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Knowing Change and Transition to Speed Thriving

The rapidity of change and transition is like being caught in a water park's funnel ride that swirls and spins leading to wild upward swings like a roller coaster only to drop down, spinning out of control until it reaches the bottom in a massive splash of cascading water in an overwhelming adrenaline rush leaving one gasping and sputtering.

This rapidity of change and transition is evident in the history of the industrial revolution that began in England then moved to the United States with boot factories and woolen mills outside of Boston, Massachusetts in the late 18th Century and early 19th Century giving way to the mass production of automobiles and other consumer good in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries that has given way to 21st Century three dimensional printing of N95 masks and houses and weapons and waffles in homes, industrial corporations and business offices. These industrial changes gave rise to new technology yielding space shuttles, Space X manned mission to the International Space Station, high definition televisions, smartphones, and laptop computers. Medical advances in areas such as genetics carry much promise for human health and well-being, but also present ethical issues about designer babies and embryonic stem cell research. Added to this is the changes and transitions in employment and career patterns on a global scale as are the ways of connecting people around the world through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and video conferencing. All of these changes and transitions are creating a larger and denser understanding of community.

Yet while all these changes and transitions are so familiar, most people still do not understand change and transition despite all the books and TED talks about change and all the articles touting change. This lack of understanding is evident in the high failure rate of planned change efforts in business organizations, congregations and individuals' efforts to engage change and transition as well as in the lack of change and transition topics in graduate business degree programs, graduate education programs and seminary degree programs, all of which are designed to create new leaders, who will lead efforts to change, revitalize, or transform business, congregations, communities, and families.

So what do we mean when we say the words "change and transition?"

Change, as I describe it, is the shifting material life conditions of persons, families, organizations and communities of faith, and communities that require an adjusting emotional response I call transition from a person, family, organization, community of faith or community. Everyone will experience change and their response to that change will dictate whether they are imprisoned in the present and future by their past or they are set free to discover the path to a thriving and sustainable future. It is worth noting that change may be planned like a wedding, a graduation, retirement, creating a new product line or starting a new genre of worship. Change may be also unplanned like accidents, hurricanes, pregnancy, being laid off from work, a pandemic, or being caught engaging in inappropriate behavior.

All of these are a shift in a material life condition and each one requires a response, including an emotional response to that shift. Change theorists have proposed a number of models to respond to these shifts in material life conditions. The earliest are Kurt Lewin's integrated Field Theory, Group Dynamics and 3 Step Model. Those change theorists coming after Lewin have created a variety of models from Ronald Lippett's seven step model, a five step model, John Kotter's eight step model, a social cognitive behavior model, Everett Roger's 5 Step Diffusion model, Prochaska and DiClemente's Spiral Model of Change to be used in patient care and Aspen Institute's Theory of Change model for community activists. The latest model is a 6 Step Changeology model.

What all of these models have in common is they are all about planned change. They are all rational, they are all goal centered, they focus on human behaviors and they give advice for these leading change. Also, they all admit the change process is not quick , taking 7 to 10 years to reach completion, and is likely to fail if those leading change do not attend to every one of the components or steps. The other commonality is none of the planned change models fully consider the emotional response integral to all change, planned or unplanned, that is called transition, which is the other side of the coin of change.

All change begins with an ending that is experienced as a death. Like all deaths, endings are disorienting with grief and a time of fertile emptiness leading to reflections about who the person, the organization, the community of faith, or the community is now. Actively grieving for what has ended gives people the opportunity to acknowledge that the ending has happened, that it is painful and that feelings of confusion and being set adrift in the world without direction are real. This time of fertile emptiness allows questions about why do I exist? Why does this organization or community of faith exist? Why is what I am doing important for me to thrive, for my family, my community to thrive? Such questions propel a deeper reflection to answer these questions and uncover a vast universe of possibilities for a thriving and sustainable future. However, this deep reflection is just the beginning movement toward a re-orientation of comprehending how the world works now and the creation of a new identity grounded in the "why of existence" leading to the new meaning for life flowing from the reason for one's existence. Next week I will talk more change and transitions movement, but for now consider how a new path may lead you out into the forest of change and transition.

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