, don’t fix it”. Is there a lot of resistance and little passion and proactivity? You're at risk of not changing. Becoming aware that you and / or your team is at this stage might be the wake-up call you need, pushing you to take up the opportunity to evolve to prevent the risk of extinction. If you answered “yes” to the questions a few sentences ago, it’s probable you’re here. If you’re curious as to the extent to which your personality’s natural predisposition towards risk is contributing to this and might be a handbrake on your progress, you can take my online assessment and find out. It’s at www.amIdangerous.com .

Our fears become our children’s problems. We’ll now start getting our fear of change sorted. Let’s walk through the ‘Change Evolution’ model.

In the ‘Change Strain’ stage, you act surprised & irritated. You may actively oppose change but it's more likely to be passivity or passive aggressive avoidance and denial. In reacting to external change, you probably go with your first idea, even though our first idea is rarely our best idea. You can seem to others to have a 'Bandaid / kicking the can down the road' mindset.

The ‘Development Zone’ is Beyond the ‘Discomfort Zone’

Even on those occasions where you do try and proactively get some change going, you might buckle at the first struggle or discomfort. If you can picture a circle called your ‘Comfort Zone’ and a bigger circle around it called the ‘Development Zone’, there’s a red jagged terrain you have to traverse to get to the ‘Development Zone’. It’s called your ‘Discomfort Zone’. Broadly speaking, there are three types of people in this world:

  1. Those who never leave their comfort zone;
  2. Those who bounce into their ‘Discomfort Zone’ and repeatedly bounce right back into their ‘Comfort Zone’; and
  3. Those who muscle through with some techniques in this book to endure the ‘Discomfort Zone’, perhaps more than once, and end up reaping the rewards of the ‘Development Zone’. And, later, they do it again, continuously expanding their ‘Comfort Zone’.

If you’re in the ‘Change Strain’ stage, this is the ‘Discomfort Zone’ and you do not yet know if you’re a ‘Person 2’ or a ‘Person 3’.

The bad news is, you may be experiencing the discomfort or pain of external change beyond your control but the good news is that might be just what motivates you to evolve if you can source some help.

If you answered “yes” to the questions a few sentences ago, it’s probable you’re here. If you’re curious as to the extent to which your personality’s natural predisposition towards risk is contributing to this and might be a handbrake on your progress, you can take my online assessment and find out. It’s at www.amIdangerous.com .

In the ‘Change Workouts’ stage, you realise that change is best proactively addressed by you on your terms and your timetable. Your 'centre of control' is internal not external. You might say things like, "If it's to be, it's up to me" or "No pain no gain". Rather than wait for change to slap you in the face, you're preparing for whatever changes might arise at a time when things are going well enough that you have the resources to devote to working out your ‘Change Muscles’ and that of the people you need to lead or influence. You're thinking strategically and proactively, rather than reacting with limited short term tactics. You're comfortable that you might not know what specific changes are around the corner but are confident some change will come at some point. This attitude might be born out of the 'school of hard knocks’. You are working to evolve your DNA but you might need some coaching to save wasted time or misdirected effort.

‘Workplace Exaptation’

One example of a practice that may indicate you’ve entered the ‘Change Workouts’ stage is ‘Workplace Exaptation’. Exaptation is an evolutionary term for adaptations that evolved for one reason but later turned out to be useful for other things. Bird feathers originally were for warmth and attracting mates. It was only subsequently that they assisted in flight. There are plenty of Exaptation examples in business and workplaces too – what I call, ‘Workplace Exaptation’. Viagara, for example, was originally developed as a heart medication.

Another significant benefit of taking a more proactive stance on change, trying new things, or doing 2 dangerous things a year, is that you test many small ideas. Even if those ideas don’t initially work out or seem to amount to much, you still have those ideas. Keep them. Store them clearly and logically so they’re retraceable for future reference.

Both my kids worked their way through high school and much of university at the same local supermarket. That store had an idea. The idea even had a name – ‘Fresh Eyes’. Originally, and very successfully, the idea was that the weekly audit walk by managers required in their departments assessing things against a prescribed checklist should be rotated so that the audit walk was still conducted each week, in turn, but a different manager did it of a different department. It lessened the danger of over-familiarity and assumptions so they wouldn’t see the wood for the trees.

The idea worked (and works) great so they could quite reasonably have left it at that and patted themselves on the back. But they didn’t. They asked themselves – if this is such a great idea, where else might it be applied. ‘Workplace Exaptation’ in action.

They took that original idea of responsibility rotation and ‘Fresh Eyes’ and used it with job interviews. My son was employed in the seafood section. He was originally interviewed by someone from HR, not because they were from HR but because it was their turn. Next, it was someone from Produce, a less-experienced supervisor. They had fresh eyes and a different perspective on my son, plus it gave the interviewer some experience. Win-win! Lastly, he was interviewed by the manager of the seafood department. It’s a robust process structuring-in diverse perspectives, yet retaining consistency with a prescribed checklist. Successful ‘Workplace Exaptation’ in action.

If you feel the descriptions a few sentences ago apply to you, it’s probable you’re here. If you’re curious as to the extent to which your personality’s natural predisposition towards risk is contributing to this and might be a handbrake or an accelerator on your progress, you can take my online assessment and find out. It’s at www.amIdangerous.com .

At the ‘Change Fit’ stage, you yourself are battle-tested. You have heightened senses and notice things – threats and opportunities. The novelty and variety you constantly and deliberately expose yourself to has attuned your brain’s focus ‘muscle’ to expect the unexpected. From experience, you have a toolkit for a range of changes, whatever they might be, but you’re not so cavalier that you expect to be able to handle anything. You know that you don’t know what you don’t know. Like real muscles, your change muscles, good as they are right now, will only stay in mint condition with continued work. You’re probably now at a point where you’re bringing, or trying to bring, others along their change evolution journey and you might be seeking some help on how to coach them.

If you feel the descriptions a few sentences ago apply to you, it’s probable you’re here. If you’re curious as to the extent to which your personality’s natural predisposition towards risk is contributing to this and might be a handbrake or an accelerator on your progress, you can take my online assessment and find out. It’s at www.amIdangerous.com .

In-between the ‘Change Strain’ and ‘Change Workouts’ stages, is a state of uncertain tension that I call ‘Change Inconsistent’. Here, your ‘Danger DNA’ is in a state of flux. (More about altering your ‘Danger DNA’ in a later chapter. Adapting it is the solution to your change unfitness problems).

Within ‘Change Inconsistent’, you're aware of and concerned about the extinction risk of staying in the stage of 'Change Sloth' and the injury risk of staying in a state of 'Change Strain'. You perhaps can see the logical merits of advancing to the state of 'Change Fit' via 'Change Workouts' but your behaviour is not yet fully invested. You talk a good change game but you're probably not convincing others, or even yourself some days. We all make optimistic statements about our beliefs or our intentions to change but, ultimately, our behaviour betrays us. You're making starts but not generating consistent momentum and, on the down days, that can make you wonder if it's worth the effort that our "lazy brains" do not like. You're at a tipping point. What, or who, can you find to help you break through and tip yourself forwards?

It’s a balanced place but it’s an inherently unstable place. If you feel the descriptions a few sentences ago apply to you, it’s probable you’re here. If you’re curious as to the extent to which your personality’s natural predisposition towards risk is contributing to this and might be a handbrake or an accelerator on your progress, you can take my online assessment and find out. It’s at www.amIdangerous.com .

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(An extract from the book and presentation '2 Dangerous Things A year'. Book available now at terrywilliams.info/books )