Have you ever had the sudden realization that you’d been holding your breath? For a really, really long time? Like 7 ½ years? And then it comes – that sudden intake of breath infused with life-giving oxygen, filling you up with renewed energy and a fresh perspective. In that moment, you remember what you’ve been missing. You remember what a deep breath of peace feels like. Hope.
Yesterday, as people exercised their right to vote it was as if the whole country took a collective breath – a determined, committed and conscious breath – and exhaled themselves into “a new dawn of leadership”. Barack Obama. And us. Together.
In his acceptance speech, he said, “This is our chance to answer the call. This is our moment.” Indeed, it was a moment I won’t ever forget. It was a moment – in the presence of all that fresh and wondrous oxygen – where everything seemed to make sense again and all the pieces of the puzzle seemed to fit into place.
Last night as I watched this historic event unfold I came home to what know, but had forgotten: change moves in cycles. Like the seasons, the moon, the tides and our bodies, there is a natural rhythm and cadence to things – we ebb and we flow, we wax and we wane, we expand and we contract. This is the way it has always been and will always be, even given all of our sophisticated analytics, research and technological advances. This is not to suggest we are incapable of manifesting what we want in this world – indeed, we proved that quite handily last night. I do, however, want to draw our attention to the “sweet spot” that can occur when we work with (not against) the natural rhythms in the world. Let me explain…
I have a new-found appreciation for George W. Bush. I never thought I’d say that, but it’s true. And here’s why: he was the one that led our country (collectively) to a place of pain and despair. He was the president that enabled our tides to go out far, far from our shores – leaving us standing on the beach, squinting in the blinding sun, looking out at the horizon and feeling our parched skin getting burned to a crisp. Without having fully experienced that sensation as a country, we might not have been ready for what I believe will come next: the return of the tide. In this context, I look at all the other players along the way – McCain, Palin, Hillary and even the economy. All of their combined forces helped us to reach the place in which we find ourselves today. They were a necessary part of that cycle. Now, as the “new dawn” rises, I am confident we will soon see signs of water returning. A new cycle will begin.
One thing I have come to appreciate about change is that whatever it is – however it manifests or reveals itself to us – it tends to follow a predictable pattern. Like the seasons of the year, I see the process of change (which is typically much more complex than the change itself) as a wheel, constantly rolling forward, but giving us different perspectives (good, bad or ugly) with each turn. Elizabeth Kubler Ross talks about this predictable process of change through the context of grieving and loss, suggesting that people go through five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Within the context of organizational change, I’m familiar with the modified version containing the four phases of Denial, Resistance, Exploration, and Acceptance. Richard Beckhard, a behavioral scientist credited with defining the field of organization development went so far as to create a “formula for change” with his two partners, outlining the factors that need to be present in order for change to occur:
C= D x V x F > R
Essentially, this formula shows that in order for Change to occur, the level of Dissatisfaction, combined with the clarity of Vision and the First steps need to be GREATER than the Resistance to (or cost or pain of) change. This formula seems particularly relevant to this cycle of change we are currently in (or coming out of) because it speaks to the level of pain and discomfort we needed to get to in order to generate some action (and consequent traction) to move through and out of this cycle.
However you slice it, it is clear we are entering a new cycle of change. Last night, President-elect Obama invited us all to “summon a new spirit” as he put out a clear “call to service”, reminding us that he could not do this alone. We are breathing now, our lungs full and flushed pink with fresh oxygen. We are ready. It’s time to answer the call.