The wonderful thing about learning is that it allows our understanding of the world and how it operates to grow and evolve. The natural assumption from this is that we are better off, more comfortable in our knowledge, better placed to make sense of our relationships, more prepared for what might befall us.
But sometimes ‘received wisdom’ isn’t very wise at all. Sometimes, instead of providing answers it provides excuses. Sometimes, it tricks us into accepting certain things as fact when they are mere illusion.
Let’s take the Transition or Change Curve, for example.
It has become customary for people who are encountering change (i.e. everyone) to accept that any change inevitably follows a certain pattern. The Change Curve provides a model to help us understand what that pattern looks like.
Our understanding of the Change Curve comes from the work of Elisabeth Kübler-
Where the Change Curve theory has begun to work against us is in the way we have chosen to use it. We have allowed the model which was intended to describe a phenomenon to actually start influencing it. Now that we have the model and the language, we are even more likely to accept that all change must and will inevitably work through the identified stages in the identified sequence. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This learning offered by the theory is definitely useful because having this knowledge allows change agents to plan for it and factor in strategies to move through the process as quickly and painlessly as possible.
But maybe it is less helpful in the way that it encourages us all to view change as an inevitably (and inherently) painful process. Maybe it gives licence to people to dig their heels in because, they claim, “it’s a natural response to change”.
We often overlook the fact that even Kübler-Ross suggested people don’t always go through all of the stages or in a prescribed order. We ignore this perhaps because it’s a far less attractive addendum to her theory when we are so keen to simplify and fix the model.
I have lost count of the number of times people have unthinkingly stated “people don’t like change” as if it is an unchangeable fact. I simply don’t see the evidence to back up such an absolute statement.
In my view, people love change, seek out change, make change happen and benefit enormously from the results. Look at the evidence for this point of view:
many people never go to the same holiday destination twice
people move house, build an extension, or re-decorate
people get married and have children
people change their cars, phones, computers and clothes
people change their jobs or careers
People routinely bring on change because they love it, especially if they are in control of it. Peter Senge summed this up nicely when he said, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!”
What the Change Curve describes very well is a possible process that begins with unwelcome change. Kübler-Ross’s work was based on loss and catastrophe, but not all change is unwelcome, undesirable or catastrophic. Not all change needs to follow this pre-ordained process. We do not need to reel in shock and rail against all change.
So knowledge is one thing: the intelligent use of that knowledge is another thing.
The Change Curve is not an excuse to disengage our brain – it’s an attempt to help us recognise what might be happening in certain situations. No more, no less. It’s not a convenient invitation to sabotage change, condone or tolerate resistance to all change, or blindly accept that change will always test our resolve.
I think it’s high time we stepped off the curve.