Friday, July 10, 2009

No ruts, please

“A change is as good as a rest.” 

That’s what my grandmother said, a woman who went from a suburban home to her husband’s farm, from a nuclear family of three brothers to an extended family of dozens of brothers- and sisters-in-law, from a short-lived gig as a nursing student to a career as farm wife and mother of five.

Did she say that because she had to, in order to make her world work? Or did she really believe it?

According to David Noer in his book Breaking Free, people fit into one of four categories when it comes to change.

The largest group is made up of people who are uncomfortable with change and are unable to alter their behaviour when the world shifts. As much as 50 to 60 percent of the workforce in some organizations fits into this group. Noer calls them the Overwhelmed because in times of transition, these people feel like they’re drowning. They’re unhappy and fearful of mistakes, avoiding real issues while they retreat to previous patterns of behaviour and hope that things will return to the good old days. They equate activity with learning and can be passive-aggressive or downright abusive, dragging others down with them.

The second-largest group is the Entrenched. These people are capable of learning new skills, but aren’t comfortable with change: they like their ruts so they keep applying their old skills in new situations. They’re more productive than the Overwhelmed, but not as productive as they’d like to be.

The BSers can be as much as 10 or 15 percent of a company’s workforce. They are comfortable with the need for change but don’t behave appropriately during transitions. They’re confident in every situation, often making quick, clear and articulate decisions, but they overestimate their own strengths and don’t see their weaknesses so the decisions can be disastrously wrong.

Learners, on the other hand, are very comfortable with external change and have a strong ability to adapt their own behaviour. They engage with real issues and grow during times of transition.

I suspect that there’s some overlap of traits in most of us. I see a bit of Overwhelmed and Entrenched in myself; there are times when the mere idea of change makes me feel like I’m floundering, and sometimes I know I can learn new tricks if I do the hard work, but I don’t wanna.

I like to think that’s normal.

However, I’m pretty sure I’m not a BSer. I am all too aware of my weaknesses.

A Learner is what I aspire to be. Comfortable with change…well, I accept its constancy. Does that count? And the more new skills I learn, the easier it is to embrace the next lot.

During busy periods – when I’m teaching and writing freelance articles and working on a novel and managing a household and taking a class and volunteering and riding my bike everywhere – sometimes I think a change might be as good as a rest. A change to life with a gardening service, perhaps. And a driver.

Even in her old age, in a comfortable chair with a glass of sherry at hand, Grandma embraced change. She switched back and forth between Hockey Night in Canada and Lawrence Welk. She showed me the importance of flexibility. 

I’m thinking of alternating The Big Easy with Firefly.

A change, as Grandma would say, is as good as a rest. But then, so is a rest.

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