How We Can Face Change Together

It turns out that we were made for times like these

Remember (what seemed like ten years ago), back in 2019, when Amazon had the April Fool’s Joke of the year? It started with a Japanese Twitter account, Zozi009, who posted a drone-dispatching blimp bearing the Amazon logo. The airship hovered in front of a mountain range and then ominously floated low above a suburban sky. The drones buzzing about like giant bees from a retail hive.

By the afternoon, a spoiler was posted by the same account with computer-generated renderings of a Lockheed Martin hybrid airship. It was a hoax.

But in the hours between, there was a War-of-the-Worlds-like response. Much like the drones, the internet was buzzing with doomsday implications, memetic interpretations that sometimes included the “Imperial March” from Star Wars.

The Imperial March signalled the collective dread indicated at the alternate reality.

In short, people freaked out.

Those last three words should sound familiar. They are the indicator of a term that Alvin Toffler called Future Shock. It is that rare dread that comes from feeling blindsided. This year, many feel like the tide of uncertainty has crashed repeatedly upon us. Disease, plummeting economies, civil unrest. How are we to lead organizations and communities in circumstances that leave little time for oxygen?

The Institute for the Future has studied the way that humans interpret crisis. You can leverage the three stages with your organization as a frame through which you deal with change together. Instead of trying to quickly solve or fight over the correct response, you can be overt about walking through these stage-gates with people.

(Note: These three stages were cited in a recent ABC-affiliate interview with Marina Gorbis, executive director at the Institute for the Future.)

Stage 1: Reaction.

Something disruptive is revealed. It will feel like it is crashing down on you like a mighty retail zeppelin from nowhere, but the truth is that it was always there – like infectious agents, racism, fragile economies. The future was always there and now it is being revealed.

In dealing with reaction, a useful strategy is curiosity. It is having courageous conversations about what is most scary or compelling. Refrain from battling over the correct point of view and remain curious. The more you can do this, the faster you can help people to move to the next phase.

Stage 2: Reset.

Humans start to make meaning of the change. On reflection, there are implications drawn and a narrative begins to form about “how we got here.”

In working through reset, a useful strategy is provoking or inspiring deeper curiosity. The point of the provocation is to reveal where there is agency. If yesterday’s choices got us to this place, what does that mean about today’s choices? If this is our new present-day reality, what could be some potential new realities we could shape? What else could be?

Stage 3: Reinvention.

A plan or design begins to formulate that creates a new basis for reality. It is not like the reality that existed before Stage 1. Action is taken to reshape systems that can better interpret the crisis that led to Stage 1.

In working on this phase, it is most useful to set down new principles for looking forward. What decisions must we make today to support our principles? What would be the signals that we are headed for the kinds of futures we want?

An example of reinvention:

Just this last month, a Stanford lab formulated a way in which drones could hitch a ride on public transportation to save on energy costs and better navigate crowded urban environments. Drone delivery went from the “Imperial March” to the “Are We There Yet?”

Humans were made for crisis and change. Creating capacity for change is making a business more human.

For an example of a leader who creates capacity for change, check out our Webinar with Polly Ruhland, CEO of United Soybean Board:

Polly Ruhland discusses the nuances of human dynamics and change.

If you know of an awesome human who is helping a team / organization / community face the unknown, please send them my way. We are establishing a list of potential guests for a new webinar series.