General Semantics Advanced Thinking
A System-Discipline Concerned with the Sanity of the Race & the Individual
A General Semantics Approach to Change Management

by Milton Dawes

Veterans at Managing Change

None of us is a stranger to managing change. We have all been managing change from the moment we were born – and even before that. As babies we howled, fidgeted, looked miserable, and acted out, when we felt uncomfortable, frightened, fearful, anxious, hungry, wet, ignored, and so on. This kind of behavior was usually effective – we got results. Someone else usually changed their behavior, or our circumstances, and returned us to an acceptable state of comfort and satisfaction. Way to go! Who could ask for anything more?

Considering that we are old hands at managing change, it seems strange that we would have concerns regarding our abilities to manage change. But our concerns are well-grounded. As we grow older, as our experiences of our selves and our worlds change, we have come to rocognize and acknowledge that, over the years, we have carried along our older, less effective strategies for managing change.

As time goes by, as we become more and more dissatisfied and stressed, our needs for developing alternate, up-to-date, more appropriate, more effective ways for managing and initiating change increase.

A World of Change…A World of Differences

Our survival – biological, psycho-logical, social, professional, etc. – depends to a great extent on the level of our skills in initiating and managing change. Knowing more about our selves, our environments (personal, social, political, geo-political, international, religious, multi-cultural, economics, etc.), and how we relate to our selves and our environments, are important factors in developing these skills.

We live in a world where no two things are the same. We live in a world where no thing is the same from one day to the next, from one moment to the next. We live in a world where, despite appearances, nothing stands still. We live in a world of change. We are immersed in change.

People, things, situations – all change at different rates. We may not notice some changes for days, weeks, months, years, or even hundreds of years. Then there are other changes that take place right before our eyes – and catch us by surprise. Some things change at a constant rate (relatively speaking). Others change with regular irregularity. There are expected changes – those we plan and prepare our selves for. Then there are the unexpected – those that are thrust upon us, that catch us unprepared and demand urgent attention.

There are big changes and small changes, changes that we don’t bother our selves about – and changes that bother us unmercifully. There are changes we feel confident we can live with, and there are others we feel beyond our abilities to manage. There are changes we fear and want to run away from (and sometimes do). And there are others we welcome and look forward to. Some changes bring us joy- others leave us angry.

Some changes leave us puzzled, perplexed or confused, while others challenge us to the limits of our creative skills. We manage some changes smoothly, and feel satisfied, confident, competent, and proud. But some others, we mis-manage so miserably that we are dismayed. We ask our selves, “How could anyone with my education, training, experience, make such a blunder?” The list goes on. Here a change, there a change, everywhere a change change. There is no end to change – and that may be a major part of our challenge.

We are Adapted to Adapt -To Some Degree

It is often said that “Familiarity breeds indifference.” In our relation to change, there seems to be some truth to this. We are surrounded by change, and so well adjusted to change, we do not usually (and for good reasons) recognize change as change. We are genetically programmed to manage change – and we are reasonably good at this in varying degrees of skill. Think about it. How many of the day-to-day, moment-to-moment changes that take place in and around us do we notice as change? Were we to notice the fantastic number of changes going on in and around us we would scarcely be able to do anything else. To a great extent we are adjusted to the constancy of change. What grabs our attention are the kinds of changes that annoy, irritate, bother, anger, and dissatisfy us. In short, we are called upon to attend to those changes that intrude on our comfort zone of habitual expectations and behaviors. And so in our explorations of change management, those are the kinds of changes that we will mainly concern our selves with.

A Sense of Selves

In your readings so far, you may have noticed my use of the term ‘selves’. This has been deliberate. This heuristic notion of ‘selves’ is based on a proposition that ‘We are each constituted of a set of more or less integrated selves, more or less active selves’. Examples of these different selves are our parent selves, our social selves, our professional selves, our artistic, tribal, rational, emotional, spiritual, childlike, selves and so on. Thinking in terms of selves can by very helpful to us in our efforts to manage change in our lives: We often think of change situations as threats to our whole ways of being. In an allness way, we often fear that a new situation or circumstance requires us to change our whole self. When sometimes, what is needed is varying degrees of changes in the ways our different selves function and behave. (This notion of selves has been explored in another article ‘A Grammar of Consciousness’. This article is one of the chapters in ‘Thinking Creatically’ available from the Institute of General-Semantics).

Management of Change – Management of Selves

While we are at it, I would like to introduce two other slight changes: Here they are. (I) We cannot manage change; and (II) Change management is basically Selves management. Let me elaborate on this. First off it is important to keep in mind that these statements should be treated not as statements of facts but as propositions – heuristic tools that can be useful to us. In general, when we set out to manage anything, our level of success, is closely related to the accuracy of our thinking and knowledge about whatever it may be that we have assumed we are attempting to manage. In the case of managing change, we are not being as accurate as we could be in stating our objectives.

So in an attempt to be more accurate, let’s think of managing change along the following lines. Let’s think of change (in the context of these explorations) as” ‘Our awareness of non-usual and different situations and circumstances which make a difference for us (individually); and that we feel that these non-usual circumstances demand from us non-usual sets of responses and adjustments; and that these new situations are valid in their own rights. And furthermore, let’s think of the term ‘change’ as a label representing our comparison of the new situations with the old’.

If we accept that the term ‘change’ is a label representing comparisons – then it follows that when we talk about managing change, we are not talking about managing comparisons. Taking the above mentioned pro-positions into consideration, we could re-formulate ‘Management of Change’ as follows. The expression ‘Management of Change’ is a shorthand way of saying. An attempt to manage one selves by changing aspects of their behaviors, in an effort to achieve an acceptable degree of satisfaction, harmony, effectiveness, etc., compatible with the demands of new circumstances. (This approach is similar to the one I use in my Management of Time workshops. Considering that we are still trying to figure out what the term ‘time’ represents, I have re-formulated Management of Time as ‘Executing tasks in a manner that optimizes performance efficiency and effectiveness’. More simply ‘Doing what is necessary for completing tasks, in the most efficient and effective manner, given period of time available’).

At first reading, these re-formulations may be reacted to as trivial, and no more than semantic quibbles. But speaking for my selves and a few others, we find them more operational, more instructive, and more useful. I think that you will agree with me that what we do that we label Management of Time or Management of Change involve sometimes very difficult adjustments to concrete situations – and not adjustments to abstract terminologies. It is important then as you read on to make the occasional adjustments, and think of the terms ‘change’ and ‘management of change’ as pointers. My articles and workshops are based on a belief that we cannot manage time or change. But of course if you have discovered how to do this I will be happy to hear about it.

The Courage to say “I Don’t Know”

In a world where no two things are the same; in a world where situations evolve at different rates; if there is one thing that we can be certain of it is that ‘thinks will change’. Our selves, our families, our homes, our neighbors, our friends, our society, our economy, our incomes, our bank accounts, our health, our ideas about what’s going in our lives and in the world around us. are changing, and can be expected to change. Reminding ourselves of this fundamental factor about our selves and our worlds, is already a powerful way to manage our selves in changed situations.

We live in a world of uncertainties. There is some truth to this. But just for fun let’s change, this re-formulation is not meant to contradict the first statement. It is intended to point us in another direction. After all, if we are a part of the world, and we are uncertain, then it is fair to say we live in a world of uncertainties. But it seems important to me that we shift our focus from the ‘world’ to ‘our selves’. In the context of managing change, this distinction can be helpful.

The uncertainties are mainly in us. They are our uncertainties – this notwithstanding some learned interpretations of quantum physics. For reasons related to pride, status, self-image, prestige, power, and others, we are usually reluctant to admit to our selves and others, that we don’t know as much as we claim. We somehow find it an embarrassment to accept that we are limited with regard to what we can be aware of, what we can know, what we can understand, what we can do. So we project our uncertainties away from our selves. In terms of adjusting our selves to unusual and unfamiliar circumstances, we are better prepared when we are able to admit when we know that we don’t know. Here are some of the advantages. We are more likely to develop an extensional approach to living. This approach keeps us more in touch with both the dynamic outside world, and the more static inside world of ideas, beliefs, myths, expectations, and so on. Being more in touch with both worlds help us to spot inconsistencies between them, and inconsistencies in our world inside. An extensional approach helps us to notice trends – small changes. Noticing small changes is one way to minimize the shocks to our systems when these small changes later grow into bigger unavoidable ones.

When we are not afraid to admit when we don’t know, we send messages that we are open and receptive to communications. We are then more likely to hear from others about developments, trends, etc., which may be important to us in terms of future changes that may affect us.

Being open to communications; not being afraid to say “I don’t know”, takes courage. and practice. For although we are all limited human beings, we seem to be involved in an unplanned conspiracy of pretentiousness. We can better prepare our selves for anticipating and managing the big changes in our lives by practicing to be better communicators with our selves, with others, and with the world around us.

Our Maps and Our Selves

What we do, and how we do what we do, depend on the maps we carry around with us. Our maps are not just mental structures. They have related physical components. Our maps are reflected in the sounds of our voices, in the ways we talk, and in the ways we walk. They are not reflected in the ways we look and in the ways we move. Our maps are not easily reached. We sometimes have to search for them. Sometimes we need professional help to find them. When for instance we feel hurt, disappointed, frustrated, or angry, we are more likely to blame someone – they are more visible: we don’t usually search for the maps behind the scenes.

At some levels, we cannot change our maps. We can only change some features of our maps. For instance, we cannot have beliefs, or goals, or prejudices. But we can change what we believe; or pursue other goals; or abandon certain prejudices. Our maps are our best resources for managing trying and unusual situations: they are also our most stubborn helpers. But without the awareness that they exist, we have very little change to monitor, modify, change, up date, or measure how useful they are to us. One way to measure the quality of the contents of our maps is to notice how often we feel stressed. Another way is to monitor the degree of comfortableness and satisfaction we enjoy in our relationships – in our homes – at the places where we work – with acquaintances and friends – and the contents of our maps, is one of the best ways I know of for preparing our selves for meeting and managing change.

Learning From Our Selves

Managing our selves through disruptive changes in our lives requires us to improve and apply our selves-managing, problem-solving, decision-making, creative, and other skills. These skills are not new to us. Like our change managing (everyday changes) skills, they are part of our survival kit. They are some of the resources we bring to situations. Unfortunately (and mainly because they constitute so much of our everyday behaviors), we don’t usually recognize and appreciate our selves in their problem-solving, decision-making, creative modes. ..And so we lose many opportunities for learning from our selves. By increasing our observations of our selves, solving problems, making decisions, being creative, and so on, we can gain some insights from our selves about what approaches and behaviors are likely to work in some situations from our selves about what approaches and behaviors are likely to work in some situations: and also what is not likely to work. This is again another way to prepare our selves.

Maps We Carry Around With Us

Unusual and un familiar situations in the outside world put pressures on us to change some features of the maps that make up our inner worlds. They also put pressure on us to change aspects of the behaviors that result from following these maps. Our maps are tremendously important to us. We always bring our maps with us. We cannot leave them anywhere. We need our maps to make sense of, and to interact both with what’s going on in our inner worlds, and with what’s going on in our outer worlds.. Our biological, psychological, economic, social. survival depend on how much correspondence there is between our maps, and what’s going on: how useful are our maps; and how up to date are our maps. (All this is very tricky stuff since we get most of the information about what’s going on. from our maps!).

Our maps are so much of us, that we most times don’t re-cognize them as maps. We are not usually aware, of how much they direct, guide, and influence our behaviors; how much they support and influence each other; how well integrated they are; and as a result of this support, influence, and integration. how well they resist change. in the face of change.

Here are some titles of maps we each bring to situations new and old, familiar and unfamiliar, usual and unusual. We bring our individual and well developed attitudes. expectations about the way things or others should be. beliefs about the way things and others are. special approaches concerning the proper way to deal with situations and interact with others. . We bring to situations and to others our well developed prejudices. skills and experiences. fears. anxieties. needs. desires. ways of understanding and reacting to situations and people. moral, religious and other values. We bring our own notions of truth, and right and wrong. We bring to situations all these, and a vast number of other maps and their related behaviors.

Two very important maps not mentioned above are what I call our ‘supermaps’. They are our well developed self – image maps have a lot to do with how we relate with our selves; and our status maps have to do with how we expect others to relate to us. Our self0image, and status maps, are probably the two most difficult aspects of our selves to change in the face of changed circumstances. For this reason, and others, it makes good sense for us to review these two maps from time to time, and critically evaluate how well they are serving us. Skilled managers of change are to be found among those people who are aware of the existence of maps; and have learned how to access and correct their maps when situations hint at their inadequacies.

Approaches to Managing Change

There is a wide variety of things we can do to meet the challenge of new and unfamiliar situations. Being prepared in terms of having reasonably accurate and up-to-date maps of our selves and our worlds, is a good start. With sound preparations, we will be able, with surprising ease, to overcome our instinctive tendencies to hang on to many old and familiar routines, habitual behaviors, attitudes, expectations, and so on.

Living in a world of change, it is impossible and unnecessary for us to explore in a short article, exactly what we should do to adapt our selves to each change situation. But there are some general approaches that come to mind. Two of these are the following. Put simply, we can try to change the situation, or some aspects of the situation, to suit our selves. And we can set out to change aspects of our selves to suit the situation. Depending on the kind of situation, our resources, and our resolve, we may be more or less successful in changing some situations. And again, depending on the situation, we may find it easier (not ‘easy’) to make the changes in our selves. As mentioned before it’s worthwhile remembering that many change situations do not require us to completely re-organize our lives. We may need only to change some aspects of our self-image (the notion of ‘selves’ is important here); certain attitudes, activities, routines, and so on.

Another basic approach we can take is to change our perceptions of the change (again easier said than done). But if we recognize the ways we feel-think about changes as perceptual maps, we give our selves opportunities to create other maps. There is never only one way to map a territory. For instance, we can map a change as ‘an irritating, annoying, disruptive, anxiety creating, stressful event’. And we can also map it as ‘a challenging, character building, fortuitous situation’. It is worth nothing that these two maps are not mutually exclusive. They can both operate during the same time period – interacting, counteracting, and counterbalancing each other. This is not unusual. Our different selves produce their own maps, impose them on each other, and try to influence each other. You may re-cognize these goings on in situations where you have a few choices, but you are not sure which course to take, or what’s the best thing to do.

Imaging Change Approaches

The following is an exercise you may find helpful in providing you with quick access to some possible approaches to managing change. You don’t have to be an artist to do this: any figure, or outline, that represents the particular object or person for you will do. The exercise is for you to draw or design something to represent the following: People with sandbags near a river. An old-time castle with moats, drawbridge and battlements. A battleship. A tree. A waiter or waitress. A marathon runner. A trapeze artist. A philosopher type. A clown. A scientist in his/her laboratory. A doctor. Some friends. An executive type. Anything else you can think of which represents some other approaches.


People with sandbags near a river represents the importance of being prepared for change. As mentioned before, being prepared for change involves among other things: remembering that nothing remains the same despite appearances to the contrary: that we should design some of our maps with pencil and paper or on erasable floppy discs – not chiseled out in granite. We should remember that unlike people preparing for a flood, we cannot wait until the last minute. Without getting anxious or jittery, thinking in terms of change should be an underlying theme in our everyday activities and relationships if we want to be better prepare for managing change.

Seeking and Accepting Help

It doesn’t matter how well prepared we are – there will be situations that we could manage with greater ease by seeking professional help, or by accepting help from friends and acquaintances. This may not be easy for those of us who may be carrying around maps which have to do with proving to others that we are independent; that we are self-sufficient; that we can always manage on our own; that we will not be beholden to anyone. and so on. These kinds of maps are false and misleading. None of us is totally self-sufficient. We depend on each other whether we like it or not – whether we want to accept it or not. Successful managers of change, remembering that we all have our limits, know when to seek and accept help or support.

Accepting help may be for some of us, a skill that we have to re-learn. (Remember that we were born relatively helpless). We can re-develop this skill through practice. Practice involves being more gracious in encouraging the many little attempts others make to be helpful. Practice involves resisting the impulse to invalidate, and dis-regard helping advices and suggestions that are offered to us from time to time. It involves overcoming the ’embarrassment’ of having to say “thanks”. It involves being able to catch our selves just when we are about to refuse someone’s offer to help with a “that’s o.k. I can manage”. It involves acting in ways that do not encourage others to think that being kind is strange! and much more of course.

To be sure there are endless numbers of situations that we can manage quite well on our own, and where we really don’t need the advice and suggestions of others. But if every time help is offered we turn it/her/him down; and if every time a suggestion or advice is offered we shoot it down without even a polite acknowledgement – pretty soon, those around us will get the message that they (not their offers) are not worth listening to: that they are not important; that their judgment and intentions are suspect. . Then when the situation comes along where we could really use some help. no one offers to help. Why should they? How can they know that they are not setting them selves up to be ignored again? Then to compound the issue, we may find it extremely difficult to shed our selves-sufficient image and ask for help. Worse yet, we may not even realize that the ways we were relating to others in the past have a lot to do with people seeming to be so uncaring and unhelpful now. (By the way, if you have not already guessed this, the image representing ‘Seeking and accepting help” is your drawing of ‘doctors and some friends’).

To be able to ask for help, and encourage and accept offers of help in times when we could use some help, we have to prepare our selves. One way we can prepare our selves is to make it our daily business not to shut out and ignore those who offer help and suggestions from time to time: And this includes (as difficult as it may be), those, who from our point of view, always go around acting as if they, know what’s best for everybody. In habitually discouraging and refusing help, we may think that others will see us in terms of ‘self-sufficiency’, ‘self-mastery’, ‘self-directedness’, and so on. They are more likely to feel and act in a resentful way toward us; and see us more in terms of someone who could use some help in human relationships.

Residing Change

Resistance to change is represented by your drawing of a castle. We resist change for various reasons – most of which are quite valid as far as we are concerned. As mentioned before, some changes put pressures on us to change some of our routines, habits, beliefs, attitudes, feelings, prejudices, and so on. Some changes invade our comfort zones, undermine our ‘self-concept’, cause us to lose status, privileges, and so on. They may be costly in terms of time, money, physical energy, our having to relocate and lose touch with long time friends; they may add and strains to family relationships. We may have to struggle with learning new skills and new ways of doing what we have been doing in our particular way for such a long time. And we shouldn’t forget the emotional cost resulting from possible feelings of anger, resentment, injustice, unfairness, and so on.

Resisting change, our resisting changing our selves, can be both beneficial and disadvantageous depending on the situation. For this reason and others, we should consider whether the effort put into resisting is worthwhile; whether we are likely to gain or lose; whether our resistance could result in a more disruptive change, making matters worse for us, or could result in improvements, and so on. It is also important to remember that the manner of our reaction to change (when others are involved) could tremendously affect their perceptions and their re-actions.

When others create changes for us, our resistance could sometimes move them to re-analyze, and re-consider their decisions – depending as mentioned above, on their perceptions of our resistance. But we should not be surprised at any resistance to our resistance: after all our resistance does create a change for them. (Keeping this in mind, we should expect others – generally speaking – to resist changes we create for hem. They too have routines, and habits, and feelings, and so on. And above this we could also make the effort to do whatever we can whenever possible, to diminish the effects on others, of the changes we create for them. As the old saying goes “What is good for the goose is good for the gander”).

The Executive Approach

The executive (idealized of course) sizes up the situation and clarifies what it is that s-he wants to achieve. He/she formulates this in the form of well defined goals. He/she determines how worthwhile and realistic these goals are – and modifies them accordingly. He/she makes an estimate of available and required resources – time, space, money, helpers, skills, equipment, and so on. He/she explores alternatives, and decides on a plan of action – making allowances for possible obstacles, set backs, etc. gets things going. checks from time to time to see if things are going in the right direction. makes adjustments when necessary. re-assesses and re-defines goals and objectives if unexpected and unforeseen changes make this necessary. As mentioned above, few of us go about things in such a well ordered fashion. But this scheme displays a conceptual framework that can provide us with some sort of guideline for approaching the management of some change situations.

The executive approach can be considered as a ‘meta-approach’. It can be applied on its own merits; and it can be applied as a monitoring agent to all the other approaches. For instance, if the decision to manage a particular change situation involves ‘resistance’ – one can ask whether this is a worthwhile and realistic approach; one can estimate the resources that will be needed to maintain this resistance; take stock of the experiences and skills we may need to meet the possible reactions to our resistance, and so on.

In brief, the executive approach involves doing whatever we can, as well as we can, to arrive at a reasonably satisfactory adjustment, to the new situation. Sometimes we will find that it was a change for the better; sometimes we will find that despite our well made plans, things did not turn out so well. Whatever the outcome it’s always worthwhile remembering that skilled managers of change do not believe in certainties.

The Waiting Game

Not every change situation is a signal for us to immediately set up and jump behind the barricades; or start the war dance; or involve our selves in serious planning. and so on. Sometimes we are much better off taking our time. and watching the process – to see how things turn out. Attentive waiting is also a valid approach to managing change. Sometimes we jump the gun before a changing situation has stabilized. Sometimes we do not give our selves sufficient time to make a careful assessment of the situation. And so we rush off in wrong directions – and occasionally find some difficulties retreating and recovering from our positions.

In playing the waiting game, skilled managers of change have to develop some skills in managing stress and in managing conflicts. Being stressed (which often accompanies a change situation), can depress not only our abilities to cope, but can also severely reduce our confidence in our abilities to cope. On the other side, being stressed can be energizing, and can stimulate the selves to meet the challenge. Conflicts sometimes arise when different selves want to go in their chosen directions – dragging the other selves along. Some selves may want to wait a while – while others may want to jump into action and get things going. This is a situation where the executive selves may have to intervene as arbitrators, counselors, managers, and so on. The executive selves with their critical thinking. analytical. bigger picture. managerial. problem solving. skills, may have to search for compromise to resolve the conflicts between patient and impulsive selves.

The Battleship Approach

There will be times when we feel that our rights are being trampled on; times when we feel that we are being treated unfairly and disrespectfully; times when we become incensed that someone or some others seem/s to be always having things their way; times when we feel that enough is enough, we won’t take it anyway – and we have to fight back. The battleship approach like all the others, has its merits and drawbacks. Impulsive selves may rush in without adequate preparation and ruin our chances for success. On the other hand, assertive and dynamic resistance to change, may bring around conditions more to our liking. Fighting a change may put pressure on others to re-evaluate the situation.

The battleship approach requires us to acquaint our selves with the structures of the situation. Rushing headlong into battle without sound maps of the situation could be disastrous. We should be well aware of who and what we are up against; how strong a case we have; how much energy, time, resources. we have at our disposal, and are ready and willing to commit. We should consider whether the whole effort is worth the trouble, and so on. We should not go into battle without a fair understanding of who our friends, allies, and well wishers are. We lose many personal battles by failing to distinguish between those who are on our side, and those who are on the other side. Sometimes we even waste a good deal of time, energy, and resources, fighting those who are actually trying to help!

Before going into battle against a change, we should realize that there are some battles that can’t be won. Our executive selves, if given the change to intervene, could help us to estimate how good our chances are of winning or losing. This is not to say ‘we can’t fight city hall’. It’s merely a recognition that there are limits to our abilities, resources, and so on – and that others, with their resources, and allies, and determinations, can be expected to fight back. We will win some and we will lose some. And as paradoxical as it may sound: Sometimes we will win by losing. and Sometimes, we will lose by winning. That’s the kind of world we live in. and to a certain extent have created.

In the battleship approach, we are attempting to change situations to suit our selves, rather than change aspects of our selves to suit the situation. Changing a situation is sometimes more difficult than changing our selves. Changing our selves is sometimes more difficult than changing a situation. A good general knowledge of our strengths, and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, will power, staying power etc.; together with a good general knowledge of who or what we are up against; can help us decide whether it’s worth our while to start a fight, continue the battle, or retire gracefully – consoling our selves that we gave it our best shot.

The Bigger Picture, The Smaller Pictures

The marathon runner has been preparing for the day. He/she has a fairly good idea of the route. He/she cannot dash off with such great enthusiasm and exuberance that s-he is worn out by the first hill or halfway through the distance. He/she has to keep positioning her/him selves. He/she has to pace her/him selves.

The marathon runner has to be very extensional in her/his approach to the event. He/she has to be very selves-reflexive. He/she has to monitor her/him selves, and the situation constantly. He/she has to keep her/his mind on the goal; the distance to go; what others are doing; what signals and messages are being sent by feet, legs, thighs, lungs, heart, mind-body and so on. (By the way, How are you managing this change from ‘self’ to ‘selves’?)

In adopting the marathon runner approach, preparing our selves, as discussed before, is very important. The better prepared we are, the greater our chances of adapting our selves to the stresses and strains we may experience. We have to keep our selves alert to the many dimensions of the situation we find our selves in. We have to look at both the bigger picture, and the smaller pictures. We have to be aware both of what we want to achieve, and how we go about doing the many little things we have to do to achieve this. We cannot afford to ignore signals from our families, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and others, that we are running all over them. We can’t afford to ignore our health by not adequately nourishing our selves, by not taking time out to exercise, by not getting enough rest, and so on. We can’t afford to be so exuberant or so depressed that we lose touch with what else is going on in and around us. As a marathon runner we want to be sensitive to what’s going on in and around us, so as to avoid creating additional and unnecessary problems for our selves.

As a marathon runner, we want to run our race keeping before us the bigger picture of life ahead – the hills we still have to climb – the corners we have to turn – the bridges we have to cross – the roads yet to be traveled – the people we will meet, those that we will pass, and those that will pass us. As a marathon runner, our approach to change is guided by our awareness that the race is for the rest of our lives.

Swing High, Swing Low

As you may have already noticed, these various approaches for managing change, do not necessarily exclude each other: it isn’t a matter of either one or the other. Each approach can be applied together with bits and pieces from others. This is in keeping with our experiences of living. Life is much more complex, not as cut and dried, or so neatly structured as sentences in an article. In an article, words come one after the other in a particular order, and according to well defined grammatical rules and constraints; full stops mark the ends of sentences; there are spaces between words where there are no words, and so on.

In our everyday living situations, the things, situations, activities, relationships, our words refer to, are all going on at the same time; there are no full stops. Something is always going on even during those times when we say our lives are empty. Living could be described as a continuous process of overlapping and interacting waves of activities of varying frequencies and durations. It is a process that has very little respect for the grammatical rules and constraints that organize our words. We swing from one situation to the next without any empty spaces in between. When we act as if one part of our live has nothing to do with other parts; when we act as if our family, career, social, and other activities are as neatly separated as their labels, it’s like losing our grip on things. we are heading for a fall.

The trapeze artist swings from one situation of relative security, passing through one of relative insecurity, on the way to another of relative security. In our trapeze artist approach to managing change, we recognize and accept that life has its ups and downs; its high points of relative safety, comfort, security, satisfaction. and its low points of relative uncertainty, uncomfortable ness, anxieties, and so on. In our trapeze artist approach, we recognize the importance of being highly attentive and alert to the changes that’s going on in the changes that’s going on. We want to spot trends and developments; we don’t want to miss opportunities that come our way. We want to keep our selves prepared and ready to swing into action. We recognize the importance of good timing. We are guided by an awareness that the smoothness of our transition from one situation of relative comfort and security – through the difficult periods of adjustments – to another situation of relatively stability, depends a great deal on our abilities to let go of the old habits, beliefs, expectations, selves images, etc., that are no longer providing us with adequate support. As trapeze artists managing change in our lives, we want above all to keep our selves mentally and physically fit – we need the support of others, but we have to take care of our selves.

The Philosophical Approach

The philosophical approach is characterized by observation and inquiry. It is motivation mainly by a desire to understand and make sense of things. In this approach to managing change, we see new and disruptive situations as opportunities to learn more about how we operate as individuals, and how the world around us operates. We recognize that the more intense the disruptions, the bigger the clues, that we need to take a closer look at old maps, and myths we have about how we, people, organizations, institutions, societies, employers. operate. In the philosophical approach we watch and study processes. We study how things have developed, are developing, and speculate on possible future developments. We learn what we can from present situations so that we can be better prepared in the future.

The Funny Side of Things

Clowns make people laugh. It is usually easier to make little people laugh than it is to make big people laugh. In our societies of selves, we need to give encouragement to the clowns that make others laugh, and we need to call out our children selves to play. Obviously not many situations can be considered laughable – it is most times difficult to see the funny side of things. It may take a little practice and a lot of searching to find that one thing that is usually there and which if discovered could start the show. When our philosophies, and logic, and careful planning fail, sometimes what is needed is a quiet Mona Lisa type smile with/at our selves. Life with its ups and downs, trials and tribulations, good times and bad times, uncertainties, and anxieties is pretty serious business for many. But how serious is it anyway? We could ask our selves this question “What difference will it make. a hundred years from now”?

The ‘Scientist’ Approach

In the ‘scientist’ approach to managing change, our focus is on developing an experimental and heuristic attitude. The ‘scientist’ approach, like the executive, and philosophical approaches, can be described as a ‘meta-approach’ – an approach to approaches – a high order selves-re-flexive way of going about whatever we are doing’. In the ‘scientist’ approach, having decided what we will do, and the basic approach that we will take, we index this with an ongoing reminder that there is no absolute guarantee as to the way things will turn out. Our approach is one that could be described as being recognizably, and definitely tentative. We can’t be sure things will work out the way we expect. but we make a start anyway.

In the ‘scientist’ approach, if things don’t go the way we planned or expected, we don’t panic or despair: we take careful note of what actually happened – we review our activities and plans – we try to figure out the assumptions and informations that may have sent us off in the direction we took – and we take whatever corrective actions we can. With an heuristic and experimental attitude, there is no total failure. When things don’t go the way we expect, whatever actually happens provides us with valuable information that the territory does not fit our maps. And wanting to maintain an extensional attitude, we do not set out to change the territory to fit our maps as we would in the battleship approach. What we do is to use the new information we have to guide us in our corrective efforts. We could think of this heuristic and experimental approach as a learn as we go along approach. (By the way, the ‘scientist’ approach is also good preparation for managing change. It’s an approach that can be applied in any area of our personal and professional activities where we are interested in learning and selves improvement).

Confidence and Options

The approaches that I have outlined obviously do not exhaust the possible approaches that I have outlined obviously do not exhaust the possible approaches to change. They simply provide a picture, or a sketch, if you prefer, of some possibilities and options. A sketch which you can modify, embellish, add to, or just use as a model for developing your own gallery of approaches. Managing our selves through those unusual, difficult, and challenging situations that come our way every now and again is easier read about, than done. Sometimes what is needed more than anything else is confidence in our selves to pull through.

I have deliberately left out of our discussions, the approach suggested by the image of a tree. . . I have done this with the hope of encouraging you to practice developing some approaches for your selves. It’s a matter of thinking out what the referents of the images mean to you, and putting together your findings as an approach to managing change through managing our selves.

Appended, April 2003:

Some things to consider when we think of change management times.

We live in a world, where, as far as we know, everything is related. We live in a world of change. Individuals, groups, organizations, societies, operate (think-feel, learn, unlearn, adjust, recover, do things, etc.) at different rhythms (patterns of change). Things change at different rates and different frequencies. Actions result in reactions – sometimes, violent reactions. Things tend to continue as they have been functioning, until influenced to change – whether by external or internal forces. Things tend to resist change of their usual rate of change.

Following a premise that “We cannot do anything without doing many other things at the same time”: To institute changes in a particular area or activity in an organization, institution, etc., requires that many other changes have to be made in related areas and activities. In such instances, one has to consider the time involved in effecting changes in these diverse areas – keeping in mind that some areas will be missed.

In terms of “inter-relationships”, large organizations and institutions with many departments may find it takes longer to institute change. One has to consider the change time for each department, and the inter-departmental and organizational difficulties and confusions that could develop due to the differences in change times. One also has to consider the ‘foreign’ (or outside) organizations that might be, or will be, affected by the change and the times involved for their adjustments (which may be hard to estimate).

When we contemplate cultural changes, we have to remind ourselves of different affected aspects such as traditions, values, beliefs, laws, regulations, etc. And we must consider the many diverse areas of activities and interests, those who benefit from, and will resist (sometimes violently) any attempt to change things, and so on. Revolutions, rebellions, riots, civil disobedience, strikes, etc., sometimes result when one group is determined to overcome cultural or societal resistance to change.

In terms of “inertia”, things tend to resist change. In terms of “momentum” things tend to continue along certain ‘direction’ and at certain pace. Inertia and momentum are variables that will affect older and larger organizations, to a greater degree than they are likely to affect newer and smaller organizations. People involved, are likely to resist change initiated by the administration — since they will have to do more work to change their usual and familiar ways of doing things.

External factors that threaten the survival of an organization could pressure organizational change. This might result in speedier change times than internal factors. Change initiated internally is usually more resisted than change ‘forced’ upon an organization from outside. External factors include environmental (weather, earthquakes, tornados, floods, extreme and out of season temperatures, etc.). Then there are foreign and native competition; foreign and native economic changes; changes in regulations and laws, mergers, take-overs, etc.

The kind of organization involved in initiating changes, will make a difference in change times. A “non-profit” organization for instance, might take a longer time to effect a change, than a “for profit” organization where survival of the organization is at stake. Also, some organizations, due to their mission, values, policies, particular operations, connections, etc., will be more or less flexible, more or less resistant to change, than some others.

In terms of general semantics principles of “non-allness” and “general uncertainty”: One cannot know before hand, all the challenges, setbacks, obstacles, etc., that might arise, and which will have to be addressed, when an organizational change is initiated.

When members of an organization recognize for themselves, the importance, the necessity for, and potential benefits of change; and are included in the planning stages, they are more likely to support the changes with minimal coercion, and adapt and adjust to change in less time, than when they feel that change is imposed. When we remember how difficult it was for us (as individuals), to effect a change we wanted for ourselves, and that we consider important for our own welfare and well-being; we might realize how difficult it could be for an organization (or a society), constituted of many individuals, many ‘departments’, many and diverse interests, many traditions, laws, rules, connections, etc., to change, when change is imposed on them.

This does not exhaust the variables to consider when contemplating change times. They are just a few things to keep in mind. Please add to them.

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