We have introduced the term “navigating change” to describe the journey of change – for the individuals and teams we work with in their personal and interpersonal exploration of change.
Using a seafarers description around change may seem unusual and we’d like to credit Fernando Flores of Berkeley, California for the gift of the term. He gifted ‘navigating’ to an entire cohort of learners during his Dwelling program. It is a word we have wrestled with to understand its power in the domain of change and transformation.
For the past two years we have been exploring the notion of navigating. In our work – yes – but more so in our lives. We have buddied it up with some very helpful ‘Pema-isms’ – ideas extracted from the work of our coach and Guide, Pema Chodron and it is beginning to shape a beautiful pathway for change-makers. How do we ‘be’ with and navigate change – no matter what conditions present?
To navigate. To “plan and direct the course of a ship, aircraft, or other form of transport, especially by using instruments or maps”. We of course substitute the word ship with ‘human’ and and instruments with ‘tools’.
We see our role in change as helping humans navigate better by providing them with tools for the journey.
The basics to begin with – to operate the vessel – understanding her constituent parts and how to manage her in a range of conditions. We introduce our learners to the notion of a journey and explore how they can manage themselves in both calm and rough weather. The basics involve us helping change-makers identify their current capability to navigate. The mood they present, the story they own, and how to shift these before embarking wholesale on the adventure. We’d rather our crew set forth with the moods of wonder and ambition over anxiety and resentment.
Our tools are not tools that are easily taught – or easily lived. Adopting the toolkit requires a kind of vulnerability and the capacity to declare ones-self a learner. Taking leaders from the ‘top of their game’, re-framing past experiences, exploring possibilities, relearning and building new skills can be a deeply humbling experience. And a necessary one. This is the tricky part of change. It requires individuals to ‘shift their being’ to successfully navigate the changing conditions around them – and that can involve unravelling habitual behaviours that have so far brought success to the very same individuals we are asking to change.
So, ‘change’ at the organisational or collective level requires us to work deeply with individuals to enable and equip them to make new choices. I LOVE that we call it a choice. In celebrating adult learning, our ‘offer’ is always an offer and requires learners to ‘opt-in’. Choice is liberating and legitimising for both change agent and change-maker – it drives accountability by default.
These choices are where our Pema-isms help. What is a Pema-ism? This is a phrase we coined to take the ancient wisdom that Pema articulates so beautifully and apply it to our change work. Here’s a taste:
Noticing: It seems like such an innocuous aspect of change, but it is oh so crucial. It is not an outwards noticing we begin with, but and inward awareness. What’s happening for me in this moment? Where am I breathing from? What emotions can I sense? What’s the mood I hold around this? Is there an unhelpful story fuelling my moods and emotion?
Staying: OK, so I have connected with a feeling around this. It’s time to stay. I have a choice. I can revert to my habitual response (like anger or ‘get busy with distraction’, gossip, avoid etc), or I can let this uncomfortable feeling inform me. Stay. Just breathe. What are my choices?
Accepting: Often our resistance to change has a relationship with our inability to accept. We want to fight a decision, oppose an event and understand ‘why’. Opposing by nature breeds resentment, and at the individual and collective level prohibits change. The thing is this…we do not need to like what has happened in order to accept it. It does mean working with emotion that’s uncomfortable, naming it and making friends with what might feel like an old enemy. So, we ask, ‘what is it that I am opposing and cannot change? How would it be for me if I could accept this? What opens to me as a possibility now?’
Kindness: We often ask our students which of them are parents. When the hands go up we ask them about their experience of teaching their children to walk. How many times did your child fall down when first learning to walk? How many times did you pick them up? Did any of them fail? Why? Are they all walking today? It’s a funny sequence and here’s the punch line…The process of learning new skills and new distinctions around change requires that we as adults extend the same kind of kindness and care for ourselves as learners as we do for our children taking their first steps. We make mistakes, and fall down (sometimes countless times) and each time, we have a choice around the words of encouragement we extend. This domain of learning requires extreme kindness and patience. For some reason this notion is so much more difficult to accept as adults and especially towards ourselves. Kindness to self lies at the heart of the kind of tolerance, understanding and patience required during times of change.
These kinds of concepts (and many more) sit at the heart of our change work. These concepts must be lived first and taught second. They underscore every other skill we enable our changers with, and the accelerate the adoption of more formulaic skills like dialogue and accountability skills.
We love the quote by Bill Drayton on our website (no relation) “Every successful organisation has to make the transition from a world defined primarily by repetition to one primarily defined by change. This is the biggest transformation in the structure of how humans work together since the Agricultural Revolution”. The key word for us though is humans. Large scale change in our organisations requires change in our humans. The transformation of our existence on our planet requires a transformation in our humans. You cannot ‘do change’ if you can’t offer the ‘human changers’ a chance to ‘be that change’ and a sustainable pathway that supports resilience in their being the change.