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Posts tagged ‘Change Management’

The case for resilience

As human beings we spend much of our time attempting to create consistency, producing a constant product, creating reliable and repeatable interactions. We all have mental models into which we attempt to shoehorn daily events and interactions. And yet our survival is tied not to constants, but to our ability to deal with variables – with change.

The dictionary defines resilience: “the ability to bounce or spring back into shape, position, etc., after being pressed or stretched. Elasticity. The ability to recover strength, spirits, good humor, or any other aspect quickly.” Resilience allows us to respond to and tolerate all kinds of variables. Our bodies can manage and respond to wide temperature variations, heal cuts and scrapes, speed up or slow down metabolism, and continually rewire our brain’s neural pathways. Add to this our ability to be intelligent, to learn, interact with others, and design and create things beyond ourselves. Our bodies are a good example of a resilient system.

It is easier to see stability than resilience. And, without a whole-system view, it is easier to value stability over resilience. For example: Just-in-time deliveries have stabilized inventories and often reduced costs. But, a look at the larger system shows that the just-in-time model makes the entire production system more vulnerable to shipping delays caused by weather, technology downtime, and other uncontrollable variables.

Systems, whether our bodies or our organizations need to be managed to ensure resilience, not its opposite – constancy, rigidity, and inflexibility. And yet, we are easily and continually distracted by individual events – a conversation, an e-mail, or a news story. We need to find ways to maintain a larger system view. Some of the ways to do this are to assess events by considering the history, information, relationships, and dynamic data of the whole system. We can mindfully look at and reflect on the system, its structure and relationships.  Time spent thus increases potential to discover ways of increasing our organization’s ability to restore itself, be creative, and build elastic walls that allow the organization and ourselves to not only bounce back from unforeseen events, but to embrace change.

Our Maps of the World

The human brain is an amazing organ. The wiring is now known to be flexible and adaptable throughout life. That wiring is what gives each person a unique view of the world, their own . . . , individual . . . , World Map.

In times of change and transition, we are disoriented. Our brains start by searching through our maps for familiar terrain, places, and paths — the ones that have helped us successfully navigate our experience.  If we fail to find a map that can serve us, we may reach a point where we agree with the old map makers, who when reaching the end of the known world, wrote, “Beyond here there be dragons.”

In our organizations and relationships, all of us act and react based on our maps. This works well until we are confronted with the extraordinary. The extraordinary can take many forms, an organization shake-up, a stock market collapse, a trip to another country, a death. When we encounter the extraordinary, we are invited to choose: turn back to the familiar and safety of our known map or confront and befriend the dragons of the unknown, creating a new map.

We were talking of dragons, Tolkien and I
In a Berkshire Bar. The big workman
Who had sat silent and sucked his pipe
All evening, from his empty mug
With gleaming eye glanced toward us:
“I seen ’em myself!” he said fiercely.
                 C.S. Lewis in The Alliterative Metre

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