This Changes Everything

I borrow Klein’s book title to locate myself within the literature of activating change – before I go into the rabbit-hole of ‘reactions to change’.

Yet “This Changes Everything” is, improbably, Klein’s most optimistic book. She braids together the science, psychology, geopolitics, economics, ethics and activism that shape the climate question. The result is the most momentous and contentious environmental book since “Silent Spring.” Here

In my workplace I am observing a community engage in a discussion about a change to the workplace, to the place of the community and the spaces for effective action. In such ecosystems subject to change a few stakeholder groups are clearly delineated: On one side are the specialists grappling with the accommodation-problem, focussed upon delivering an optimal fit. On another aside are the institutional stakeholders facilitating the process. In the middle is the impacted community. Digging into my development discourse past, Medha Patkar eloquently captures this process in her development narrative.

Otherwise, the elites — the haves — take their own big share of the cake, and the voices of the marginalized people — their vision of development, even their valuation of their own resources — are never really heard and are not included in the cost-benefit analyses of the planning agencies. Equitable and sustainable development presumes that the natural resources will be used. But in the choice of technologies and the priorities of goals and objectives, the preference should be given to the most needy sections, not to those who already have. Here

I use this passage to bracket – the most needy sections – as a narrative of ‘loss’ resulting from the practice of power. ‘Those who already have’ are the ones that have the voice. So change in this narrative is synonymous with loss, and contains the potential to produce loss.

Change in the workplace is similar in some ways, but potentially a different phenomenon altogether. Change is the workplace is also a subject of inquiry and management action. Change in the work place is common, frequent and cyclical.


Tips for Managing Change

When I went looking, to do a quick research project as one interested in producing social good, I found a wealth of material. Especially the statement “Everybody has different reactions and responses to change” (here). This is a site to help nonprofits in their campaigns to achieve social change. It strikes a cautionary note – before going on to present a modified Kubler Ross model (a modified Kubler Ross Model for coping with and managing change here). In fact the modified Kubler Ross Model is what prompted me to write this post. I have both an interest in Death (therefore theories of grieving) and an abiding love for “All that Jazz” and its riff of the Kubler Ross Stages (here).

One way of considering how to manage people through change is to consider everyone as having a comfort zone, that is a way of operating and understanding their world within which they feel safe. Everyone’s comfort zone is unique. Some things which might be safe to one person will strike fear into the heart of another. In the same way changes at work will stretch the comfort zones of some people and might be hardly noticed by others.

Changes such as moving to a different office, changing working patterns or having a new manager can be disorienting for staff and volunteers and you will want to consider likely reactions and responses.

It is generally acknowledged that some stretching of people’s comfort zones is healthy. Indeed some gentle challenge may build confidence as people realise they are capable of more than they realised.

However, sudden change, or too much change causes stress and anxiety. The result of this is that people will tend to retreat to where they feel safe and can become very reluctant to adapt.  Take a look at understanding and managing resistance for guidance on managing this.

So when you are introducing change, try to do it gradually , gently stretching boundaries, allowing people’s confidence to grow in their ability to change. (More here)

(RMIT Design HUB Time Lapse here )


Why people Resist Change

This post lists the top 12 reasons people resist change (here). I list a few here:

  1. Fear of the unknown — One of the most common reasons for resistance is fear of the unknown. People will only take active steps toward the unknown if they genuinely believe – and perhaps more importantly, feel – that the risks of standing still are greater than those of moving forward in a new direction

  2. Connected to the old way — If you ask people in an organization to do things in a new way, as rational as that new way may seem to you, you will be setting yourself up against all that hard wiring, all those emotional connections to those who taught your audience the old way – and that’s not trivial

  3. Low trust — When people don’t believe that they, or the company, can competently manage the change there is likely to be resistance

  4. Changes to routines — When we talk about comfort zones we’re really referring to routines. We love them. They make us secure. So there’s bound to be resistance whenever change requires us to do things differently

This list of “how people react to change” is also useful (here):

  • Anxiety – can I cope?

  • Happiness – at last something is going to change!

  • Fear – what impact will the change have on me?

  • Threat – the problem is bigger than I thought.

  • Guilt – are the past failings down to me?

  • Disillusionment – this is not for me so I’m leaving.

  • Acceptance – maybe things won’t be so bad.

  • Excitement – I’m looking forward to the challenge.

This is another post from where I derive an Anger-Ethusiasm continuum (here). This aligns to the Social Change – Social Inertia dialectic (wikipedia on Social Inertia here). We meander into Bourdieu territory here – and the reactions of traditional society and cultural elites to change. Quote below:

Within the cultural inertia framework, the dominant group is stable and resists cultural change, while subordinate groups desire cultural changes which incorporate their cultural traditions so that they don’t have to assimilate into the dominant culture. In the context of the United States and immigration, the framework suggests that white majority members resist the cultural change that occurs from immigration, while immigrant groups try to enact change in U.S. culture.

Another place to start readings is Theories of Social Change here. The quote below is brilliant and should encourage you to click and read more.

To the question whether we are progressing or not or whether we are more cultured than our ancestors, no absolute answer can be given. Comte, it may be recalled, believed in the perfectibility of society, although he considered that perfection was something that men would have via science. Marx also advanced the thesis that progress was a law of society. Nothing could prevent the coming of communism where all men would share alike and all would be content. In those days progress was regarded as a ‘cultural compulsion.’

For those more organizationally inclined there is a post on coping with change (here).

Change is constant in the workplace. Different people react to change in different ways. While some embrace change, others resist or stall the process to the detriment of themselves and their company. This article discusses how individuals can adapt to change more easily and minimize change-induced stress.

It offers up this further trigger to reflection:

Which description fits you? Can you think of people in your workplace who fall into each of these behavioral types when confronted with change? Where do the majority of your co-workers fit?

My personal reflection took me on the path of ‘excitement’ – I am looking at change as an opportunity. I am excited by the potential of community offered up. The text and link (here) offer a liberating potential. I hope you give this a read and agree with me.

More recently, CSI has begun to understand its work through a new lens. Our emerging Theory of Change is most succinctly communicated through the following image:

CSI Theory of Change Pyramid showing Space, Community and Innovation layers

We begin at the bottom of the pyramid, focussing on the creation of the physical space. We do this carefully, designing a space that’s functional, whimsical, inviting and energizing.

The next layer is community. What begins as a group of people looking for a place to work becomes a community through conscious and careful curating and programming.

These layers form the basis for innovation — the serendipity that happens when you mix the right people, the right values and the right environment; when you set the conditions for social innovation emergence.

The results are unpredictable. And often astonishing.


If you have arrived at the end here – then you may probably also be interested in CoDesign, Redesigning Government and the Nudge Unit. Take a look at this Freakanomics podcast:

Further Reading

You may like this – and we can ‘cope’ better.

Imagine a world that is populated with small fiefdoms all throughout the land. Each has a Castle, with a king or queen, and Villagers. The Castle and the Village metaphor represents two poles of psychological coping: over regulation and under regulation.  Each has it’s strengths and it’s weaknesses. But, when either is overly prominent, rigidly adhered to, problems arise.