On starting points for change

By definition the status quo holds. The way things are settles into patterns of conformity and repetition, defaults and norms. The here-and-now of our lives processes with daily, weekly, monthly rituals and rhythms. It’s an effort to keep challenging and enquiring into the possibilities of different. It takes bandwidth to see the opportunity, effort to figure things out, willingness to try and recognition that it might not work so well. It might not be an improvement, or it might not. The joy is that we don’t know.

We stand today, present and held in place by those habitual practices which bring order to our lives and free us up to focus on other novel or more taxing things. Like foundations deep into the ground these ties provide stability and keep things in place. It would be exhausting to figure out every day how we are going to get to work or to try a new recipe for dinner every night. 

Not only that, the more time that passes the deeper these foundations can become. There are positives and negatives to this, of course. The stronger the foundation the more resilience to shock; however, perhaps the deeper foundations have also created a degree of brittleness which is now unable to flex when an exogenous shock hits – a storm or a health scare, perhaps. 

The status quo is also held in place by the past. The more our habits persist the more they are rooted in the past. We are also drawn to the past through feelings of legacy and nostalgia, myth and legend, the things we’ve done, the memories we have. For an opportunity or idea to be seen and taken, we need a sense of direction, an ambition for the new or different. It has to overcome the inertia of the status quo and the pull of the past. 

Yet we see all too often that change arises as a force pushing us out of our comfort zone, as the storm batters our inflexible foundations and we scramble for shelter, hoping to out-wait the worst of it and return to the familiarity of our before. We simply have to find a way to flex in its wake. This pressure for change can emerge from a range of sources. It might be a loss of a job, new leadership, a disaster, a serious service failure and so on. These burning platforms demand change. 

Less dramatic but equally pernicious is the boiling frog situation in which pressure slowly builds up, If we ignore the warning signs we find ourselves caught up in a situation we may not be able to get out of, like the frog unable to jump out of the water as it gradually heats up. 

Both of these external pressures force us out of our patterns and drive change. 

Harder, though, is internal change. This can arise from a bright idea or bold ambition, like a magnet pulling us into the future. Here, we need a multi-pronged approach, at the heart of which is sales. For any new idea to land and be adopted, in our lives, communities or organisations, we have to sell it, to make the intangible tangible. Influence is key. And there are many reasons why this is a hard task (bandwidth, resources, risk, reputation, cultural norms etc). These reasons are the status quo and history playing their jokers, the immune response to change, crowding out the possibility of the new. We have to work twice as hard as people will feel the loss of the old more intensely than the gain of the new. 

Then there is the potentially most profound change as we see our beliefs shift. When our beliefs and values start to move, it opens up a whole new array of opportunity, changing what we see, where we focus, the meaning we attach to things and the actions we take. It’s a truism to say that all lasting change starts within each and every one of us. 

Pressure for change model

Of course, these four core drivers of change, and the status quo that confronts them, act together in a dynamic tension. An opportunity may arise out of a disaster and open up the route towards a long-standing idea but be stymied by the underlying values. A different type of failing may close down a set of ideas as they are now seen as too risky, or an opportunity may emerge out of nowhere but not be in service to any current set of ideas. Aligning and working across all four may be a more advantageous way of proceeding. 

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