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There is one thing that seems to be the revelation of this century. It is the awareness that “The only thing that is constant is change”. This phrase is the result of the new millennium and the continuous changes we are experiencing in these years. Right?
This is a phrase from Heraclitus of Ephesus, a Greek philosopher who lived about 500 years before Christ.
And even half a millennium before him, in China, the I Ching was written, which sees change as an intrinsic dynamic in every aspect of life.
Change is therefore something that man has always seen as inevitable, as a natural question. Why, then, is the constant state of change considered a new characteristic?
I believe the reason is largely due to the fact that the organizations in which we are still part were born and raised at the only time in the whole of human history when the uncertainty and complexity of markets and societies fell to the point of not calling for attention to the concept of change. In other words, and in a nutshell, in the twentieth century we could stay the same without this being a problem and, on the contrary, designing organizations that could be stable was a competitive advantage.
Today, awakened by this singular condition of predictability, the concept of change is coming back to the surface in a relevant way.
And together with the concept of change, the concept of resistance to change has become incredibly widespread.
RESISTANCE TO CHANGE
Working with organizations of all sizes and in all markets, I have often heard people ask how to avoid, overtake or beat resistance to change. How can we convince our people that change is good?
Just do a simple google search to see the words most often associated with “resistance to change”: manage, deal and overcome.
And from a logical point of view all these questions make sense: if change is intrinsic to every aspect of life, resistance to change is nothing more than an obstacle to the natural flow of things. Right?
MACHINES vs. LIVING SYSTEMS
I would like to start with the observation that our organisations are not complicated systems but complex systems.
Perhaps many of you already know the difference between these two concepts, but my experience tells me that most of the managers and entrepreneurs I have worked with have never had the opportunity to dwell on this simple but important observation.
There are countless theoretical and practical models for this, but I will opt here for the synthesis.
Complicated = from Latin “cum + plicatus” means folded together. It is something not easy to understand, it is intricate. But being cum-plicatus it can be ex-plicatus, explained, i.e. it can be made so that what was not comprehensible before can be understood and made visible. An airplane, a piano, a clock are complicated systems.
Complex = from the Latin “cum + plexus” means woven together. Here there is a fundamental element: the relationship. A complex system cannot be explained, it cannot be understood, since relationships are what characterizes the system, not its parts. And these relations are infinite and in continuous evolution. A shoal of fish, our body, a family are complex systems. Our organizations are complex systems.
How does this difference help us?
In the words of Fritjof Capra:
We are dealing here with a crucial difference between a machine and a living system. A machine can be controlled; a living system can only be disturbed. This implies that human organizations cannot be controlled through direct interventions, but they can be influenced by giving impulses rather than instructions. Force, or energy, is not the issue; the issue is meaning. Meaningful disturbances will get the organization’s attention and will trigger structural changes.
In reality, people do not resist change; they resist having change imposed on them. Being alive, individuals and their communities are both stable and subject to change and development, but their natural change processes are very different from the organizational changes designed by “re-engineering” experts and mandated from the top.
THE NEXT NATURAL STEP
This awareness of the fact that an organization is a complex living system and not a machine is the basis of a question that in Cocoon Projects we continuously repeat to ourselves while working with our customers: “What is the next natural step of evolution for this human system?”.
This is an extremely powerful question, which leads us to observe the system in its entirety and which requires mastery and a deep work of listening and sense-making.
Beyond the knowledge of tools, processes, techniques and methods, the most difficult and stimulating job for me is answering this question.
A CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE
However, even if we can identify the next natural step for our organization, there will always be parts of the system that will tend to resist. This happens for many reasons, and it is for these reasons that we must consider if we want this change to happen.
Resistance therefore becomes a precious ally, a gift that informs us about the possible hidden scenarios of change; scenarios that we would never see if parts of the system did not manifest their doubts.
It is therefore essential to open up space for possible scepticism. A space that can be created on the occasion, but it will be more effective, true and profound if the culture of the organization will be able to foresee listening as a consolidated practice present in everyday working life.
Resistance to change is therefore the natural way in which we react to changes in our environment in order to preserve our identity, both individual and that of the group we belong to. Training to nurture that instinct can in many cases be the difference that makes the difference.
Change is never a punctual action, but it is influenced both by the past and future of the system in which it manifests itself. It is our responsibility, therefore, to reconnect with the profound meaning that a change brings with it so that it is not only innovation but also a true evolution, which allows the organization to be the best expression of itself, in its continuous evolution.
For these reasons, my wish in my first article of 2019 is not for change, as it is naturally present in every human system, but I hope you can understand where your system is resisting the next change, so that it can be accepted and used for the good of the whole organization.
“Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony.”
Heraclitus of Ephesus, 500BC