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A Change we did not ask for!

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Early morning Brisbane April 2020

It is fair to say that COVID -19 is one of the greatest challenges -threats of our lifetime. Living through this time for us all is a struggle. The uncertainty and the ambiguity are potentially debilitating. I have worked in the field of Strategy and Strategy execution for over 40 years. Much of this work has involved major changes. There are tools (and mindsets) which are helpful. In time these tools may help some make sense of the current COVID-19 experience.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s work on the stages of Grief may be helpful. We are all now somewhere on this journey: more likely in the early stages for we have no idea where it will finish.

o   Denial

o   Anger

o   Bargaining

o   Depression

o   Acceptance

In Chapter 8 of my recent book Innovation in Australia: Creating Prosperity for Future Generations

I have referred to William Bridges. In his work on Change and Transition – he talks about -Transition as a three-stage psychological process:

  1. Letting Go
  2. The Neutral Stage (sometimes called the wilderness) and
  3. New Beginnings

 It is this work which I find most powerful – helping leaders and employees discuss some of these issues. Within each stage, there are sensory experiences and emotions which if not addressed, create personal challenges and blockages and in some cases these flow over into daily relationships. Being able to talk about this stuff easily is important.

Within each stage, there are experiences and emotions which include:

Stage 1:Letting Go

a.     Starts with and ending -Fear-anxiety

b.     Leaving the past -identities/ realities -a sense of loss

c.     Saying goodbye (you can’t steal second base with a foot stuck on first!) – sadness

d. Who has to let go of what?

Stage 2: The Neutral period

a.    Must happen -Resentment

b.    Emotional Wilderness – no man’s (person’s)land

c.     Loss of meaning -Uncertainty confusion

d. A sense of disillusionment

Stage 3: New beginnings

a.     Seeds of the future

b.     New learning

c.     Moving forward

All three transition stages are very human processes and each person experiences them uniquely. While having an awareness of them is important, it does not change the actual experience. Over the years, clients have said things to me like: 

  •  “I guess I discovered that for everyone the pain is the pain, and we are all different.”
  •  “When I was in that ‘no man’s land’ phase I thought I was the only one feeling like that – now I know I am normal.” 
  • “I did not know there were ways to explain this – it will make my job a bit easier.” 
  • “Wow – you mean that everyone feels like this.”

Being able to verbalise your experience is an important part of the process and having a language system and a mind map to explain it makes it a lot easier. As human beings, we make sense of things by telling stories to each other about our life experiences.

I am reminded of a story from my early consulting career – over 40 years ago.

As I remember:

For Millenia, men and women have undertaken pilgrimages to their homelands (to “find themselves”) to religious places(to “find God”) and more recently to holiday resorts and major sporting events. (to find…..) On early pilgrimages, they walked for many days and nights – even weeks and months. Each night they sat around the campfires and told stories about the day. Along the way, different people struggled and fell and the community helped. Everyone had their turn at telling stories – the strong helped the weak and weak helped the stong. These nightly stories held the community together. It appeared that the real purpose of the pilgrimage was the stories. It was the stories that brought them to understand themselves and their God. 

We are now on the COVID -19 pilgrimage -a pilgrimage we did not choose. There are many responses we can make – at least one is to listen to other pilgrim stories as they struggle with the daily challenges – and at times be willing to be vulnerable by sharing your own personal story – it is in this process we build stronger relationships and stronger communities.

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