Aphorisms about change and stability abound and the truths they tell can set us free if we listen.
We’ve all heard the aphorisms.
The only constant is change.
The more things do change, the more they remains as they are.
These paradoxical statements have truth to them largely because the change we experience is often individual within a context that is systemic. This relationship says much about the manner in which we are able to facilitate, process, make sense of, and integrate change into our lives.
Individuals Within Systems
One reason these aphorisms hold is that change is rarely unified and that’s the mistake we make when we try to create it or measure it. By unified, it means the individual might experience a transformation, but she still works within a system that hasn’t changed. This is particularly acute and problematic for those battling addictions who do the work to make personal changes and struggle when they go back to systems that promote substance use. Or consider the case of the individual who is sent to a learning event, gets inspired to make things happen, only to find they have no ability to integrate their learning into their organizational context.
Alternatively, we have situations like COVID-19 where massive systemic changes have taken place and individuals, some tired of the initial restrictions and changes, are falling back into the habits of behaviour they had before the pandemic. Taking this further, we are seeing individuals spend, socialize, and tackle issues of adaptation whether it’s work or home or otherwise in ways that use the same pre-pandemic mindset when the labour market, economy, and social context might be shifting for the foreseeable future.
It’s critical that we recognize what is changing and what is staying the same if we want to understand change dynamics. The key is to pay attention to the right thing and capture the right thing, right.
Measurement for Change: Forests and Trees
One of the mistakes we make when assessing change is that we fail to focus on individuals within systems. We measure individual actions or attitudes, yet fail to capture the context of those activities or we look at systemic structures — policies, organizational culture — without looking at how or whether there are pathways of influence created within them where individuals are making a difference.
Measuring change requires we look at both, otherwise we are missing either the trees or the forests within them — to use another aphorism.