(Site note - Scroll down for citations. I will update the Executive Summary section as I post chapters for review. - Wendy 2/27/19)
On a rainy summer day in Arlington, Virginia a few years back, I had coffee with CK, a technology futurist and a friend of one of my mentors.1 During a broad conversation, she excitedly exclaimed – “Everything is going to get faster and faster! Everyone needs to get comfortable with everything changing quickly!” Change or die! And better do it quick!
I got uncomfortable. I’ve seen way too much change overload – where so much is changing at once that people just tune out.
More. Faster. Oh yeah – and keep all the legacy stuff.
Few seem to have the patience to set one direction and march that way long enough so that they can see results.
I’ve seen too much change all at once result in what I fondly call “The Rubber Band Effect.” Like excitedly going strict Paleo and binging on candy bars and beer three days after you start.
I started thinking that maybe the way we talk about and approach “Change” is doing us a disservice.
The marketing around personal improvement focuses on making change quick and painless, ideally with little effort on your part.
There is also an assumption that once you get through that 28-day program (or 7-week program, or however long they want your attention), that the change will stick, again with little to no effort on your part.
In the personal improvement space, the focus is on changing yourself. There is little discussion of how your change impacts others, or how your environment can support or hinder your efforts.
However, many of us are trying to improve ourselves in response to, and in the context of, a destabilizing environment.
After that coffee with CK, I thought that maybe there was a different way to approach the conversation around change.
At first, I wanted to eliminate any notion of “faster” from the conversation.
I didn’t see how “Faster! More!” helped anyone.
All I saw was my professional colleagues opting out of their careers while in their prime. They either opted out by “retiring” or disengaging in place. The folks that didn’t entirely disconnect were anxious (on a good day) and burned out.
I saw entrepreneurial friends struggling to prioritize, focus, and get things done.
I saw personal friends struggling with chronic illness, decision-making, and establishing healthy habits. I sensed a deep, almost existential exhaustion exacerbated by anger and frustration.
There is so much information, opportunities, demands, and advice about what one “should” do coming at people – exacerbated by the carefully cultivated chaos sowed in our social media – that is it any wonder that we are struggling with our baseline physical and mental health, our sense of security, and our feelings of belonging?
A few months later, in the Virginia Piedmont with the Greenermind East crew, I asked whether we could get “faster” out of the change conversation altogether.2
Maybe we could find ways to better align with nature when we think about change.
Nature works at different paces. The flight of birds. The drift of clouds. The change of seasons. The growth of a tree. The formation and erosion of hills. These things only go as “fast” as they are supposed to go.
“Wendy, one of the defining hallmarks of humans is that we want to change our environment so that we are more comfortable and don’t have to work so hard.”3
The history of technology is a history of people figuring out how to do things easier…and faster.
I then realized that, throughout history, once people figure out how to do something easier and faster, they replace the gap in activity created by the invention with another activity – NOT more leisure.
Even with the desire to create more “time-savings,” things will still happen at their appropriate speed. That speed is often “slower” than many would prefer and you can’t force them to go faster.
Culture change comes to mind. Habit development is another. Writing a book is a third.
Maybe there is a better way to think about change.
Maybe there is a way to more naturally accommodate the time it takes for manifestation, mastery, and mindset adjustment.
Maybe there is a model we can use to stabilize the foundations again.
Those conversations back in the middle of 2017 were the beginnings of a search to solve my own problem.
At the time I talked to CK, I had just finished a major client project. It was successful by the standard measures of project success – on time (barely) and under budget (significantly).
The client was happy. They now had the foundations to execute on the strategic initiatives they defined during the project.
I was exhausted and miserable. A career spent on high-stress, highly politicized projects where I was the inflictor of change and focus of angst had taken its toll.
I needed some distance from the system.
Something wasn’t right and, judging from the growing number of colleagues opting out, it wasn’t just me.
My reaction to discomfort is to bury myself in research. I had the sense that what we were experiencing was not isolated. What I found was both disturbing and heartening.
Disturbing because I learned that the system is working as designed, but working for very few and breaking the rest. Heartening because I learned that my friends and I were not alone.
According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the Workplace report, only 15% of workers are engaged in their work. Among those highly engaged in their work, Yale found that 1 in 5 of those people reported burnout.
In Q1 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the hours worked were up 2.3%, but the output per hour was only up 0.4%. Labor productivity growth is historically low.
The World Economic Forum found that 82% of the wealth created in 2017 went to the top 1% of the world’s population. Wages remain flat.
Price Waterhouse Cooper, in a survey of CEOs, found that 77% saw that the availability (or lack thereof) of key skills is the biggest threat to their business, especially creativity and innovation skills.
The people I see throwing in the towel are the same people possessing the skills that CEOs feel they need to advance their businesses. These are people with the technical, creativity, and innovation skills organizations claim they are looking for. The people who are throwing in the towel not only have the sought-after skill, this skill has been cultivated and refined over a decade or more.
And yet, since I’ve been doing this research, I see more articles in my LinkedIn feed complaining of ageism, racism, sexism, over-enthusiastic human resources automation sifting out highly qualified individuals due to blunt keyword searches, and hiring managers with no time or energy to develop anyone, nevermind having the bandwidth to properly onboard a new team member.
I see those that are working in organizations questioning why they are doing what they are doing. I often see my entrepreneurial friends asking the same questions as they look at their client load. I see people rightly demanding meaningful work that makes a real and positive impact on their world and power structures unable to truly address that request due to their own pressures and demands.
We are fundamentally faced with a wicked problem.
Alan Watkins and Ken Wilber, in Wicked and Wise, defined a wicked problem as one that:
Contains multi-dimensions in that the problem and potential solution has both an interior component where an individual or collective need to change beliefs and thinking and an exterior component where there needs to be a change to systems and behavior,
Has multiple stakeholders, each of whom have multiple dimensions themselves and unique perspectives,
Is a result of multiple causes that are often intertwined and interdependent,
Have multiple symptoms, many of which are wicked problems in their own right,
Contain the possibility of multiple solutions, which may or may not exacerbate other problems,
And is constantly evolving.
We're in an environment that's incredibly destabilizing and it's made worse by our foundations being undermined.
In Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (below) – the first level is physiology, the second level is safety and security, the third is belonging.
Beyond the burnout and disengagement statistics I cited earlier, there are more foundational issues.
People are not sleeping well. According the Centers for Disease Control (2014), over 35% of adults get less than the recommended 7 hours per night. People who slept less were more likely to experience chronic conditions such as heart failure, asthma, anxiety, depression,stroke, arthritis, cancer, and diabetes. 5
Even among those who got the full 7+ hours, 35% of those individuals suffered from poor sleep quality. 6 Our inability to rest affects our ability to handle stress, our decision making, our mental health, even our weight. 7
We are also not eating well. The most recent US Government Dietary Guidelines report (2015-2020) paints a depressing picture:
About three-fourths of the population has an eating pattern that is low in vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils.
More than half of the population is meeting or exceeding total grain and total protein foods recommendations, but are not meeting the recommendations for the subgroups within each of these food groups. Americans are eating more refined grains instead of whole grains and are more likely to eat beef, chicken, eggs, and processed meats over other forms of protein such as fish or legumes.
Most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.
More than 2/3 of all US adults and 1/3 of US children are overweight or obese, implying that many individuals consume high-calorie diets. 8
Even those of us who are trying to eat healthy, there's a lot of questions about what's going on with our food and water supply.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations observed that “The number of extreme climate-related disasters, including extreme heat, droughts, floods and storms, has doubled since the early 1990s,with an average of 213 of these events occurring every year during the period of 1990–2016. These harm agricultural productivity contributing to shortfalls in food availability, with knock-on effects causing food price hikes and income losses that reduce people’s access to food.” 9
Furthermore, the path from farm to table in our current environment contains multiple opportunities for food contamination. According to the World Health Organization, Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. An estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420 000 die every year.
With the globalization of our food supply, food safety has become more complex. And, with the increased use of anti-microbials in agriculture and animal husbandry, we are seeing an increase in resistant bacteria. 10
Finally, there is heated debate about the safety of genetically modified foods and their impact on our bodies and our environment. 11 Over 90% of all corn and soybean products in our food supply are GMO. Since corn and soybeans also show up in most of our processed food, over 75% of processed food contain at least one GMO ingredient. 12
We are also destabilized at the level of safety and security.
The Gig economy is growing. More people work as contractors or contingent workers. Some of us hold multiple jobs. Though the United States Bureau of Labor Statistic reported a recent decline, The Brookings Institute noted that a sizable share of workers in the United States still remain outside the traditional employment structure and consequently lack many of the protections and benefits that come with being a traditional employee. 13
Though layoffs and discharges have stabilized to fluctuate between 1.5 million and 2 million people monthly since June 2010, that’s still over 1.5 million with job insecurity. This doesn’t account for the time spent prior to the discharge wondering about whether you will have a job tomorrow. 14
Fundamentally, people are being treated like cogs in a machine. It's an old model and it's very dehumanizing. This is what we're working with.
The way I see it, it behooves us individually to get ourselves right and then make sure that when we interact with others that we're doing so as best as we can on any given day from a place of respect.
It's easier to do that if we're sleeping well and if we're well nourished, than if we're not. It’s easier to do when we feel secure in ourselves than if we don’t.
I'm going to speak for myself. Sometimes I feel like a failure because I'm not reacting very well to the crazy that's going on out there. And it strikes me that maybe being angry and depressed is a healthy reaction to what we're seeing in our organizations, what we're seeing in the world and how we're interacting with each other.
Angry and depressed is an exhausting (and unhealthy) way to live.15
Optional Exercise: Track your sleep patterns and the quality of your interactions for one week.
On the days where you've slept well, things are going well, and you're in a decent mood, observe how you interact with others. Especially when someone's giving you bad news or they're being aggravating.
Do the same thing on days where you haven't slept well and things aren't going your way. You're running around meeting to meeting to meeting, eating junk food. Maybe someone brought a cake. How are you interacting with others? Where's your hair trigger? You might be surprised by what you find.
This observation can also serve as an informational baseline for any change you wish to make. You will need that mindfulness as you work towards your goals.
As I looked at the landscape of my life and career and sat with this wicked problem, I remembered that the only thing I really have control over is me. The best I can do is to work towards my highest self and cultivate healthy relationships with others.
It's tough to interact in healthy ways, especially if someone's angering you, if you're tired or hungry, if you're overwhelmed and overstressed.
That's why I'm focused on personal change planning. My theory is that if you're able to experience what successful change looks like on a very personal level, how that change impacts other people, and how that impacts your interactions with other people, you will be able to apply that experience to larger-scale initiatives.
At the end of the day, an organization is a group of people and each one of those people is an individual. They are not cogs in the machine. They're not toys that you mess with in your system and hope it works well.
Real change needs to start in ourselves. The next place it goes is in our interactions with others, the one on one interactions. Those are really the only places where we have any real hope of creating a world we can thrive in.
To start, we need to define for ourselves what direction we wish to head before changing for change's sake. Changing habits requires significant cognitive load. By doing pre-change analysis, we can help reduce that load by:
Evaluating whether the change is going to move us in the direction of our goals - and letting go of the changes that won't
Reducing the number of initiatives / changes we are trying to embark on at once and setting aside what can be done later
Developing a clear inventory of what we already have to work with - so we don't need to "reinvent the wheel"
Breaking down larger changes into small steps. These small steps provide clarity around "what to do next."
The Change Planning Model leverages Ken Wilber's All Quadrants, All Levels framework to help determine:
The short and long term impact of the change you are proposing across your life, other's life, your relationships, and the systems of your life.
Whether you SHOULD make the change.
What you already have to work with that will help make the gap between your current state and your desired state less daunting.
What resources you need to help the change succeed.
We can use the outputs from the model to help us break down change into easy-to-do steps that are more likely to stick.
(Site note - I will be updating this section as I release chapters for review. Book size currently 7 Chapters total + Intro) - Wendy 2/27/19)
Chapter 1 - What we know about change - A summary of current research around how change sticks. The fundamental components:
Create an environment that supports your change
Find good accountability partners and mentors
Put yourself in a supportive environment
Make it easy to succeed
Aim for 95% doable - increase your confidence
Try for 1% improvement (Kaizen)
Use “Failure” as a learning experience – maintain growth mindset
Chapter 2 - Clarifying your greater vision and confirming the values you hold.
Personal sovereignty - taking responsibility for your life
The importance of vision in decision-making
Values - what they are and finding YOURS (vs the values others have defined for you)
How your values map to your vision
How your values and vision change over time
Chapter 3 - Roadmapping and developing your “North”
An introduction to Roadmaps
Determining where you are now
Developing your “North”
An introduction to Portfolios, Programs, and Project
Build the Roadmap
Develop your target
Clarify your “Why”
Identify your baseline
Building the “to-do” list
Defining and addressing the “Problem”
An introduction to Backlogs and how they can be useful
Chapter 4 - Prioritization and Focus
Focus, Prioritization, and Overload
3 Scenarios to answer “What should I do first?”
The discipline of prioritization
Focus - 3 Questions
1 The futurist I talked to can be found at All Things CK.
2 More information about Greenermind and Greenermind East can be found at http://www.greenermindsummit.com/gmseast-venue/
3 To the person at Greenermind East 2017 who reminded me of this – thanks and, hopefully, you will contact me with your name so I can give you appropriate credit.
4 I’ve written about this before at http://middlecurve.com/the-cost-of-burning-out-your-staff/. Other great resources on this topic: Andy Jordan – Changing Work, Changing Needs; Anxiety Leads to Bad Decisions
10 http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/food-safety There is some debate as to whether the number of foodborne illnesses are increasing. http://blog.neogen.com/foodborne-illness-on-the-rise-whats-really-going-on/ However, 76 million foodborne illnesses, including 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, occur in the United States each year. That’s about 1 in 6 people – enough to be alarming. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20500787
15 (I’m not going to bother with a citation here because there is so much current research. Just google health and anger or health and depression.)