The Five Fundamentals of Dealing with Change

by Joe Flower

International Copyright 1996 Joe Flower All Rights Reserved
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Some people, and some organizations, deal well with change. In fact, they seem to thrive on it. They take its challenges as sources of enormous energy to drive them forward -- yet they cut their own path. Like a surfer riding the face of a thundering comber, they use the power of the wave to create their own kind of beauty.

Some people, and some organizations, fall apart in the face of change. They seemed well organized -- nice office building, confident CEO, vigorous growth (or nice spouse, good family, positive outlook) -- until something changes in their environment. Maybe a major employer pulls out of town, a "golden agers" retirement development goes in, and the customer base changes suddenly. Or maybe it's a family change: the last kid has left home, and your spouse decides to open a business.

And it's Yeats
all over again:
"Things fall apart,
The center cannot hold."

And it's Yeats all over again: "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold."

Things go from bad to worse in a spiral: a problem with getting the right mix of customers problem cuts income, margins fall. The banks see you're in trouble, and the short-term lending dries up. Your profit margin falls, you try to make it up on volume, and the service levels fall. Customer satisfaction falls, and those who can afford it go to some other shop -- and the customer mix problem gets worse.

What's the real difference between those who thrive on change and those who fall apart, clawing and scrabbling their way down a slippery slope?

Is it just luck? Could be, if it happened once. But look carefully: people and organizations seem to have a pattern over their lifetimes. We all know some people that seem to shoot themselves in the foot every chance they get. Study companies that know how to survive, and you'll find corporations as much as 700 years old that have survived under monarchies, dictatorships, and revolutionary councils, through war and depression, plague and natural disaster. That takes far more than luck.

People and organizations that thrive on change share some fundamental attributes. And change is fractal: its basic nature looks the same at different scales. So the attributes that make an organization powerfully adaptive also make a relationship flexible and fruitful, a community livable, and an individual creative, adaptive, and secure in the midst of turbulence.

Five fundamentals

Organisms that thrive in a changing environment share these five necessary attributes:

Test yourself

How well are you organization prepared to survive increasing turbulence? Look over these five attributes:

How well do they describe you or your organization? What could you do differently to put yourself or your organization on a firmer, more conservative financial footing? To strengthen and multiply relationships? To increase the free flow of information? To distribute decision-making power? To nurture a common sense of the past, of your present daily purpose, and your vision of the future?

How change works | Change happens| What is your goal? | Core concepts | Skills| Skill-building resources | Touching what is, touching what might be | Paradox | Heading for the open space | Habits of mind | Scenario spinning | Coming out | Breaking the trance | Finding a new path | Why it's important | Four quadrants | Psychological roots | Change Processes | Main Page