Change Stumbling

Change-making requires accepting some degree of failure. How we deal with our stumbles determines how or whether we succeed.

If you’re reading this in early January (or maybe the weeks after your birthday or some other significant anniversary) you might find yourself head-long into a struggle to implement some change-making plan. This might be a New Years Resolution or some other commitment to change.

It’s also where things start to stumble. Fitness App Strava looked at more than 800 million user-logged activities and found that people were most likely to give up on their New Years Resolution on January 19th. That’s less than three weeks into the calendar (up from January 12th in their previous studies).

Rather than accept that the end is near (or here) its worth reconsidering the entire enterprise from the perspective of change, innovation, and evaluation.

Stumble and Roll

There’s a lot we can learn about adversity from stunt professionals or Parkour practitioners (which to many might seem the same thing). These practitioners understand that any attempt at something new or challenging performed while moving is likely to result in a fail at some point so they design their approach with that built in.

The ‘Parkour roll’ is designed to protect the practitioner while maintaining forward movement. The aim is to roll, not fall.

The same principle can be applied to other areas of personal or organizational change. What often happens is we create moments of stoppage that ends our momentum and requires that we have start all over again.

Motivation (and willpower) is much like a muscle and thus exhibits similar behaviour of energy use, release, and rest requirements. Muscles rarely ever just stop suddenly, rather they change their motion and movement. When we design our change initiatives its with this in mind that nurturing this movement principle in the design is critical.

This is how we roll.

Adaptive Strategy & Foresight

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Mike Tyson

Among the first means to maintain movement is to anticipate changes to the plan. Just as the quote above suggests, we get hit and our plans change. But good fighters know this in advance and the best design plans to account for this. This ability to adapt and change is at the heart of adaptive strategy.

An effective adaptive strategy is one that also preserves momentum and continues to move the organization forward. While there are times when it is appropriate to stop and reflect, complex situations rarely afford such opportunities to do so without requiring all the energy — social, emotional, political, and financial — to re-start.

This approach also utilizes foresight, by building in a futures-focus to what you’re seeking to accomplish through visualizing success, creating a desired or preferred future scenarios, and through analyzing the various trends and patterns that are in action to provide a sense of what could happen to better prepare for what does happen.

Evaluating for Change

Lastly, an adaptive, developmental approach to evaluation is required. This means focusing on the decisions, actions, context, and resulting outcomes, rather than comparison against anticipated outcomes. For situations where there is a clearly preferred outcome, evaluation can help position the present activities in relation to those outcomes to help gauge the distance (relative or otherwise) between what is happening and what is desired.

What may come is a need to re-think and re-frame what the desired or expected outcome might be.

The key messages here are:

  • Plan well, but adaptively. Avoid being vague or too specific (SMART goals don’t always fit).
  • Design systems to support your change efforts and don’t rely on motivation and willpower.
  • Anticipate that things won’t work out as planned and plan for that.
  • Look where patterns and trends are and see how your efforts align or confront them.
  • Monitor your activity and make adjustments ongoing.
  • Keep moving in spite of failures; restart whenever you stop.

So as you come to hit the wall of your plan, it’s time to rethink not only the plan but how we roll along with the punches that life inevitably throws our way to help us roll our way to success.

Note: Looking to build your organizational judo capacity? Contact me and we can spar a little to show you principles, practices, and tools that might help keep you rolling when change comes.

Photo by Federico Lancellotti on Unsplash

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

%d bloggers like this: