What Are The Two Challenges At The Heart Of Change?

The Traditional Take On Change

So much has been written on change – particularly organisational change. It occurs to me that this material is mostly written by folks sitting in the stands, observing the game of change being played out on the court by others, and interpreting what they see through their preferred lens – the dominant one being the cognitivist-psychological one.

A favourite of change management orthodoxy is the Kubler-Ross model: the five stages of grief. The ‘love’ of this model (the content – 5 stages of grief) is so strong that almost nobody bothers to grapple with the context.  What am I pointing at?  The fact that this model was derived by speaking with those facing terminal illness.  The skeptic in me asks, is the person confronted with organisational change confronted with death? It occurs to me that the answer is no.

A Phenomenological Perspective On Change

What is the challenge of change as experienced by those on the court – those actually being asked to and undergoing change?  It occurs to me that the ‘as lived-experienced’ challenge of change is made of two challenges.

Challenge 1: The first challenge is that of moving from the comfortable-familiar-normal way of being-travelling in the world to a way of being-travelling that is experienced as uncomfortable-unfamiliar-abnormal and leaves one feeling exposed-vulnerable; and

Challenge 2: The second challenge is that of sticking with this new (abnormal-awkward) way of being-travelling for  long enough for this way of being-travelling to occur as comfortable-familar-normal and thus drop out of conscious awareness.

My lived experience is that most change intentions-effort-initiatives fail because of Challenge 2: the inability to be with that which shows up as unfamiliar-abnormal and experience the discomfort-exposure-vulnerability that goes with this.  This is particularly so for those people, in the organisation, who are in positions of power-privilege based on their familiarity-competence in the ‘way we do things around here’.  And it is not restricted to them: we, all of us, are members of a herd species and we herd around-on that which is familiar-comfortable-habitual-accepted practice.

What is a way of grappling with Challenge 2?  Here I lean on my experience of fasting during the month of Ramadan.  I have been most effective at fasting (no eating, no drinking) when I found myself :

  • in a community of people who are ALL engaged in fasting;
  • each person is struggling and open to sharing his struggle with regards to making the transition for eating-drinking when one wants to not eating-drinking for up to 20+ hours during summer months;
  • members of the fasting community help one another deal with the challenges that come along the way by providing encouragement-support and being living examples of the kind of behaviour that is required given the game that is being played; and
  • where temptation (especially seeing others, influential others, eating-drinking) is absent.

What shows up for me as being particularly interesting is the power of context to influence behaviour.  When I stopped being a muslim (many years ago) I stopped fasting.  Then many years later on, in the midst of summer, I found myself fasting voluntarily despite not being a muslim and no pressure to fast.  Why?  Because, I found myself in the midst of people whom I liked socially, and who turned out to be practising muslims.



Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

5 thoughts on “What Are The Two Challenges At The Heart Of Change?”

  1. Maz, I do not care for the Kubler-Ross model at all. It is a very focused observation and as all models it is an abstraction that has little to do with reality. All people grieve differently and deal with the change in the most unpredictable manners. In all consequence they should not be grieving at all because death is the most natural thing in the world. It is universal and the basis of evolutionary progress. It is the most important driver of change. Without cells in our body dying regularly and making room for new new ones to do their job we could not live as long as we do. Death is not even new to us as we all have been dead before and it was not a bad thing at all. Our fear of death is a behavioral pattern that made us better at survival. it has actually nothing to do with death itself.

    We also go through several stages in life in which change means different things to us. As a baby and into our twenties change is exciting because it turns us from a dependent into an independent. As we get beyond sixty that process is reversed and thats when we no longer like change. The question is what do we in the time in between. Einstein said, that ‘Common sense is nothing more than all the prejudice that we acquired by age eighteen.’ It is important to realize that most things we think we ‘KNOW’ have little evidence to that effect. We always need to leave room for being wrong, for learning, for different perspectives and therefore for change.

    Knowing that we will die is the largest and most important factor in being open to change. No one said it more clearly than the late Steve Jobs in his commencement speech at Stanford. If you are not doing what makes you happy you need to make a change. The only place we can drive change is within us. But what happens most is that people expect everyone else to change to suit their own desires and their inability to make a change.

    All change, no matter how well researched, thought out and planned produces uncertainty and to many people have a problem with that. They do not realize that it is this uncertainty that makes life not only interesting and exciting but it is the basis of all new things that make our life worthwhile. Meeting someone new can be disappointing but without being willing to bear with that you will never meet those people that will make your life richer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Max,

      I have been sitting with that which you have shared here. You touch on so many dimensions each value and all of them interrelated.

      Yes, I am with you at the intellectual level: death is natural, death creates space for life to show up, death creates space for the innovations in life forms, death is that which none can avoid…..

      And there is biology that is intricately linked with me, and me with this biology. This being the case, I have found that when confronted with MY death, life and living becomes pressing. Biology takes over: heart beat races, mind searches for solutions, fear is present, urgency to run away or take action…..

      I remember one incident vividly. Time came to a standstill, everything was occurring in slow motion, mind was razor sharp – totally alert to every nuance, totally focussed on figuring out how to cheat death. Action taken, Safe. And then I came back into the picture. I am totally clear that for the period where death was there, I was not, a cool-calcuating wisdom was there, in charge, saving my life.

      We are amazing. And no rational theory will every ever capture our amazingness. Nor our stupidity and selfishness.



  2. Maz,
    When it comes to change and formulas, I like the Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher model that was refined by Kathie Dannemiller. It’s sometimes called Gleicher’s Formula and says that:
    D x V x F > R
    D = Dissatisfaction with the current situation;
    V = Vision of where we would like to go and why; and
    F = the First steps that we can take towards the vision.

    If the product of all of these factors is greater than R, which is resistance, then they suggest change will be achieved.

    However, thinking about Challenge 2 that you mention. Perhaps, Gleicher’s Formula should add an additional element and one that talks to the ‘power of context to influence behaviour’ that you mention. What do you think?



    1. Hello Adrian,
      The model does not speak to me as it shows up for me as a fancy way of the saying the obvious:

      – When people are in sufficient pain that the hurt of staying put exceed the fear of moving into the unknown then movement is likely to occur; and

      – The fear of moving into the unknown can be lessened where the person ‘knows’ what steps to take.

      I call this the ‘battered wife’ syndrome. Battered wives tend to leave those who batter them when they are in sufficient pain, and they have a viable action plan: some money, or access to money, and somewhere safe to stay until then get back on their feet.

      Finally, the foundation of this model is individual and individualism. No surprise as the authors are American. As such it totally ignores the impact of context – of social influence. If your social circle also consists of ‘battered wives’ who stay then you are likely to stay. If your social circle consists of women who are doing well and once upon a time used to be ‘battered wives’ then you are likely to move away from those battering you.

      Further there is the larger social context. Take India for example, right now the larger context is more supportive of those taking a stand against the common place mistreatment (including domestic abuse and rape) of women than it was before the public outcry due to the gang rape of the 20+ year female student who died.

      Summing up: Most American models of business and change grow from and speak to a individualist-cognitivist view of the world. And as such they show up for me as being limited at best.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: