You, Me and Change

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jan 02, 2016

“To begin you have to want to.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes

There is hardly a better time to think about change than when a new year begins. Whatever went well last year, we can’t assume that will automatically happen again this year. Whatever did not go well last year, the New Year provides the opportunity for improvement. 

Two of my favorite books on change are “Leading Change” by John Kotter and “Deep Change” by Robert E. Quinn. Although published in 1996, Kotter’s eight-stage process for change is one of the most practical approaches to organizational or institutional change I have ever encountered. 

Quinn looks at change from the leader’s perspective. He says, “Each of us has the potential to change the world. Because the price of change is too high, we seldom take on the challenge. Our fears blind us to the possibilities of excellence and yet another formidable insight. This insight concerns the price of not making deep change. That price is the choice of slow death, a meaningless and frustrating experience enmeshed in fear, anger, and helplessness while moving surely toward what is most feared.” He speaks of “deep change” at the personal level if there is to be “deep change” at the organizational level. 

Just about anyone who addresses change would agree with these five realities:

Change is never easy. Mark Twain said, “The only person who likes change is a wet baby.” We are all creatures of habit. Why do we go up and down the aisles the same way when we grocery shop or we sit in the same place in church or we drive the same way to work? I guess that’s why Winston Churchill said, “Take change by the hand before it takes you by the throat.” 

Change is normal. We all know life is made up of change. Seasons come and go. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and the start of a new year. We plant pumpkins and trees and they keep changing right in front of our eyes. I think we would all agree with Alvin Toffler who said, “Change is not merely necessary to life. It is life.” 

Change is possible for everyone. The inventor makes something to improve life. The painter or photographer sees things average people don’t see and with a brush or a camera they capture a new perspective for the rest of us. In the middle of European darkness when Hitler’s regime seemed destined to win, Anne Frank said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Why curse the darkness when you can light a candle. 

Change is more than words. Change requires action. Jack Welch said, “Change doesn’t come by slogans and statements; it’s the right horses pulling the right carriages.” Some people spend their entire lives analyzing the need for change and prescribing the solutions for change and even the value of change. But all they ever do is talk about it. They sit on the sidelines and claim to be change experts but they never enter the arena and help change things. 

Change is laden with opportunity. Price Pritchett said, “Change always comes bearing gifts.” When Evie and I look back and we view the bend in the road, we were filled with anxiety at the time. The fear of the unknown can be paralyzing. But change opens new opportunities and helps us meet new people and forces us to grow in ways we never thought possible. We have looked back over the years and wonder what would have happened to us or what would we not have been if we had stayed safe with the familiar and we would not have moved forward with change.

Quinn calls this “walking naked into the land of uncertainty” which requires new ways of thinking and behavior. 

2016, here we come. Together, let’s change the world. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of  
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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