Saturday, November 19, 2005

Is change easier to accept when you let the past die?

Of course it is wonderful to remember things in our past that bring back a warm inner glow.

For those things we would rather forget, I am attracted to this quotation that came through my inbox this week.

‘All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one other life before we can enter into another’ - Anatole France (1881)

So often in both my life and my management career the people who seem able to adapt best to change are those who do not feel a need to hold on to the past and ‘how things used to be around here.’

These people seem prepared to allow the ‘old situation to die and allow the ‘new situation ‘to be reborn. I am not talking about whether a change is a good change or not but the concept of how to deal with and accept inevitable change.

On balance, my feeling is that it is best to allow the old situation to die.

What do you think?


mike said...

I don't think we can generalize this. I teach change management and change initiation (among other things), and I've found that people need to deal with change in their own way and in their own time. I struggle with change as much as anyone, which is why I'm qualified to teach others about it. I've been hit on the head with this idea of letting the past die many times, and I don't like it, to be honest. There are good things about "the way we used to do things" that need to be carried forward. It's always people wanting others to accept changes they impose upon them who use this philosophy. It's always about "you" and "your inability to accept the changes." When, in fact, it could be that "you" believed the old way was better (maybe it was, too); the old boss was better (maybe he was, too); or the old Coke was better (definitely). Dealing with change sometimes means resisting with all your might because change does not automatically equal improvement, nor do the people responsible for the change always know what the hell they are doing.

Summary: To be a sheep (and always smilingly accept change)equals boredom. To be a wolf (and understand that "they" often are clueless) equals loneliness. Choose one or the other with great care. (Lifted from the guy at with no apologies).

Trevor Gay said...

Great response Mike.

I wrote in my book that it is not as simple as ‘new equals good’ and ‘old equals bad.’

I have described it in the following way in recent talks. One million people work in the National Health Service - the NHS has existed for 55 years. These facts mean there have been 55 million 'people years' that we cannot just simply dismiss as if it were all ‘bad.’ The reality is there has been fantastic progress in healthcare through the ideas of those people. I am a passionate advocate for respecting the past and learning from the past.

So you see I agree with you about the ‘good things’ of the past being preserved. One of my main points is that ‘holding on’ to the past can prove counter-productive because in my experience the bad things of the past need to die. By all means fight like hell to ‘keep the good’ - but please allow the ‘bad stuff ‘to die.

I am an avowed pragmatist and I cannot see the point in wasting time, energy and emotion in simply hoping that things ‘may go back to how they used to be.’ Quite simply, life is not like that. We have to move on otherwise we would still be using manual typewriters.

What I think tends to happen is that things do ‘come back’ but they are dressed in different outfits. An old idea in new clothes is one way of describing it.

I strongly agree with you Mike that change and how to deal with it is very much an individual thing – we all have to find our own way of coming to terms with change. There is no ‘one size fits all’. The joy for me and I am sure for you of working with change is that I learn new tricks about coping with and dealing with change from every individual I discuss it with. You always make me think so thanks again for your comments on Simplicity Blog.

mike said...

I am often reminded of the old Who song that says I "hope we don't get fooled again." I've survived some pretty toxic leaders over the past twenty years and I have found one universal truth about these clowns: they ALL cloak their petty, selfish, ridiculous, hare-brained, and otherwise poisonous actions in the garment of CHANGE. And, they ALL treat those who resist their poison as people who "just can't accept change." Good things come from changes, both evolutionary and revolutionary, but good things never come from bad leaders--no matter how hard they try to "fool us again."

Trevor Gay said...

Briliant my friend - I know those leaders too.

Change is not easy for anyone and the leaders who latch on to some 'latest fad' are the worst leaders of all.

Carrying on the pop song lyrics exchange how about John Lennon's lyrics - 'Life is what happens while we are busy making other plans' - I just love that.

Or better still the Ghandi quote 'YOU must be the change you wish to see in the world'