“Change almost never fails because it is too early. It almost always fails because it is too late.” – Seth Godin.
Seth’s perspective is similar to what I have learned. “Never wait to change. It only complicates things and makes it harder.” Today, we are confronted with change that challenges us in every way. How do we see the changes taking place? More importantly, how should we respond?
Four Responses to Change
There is a continuum of response to change. There are four responses along a spectrum with the extremes being destructive responses to change, and the middle two being more constructive. Let us call the destructive responses Change-Phobic and Change-Junkie and the constructive responses Change-receptive and Change-initiator.
Using the illustration that I described in The Speed of Change, the destructive responses, Change-Phobic and Change-Junkie, are like trying to stand still on the ocean floor with your head above water and one wave after another crashing in on you.
To be Change-Phobic locks you into an avoidance of any change, even if it can be beneficial to you. This perspective sees change as destructive to stability and the status quo. This is not a politically liberal or conservative perspective. But rather how those ideologies treat situations that require them to change.
The problem with the Change-Junkie is that it is not a sustainable situation. It too is an avoidance response. It is trying to avoid the order that the phobic person embraces. It is a totally reactive approach to change. Both are standing their ground in the ocean being hit by waves one after another. The middle-ground is found between having a Change-Receptive and Change-Initiator perspective.
A Change in Response
I used to think that it was sufficient for most people to be Change-Receptive. For example, if you are putting a business team together, you want members that are receptive to new ideas and approaches. As long as you have a few Change-Initiators on the team, you can have a balance between receptive and initiative responses. This is a traditional view of leadership for team and organizations.
Over the past decade and a half, my mind has changed. I now see many people in the midst of the coronavirus, taking a go-along-to-get-along response. I characterize this response as “passive complacency.” It is a Change-receptive mindset that is based on two potentially destructive assumptions:
People who are experts know better than we do.
In today’s world, experts are people who know how to play the game of being recognized as experts. The narrowness of the fields of expertise doesn’t help us like we think it does. It creates myopic narrowness in our understanding. It is part of what I mean that we live in a very fragmented world. People, who are not recognized experts in a specific field, but have a general, practical knowledge of many fields, more easily see the interconnections between areas of knowledge. We need to treat subject experts with respectful skepticism. Don’t assume that their expertise crosses boundaries. Test and verify is a good watch-word for times of change.
This is a moment of discomfort as we wait for a new normal.
There is a systemic change taking place at a fundamental level. The pace and intensity of change no longer lends itself to a one-size-fits-all, centralized management model. The speed and complexity of change makes it impossible for a detached leadership to know all the variables that influence situations.
I’ve written about this in my book, Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative to Ignite Change, as the Two Global Forces. The shift that needs to take place is from global management to local. Only at the local level can direct interaction point to the precise changes that are needed at any moment. For this reason, I am more convinced every day that we need everyone to be Change-Initiators. To be one says, I am taking responsibility for the future of myself, my family, my business, and my community. It means that a business team changes how they relate to one another. Instead of a few leaders and many followers, which produces a leadership-starved culture, we create a leader-rich one where everyone both leads and follows.
This change is a natural evolution in the way the world works. The future is local communities filled with leadership initiators.
The First Step in Being a Change-Initiator
The first step in becoming a Change-Initiator is in your self-understanding. Begin by asking questions.
Your first question should be:
“What change do I need to make right now?”
What is it that you want to change? It doesn’t have to be big or carry deep meaning. It can be as small and simple as cleaning out a closet. Creating order where there was chaos is creating change. It is very satisfying because you experience the impact of your initiative.
Maybe the change that is needed is reconnecting with a friend or family member. Was there a misunderstanding that has weighed on your mind? Take initiative to talk with them about it. Repair the relationship. Restore respect and trust.
The Third principle of the Circle of Impact is “The greatest change we go through is in our self-understanding.” If you decide to change from a stance of passive complacency to being a person who “takes personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters”, then you have taken an important first step towards being a Change-Initiator. Many people I encounter freely tell me that they feel they are in transition. It is a feeling that they have not yet found the right words to express. This is a moment of change that calls us to think deeply about who we are and the difference we want to make.
I have found that you cannot resolve this question in your minds by just thinking it through. It must be combined with doing things to fully see who we are. I encourage you to go ahead and change your mind as soon as you can. Change Early, Not Late. For the change that you will bring to your world may be the key change that helps others see how they can do the same thing. Don’t wait for the right time, because the right time is now.
* Title Image – Page 24 and 25 from Seth Godin’s This Might Work / This Might Not Work .