On August 15, 2019, I gave the keynote address at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Essentials Conference. I've pulled the content from that speech into a series of three blog posts on change.
With nature as our teacher, we have the opportunity to reconnect with our human experience with change. You’ve been riding those perpetual rapids, and you are still here. You’ve already been doing this your whole life. I invite you to do your own little naturalist exploration of your own past for just a few seconds. Think back to the you that you were three years ago. Where were you? What did you look like? What were you doing? What were your priorities at the time?
You already inherently know what it is like to experience change. You are literally experiencing it all the time. This is how change actually happens is: Change is not episodic, it’s constant. Those disruptions I was talking about? They either accelerate the pace for change or shift or nudge its direction. But change is in fact a constant flow. It’s already happening and you are moving with it. Our ability to handle it comes with our ability to move with it and to ride those rapids.
But that actually requires us to become very comfortable and ok with change. We have to jump in. We have to say yes to riding the rapids. I’m not an experienced white water rafter, but I do know that the easiest way to get hurt or worse when riding rapids is to stiffen up, to try to go against the water, to move away from the flow rather than with it. But I also know the easiest way to drown is to jump in without a boat or just limply be carried away or carried under.
Why do we resist going with the flow of change? The biggest reason is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure. Uncertainty, ambiguity. It’s scary. We are not completely in control. We can’t necessarily control the outcome. We can read the river, but we can’t control it. But let’s turn again to mother nature, our greatest teacher. What if we handled this the way nature does, using our intuition to intentionally ride the rapids without really knowing what might happen? What if we let go of the outcome and just let it be? The caterpillar has no clue that it will become a butterfly. The tadpole doesn't know it will become a frog. They don't have a choice in their change. It just is. In nature, these happen all the time. You know what nature doesn’t do? Six months of strategy planning to decide the direction. It does not get stuck in analysis paralysis. It just happens.
You do not make change happen. You can create disruption. But as I’ve already said, that’s not the change. So, that term “change maker”, let it go. You may very well be a disrupter, a shifter, a nudger. But change is happening whether or not you do anything. That river is running. How much do any of us like to be forced to change? What happens instead if we allow change to happen organically?
I have a few favorite examples of organic change from nature, these first two are described in the book Systemic Leadership. If you’ve ever run barefoot on wet sand, you know that when you are running and moving fast, really slapping your feet again wet sand, it feels hard, almost like running on concrete. But, if you stop and just stand there, you will slowly start to sink and your feet will be absorbed by the sand. The sand accepts your presence. You become part of the system. Change should actually disappear within the system. Just notice where you might be doing one or the other. Are you slapping people upside the head with what change you think they should be making? How well is that going? What would it look like to sit with it rather than try to force it?
The other image is birds on a wire. When you see a bunch of birds hanging out on a wire, it’s very rare that they all take off at once. When one of them determines it’s time to move, it will get up and circle away and then come back, then another one will join and they will circle away and come back. A few more join in until all the birds get the hint and the whole flock takes off of the wire.
My third favorite is the way the bees self-organize to collaborate on complex tasks, which you can read about in the book Honeybee Democracy. To select a new colony hive site, a few scouts go out and find a new place, and then come back to the colony to perform a “waggle dance” that shares the site location, quality, etc. When a “quorum” of 15 join the waggle dance, the whole colony moves to a new location. Doesn’t that make change sound like fun?
Where are you resisting the flow of change in your life?
Is there anywhere in your life you are trying to force change to happen? What would happen if you let go of trying to make change?
Read Part 1 and Part 3 of this series!