Change is a certainly something we can count on. But there’s a difference between enduring change and leveraging it for good. In this brief audio program, we’ll explore four principles of change that help us better navigate it in our personal and professional lives. We’ll focuses on:
- The reality of impermanence and how we forget this reality in everyday life
- The reactions to specific changes are linked to something far bigger than the specific change itself
- Effective teams view change as a traveling companion
- Effective teams believe in their change efforts and behave in ways that make that change more likely to succeed
Below are two resources:
1. A 32-minute audio program focused on the four principles of change
2. An infographic describing the the four principles
Below is a transcript of the audio program. Forgive any mistakes the A.I. might have made in the transcription process.
This is Dave Fleming at the ingenuity lab. Recently, my wife and I have been putting together 500 piece puzzles. Perhaps you’ve had seasons of your life where you’ve put puzzles together. And you know the drill, right? You dump it out of the box, you sort and categorize the pieces and then maybe build the frame first, get all the straight pieces. And then away, you go into the body of the, the puzzle. Well, I’ve been doing one other step in the process of puzzle making, in fact, probably can’t really call it puzzle making, but puzzle deconstructing. So here’s what I’ve been doing. Once the puzzle is done, I’m slowly deconstructing little parts of the puzzle areas of the puzzle, you know how you can kind of pull up aside or, you know, get your hand underneath the puzzle and sort of squeeze some of those pieces. And they are there, they’re working to try to stay together, but you can kind of break them up and some of them fall off and others sort of stick together.
I take a picture of that deconstruction, then I do a little more on another site, and I take another picture, then on another side, then on another side till, until you can kind of just see some of the picture, but most of it’s broken up, then I break it all the way up. So that every single piece of the puzzle is back to its self, its individual self, and it’s just all in the little pile, then I take a picture of that, then I put it back in the box, then I take a picture of that. And then I put the cover on the box, and I take a picture of that. What am I doing? And why am I doing it? Well, it leads to a first principle of change that I want to share with you in this audio program on change. We all face change as individuals in life.
As leaders, as contributors at work, we face change, and understanding change and how to navigate it can make a big difference in how we leverage change for good. So the first principle goes to my puzzle deconstruction behavior. And it’s this all things are impermanent. All Things change. But we forget that during the day, all things change. In fact, I like to say all things are always in some kind of transition. All things are changing. But we forget that during the day. So let’s talk about this a little bit. When you really stop and think about what Buddhist philosophy and psychology and now, contemporary neuroscience has confirmed, when you really stop and think about the way in which change is always occurring.
It’s quite staggering. Everything follows this pattern. There’s an arising, there’s a remaining, and there’s a falling. There’s an arising, remaining, and a falling. Listen to my words, as you hear my words, every word has an arising, and then it remains for just a moment. But then if I’m going to continue to talk, I’m going to have to let the word I just said go in favor of the next one, because I have to string a whole bunch of them together for you to understand what I’m trying to say. But in order to do that, I have to embrace an arising, a remaining, and the letting go a falling, arising, remaining and falling. Now this is always happening. And if you stop and really think about it, it’s staggering how many things in our environment and in our body, and in our actions and our minds. How this arising remaining and falling is happening all day long. Every day, all day long. Every day. You get up in the morning, you wake up, you sit up, you get up. You do your morning routine. And every time you take a step, one step in front of the next, the one behind the front one is gone. And then you reverse and the step comes forward and back and forth we go. Every step reminds us that even the smallest of actions is impermanent.
That’s the First principle, that’s the first principle if I want to navigate change, well, I need to understand this core reality of life. Everything changes. Everything is impermanent. And that’s not on long timescales. I mean, it does happen on long timescales, we even know that a star is impermanent and will eventually, you know, run out of energy and die. And to something much more, you know, on a smaller timescale, like my remember when my kids were 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 years old, and now they’re 30 and 32. So there are, you know, what we would refer to as longer timescales where we can see the impermanence of life happening. But then there are these incredibly short timescales, seconds, everything is always changing every step you take, there is a change occurring.
There’s an impermanence to that moment, just like with the words that I’m saying, right now, remember, there’s two parts to this first principle. Everything is always changing. Everything is in impermanence. And we forget that during the day, right? So we forget that we fall asleep to that idea. I mean, who is walking around, step after step thinking, oop, there’s another impermanent step. Oh, there’s another impermanent step. Oh, and look at that, when Oh, I mean, you go crazy, right? You can’t, you cannot, you cannot keep up with all the impermanence going on around you.
I mean, it’s staggering when you stop and think about it. So we, we have to sort of bracket the reality of impermanence, or there would be nothing left to do, except to observe impermanence. So we bracket it away from other things we’re doing. And there’s actually something quite wonderful about the ability to bracket away impermanence, and act as if something’s going to last. You know, I mean, why do anything, if it’s just gonna pass away, right, this would this is sort of a big, philosophical question of life, why do anything if everything’s just gonna pass away, but we have this ability as human beings to bracket that knowledge of impermanence, and do things that we believe will at least last long enough to create meaning and help in the world, that that’s, there’s something really wonderful about that.
But there’s also something really dangerous about that. And that is, since we can bracket impermanence and change and sort of forget about it in moments of the day, we can then start to forget about it in longer chunks of time. So that we start to believe a lie, a lie of stability, a lie of certainty, a lie of familiarity, that everything is going to kind of stay the way it is. And then things remind us of that and can feel quite jarring. I mean, I’m going through that right now. I just turned 57. And I’m, I’m I’m jarred by that. I don’t, I don’t exactly know what to do with that it. It shouldn’t shock me, right, it comes right after 56. And I was that for a year. So this seems like the not the natural next step is 57. But for some reason, it’s jarred me into remembering, Oh, yeah. This this is I’m in this grand process of change and impermanence. And I forgot about that. And it’s easier to forget about that when you’re 30, even 40, heck, even 50. But for some reason, at 57, it just seems a lot more real to me. So we forget about impermanence. There’s, there’s real delight and even effectiveness that can come from bracketing impermanence. And saying, you know, almost like look for right now I’m going to forget that this is going to end because I’m going to put my hands to it in a meaningful way.
But then I can start to buy into a lie, that I can create a kind of stability that isn’t going to change. And of course, when we stop and really, psychologically and cognitively think about that, then we know that’s not true. We know things are going to change, but unless we regularly come in contact with that notion We can start to believe a lie. And we do that things are stable, and things don’t change. And then here comes the next principle. When we come face to face with a change, like I don’t know, turning 57, or the possibility of a change, like, let’s think of something at work, the change in an IT process, or a software, or the change of people on a team, or policy changes that affect my benefits or affect what I value as a perk in the organization, or, or, or on an On we go, when we face changes, or the possibility of changes. It’s not just that change that we’re being reminded of, it’s not just the it’s not just the change of the moment.
It’s the reality, of impermanence, that’s also poking at us as human beings. This is why we tend to or at least can at times, overreact. In a moment of change at work, where we’re going to change a process, and we find people perhaps resisting that change, well, what are they really resisting, they’re not just resisting that change, they’re remembering a deeper reality. They’re remembering that all things changed. Now, they might not be getting in touch with that at a cognitive level. But at an experiential level, at a feeling level. At a sensing level, that change that you’re talking about on your team is also reminding them that all things change, that all things are impermanent. And this is why people can, if they’re struggling with the change, find themselves reacting to it quite vehemently. Why? Because they’re getting in touch with some of the things that impermanence can bring out in us like a feeling of threat, or a feeling of loss, or a disruption of what we call normal, which, of course, we know there is no normal, right? Remember, everything’s changing all the time.
So there is nothing that’s really stable. But we talk ourselves into believing that it’s stable. We don’t think of our steps every day that we walk from the office to the car as impermanent, you know, we don’t get in the car and say, Wow, that was a really lovely set of impermanent steps, from my office to the car. No, we just walk to the car. But then when certain changes come above the line, whether at home, in our personal lives, or at work in our professional lives, it reminds us that things are impermanent. So as a leader, you have to take into account that when you’re talking about change, you’re touching something far more central for a person, then a process or a policy, that you’re changing at work, you’re touching something right, at the core of reality, all things change, all things are always in transition to some other state. And all things are impermanent. And though we know it, we forget it, or we bracket it. So we can feel a kind of stabilization in life. And there is something quite lovely about that at one level. But we can never actually believe that if we start to believe that things are permanent. That’s when we’re going to get into trouble.
So let’s just take these first two principles, and then we’re going to add one more. The first principle, all things are impermanent, but we forget that during the day, the second because we forget that all things are permanent or impermanent because we forget that all things are impermanent. We then can have a jarring effect. Take over a kind of shock, almost an overreaction to the reality of a change. Because that change or the possibility of that change is reminding us of something quite central to reality. And that is, I am impermanent, I am changing, and I am changing from state to state and one day, I will no longer be here. Now, I may not be completely in touch with that reality, when you tell me about the policy, change it to pm at our staff meeting, but it’s there. And as a leader, you need to remember that it’s there, because it leads to now what we can do next, here comes the third principle.
Principle number three, because of principle number one, and number two, all that we’ve just talked about, principle number three goes like this. effective teams embed at the core of their DNA in their culture, the understanding that change is a consistent traveling companion, not an event to get over. Just like every step you take is impermanent. Every Breath You Take is impermanent. There’s an arising, of remaining, and a falling, rising, remaining, and following every step, every breath, every movement, every thought has this, this curve to it, arise, remain fall, the absolute same process happens at work with everything thing. Every policy, every project, every initiative, every task is subject to the vulnerability of impermanence. And what effective teams do is they recognize that is part of the game.
That’s part of working, it just is part of it. So instead of seeing change as a threat, instead of seeing change as a virus, you know, like, we’ve caught change, and it’s terrible. I’m coughing, and I have a fever, and it’s awful. And you know, it just happens to be that this particular virus is about, you know, some new policy we have to adopt or some new process, we have to, you know, replace and I liked the one before. And so I talk about this current change that we’re in like, I’m sick, like it’s a virus to get over. Change, and impermanence isn’t a virus to get over.
It is the way reality works, right? We’ve already established that everything is impermanent. So what you as a leader want to facilitate or as a contributor, with others want to facilitate on your team is when when change comes up above the line, and it’s time to change or you’re talking about change. You want a team that thinks this Yeah, of course. Yeah, of course, we’re talking about this. Of course, we’re talking about this, because just like every step is impermanent, every policy is impermanent, every whatever is impermanent, things at work, are vulnerable to so many potential forces that push and then require some kind of response. And that response is some kind of change. So this is a long term strategy, that as a leader, or a contributor, but let’s just talk as a leader right now, as a leader, you want to facilitate this understanding on your team.
That change is part of how we work. It’s not an interruption to the work, it is how work happens. We can’t advance work without change. Just like we can’t advance our physical bodies to the car from our office without the impermanence of every step. And that leads to The final principle. Now I want to say this, before I give you the final principle, I’m making a gigantic assumption here. As I give you the the final principle, one that you can’t make, but I’m going to make because of time. And here it is. My gigantic assumption, before I give you principle four is, if there is a piece of change that you’re going to implement into your organization, you have already determined, it is strategically important, appropriate, and what you believe to be your best next step in advancing your mission. And that is a giant assumption.
Because sometimes, leaders introduce change. And they’ve not really done the due diligence of both including other people and really thinking about not only the what, but the design and implement implementation of that change. So I’m just we’re not going there, on on this particular audio program, but I want to say it, that for principle number four, to work, well, you have to have already done the hard work of ensuring that your best strategic guests and bat because most of the time, that’s what they are. But your best strategic work has led you to this particular change. With that said, Then, here’s principle four, let me just say principle, one, two, and three.
And then I’ll lead right into principle four, principle one, all things are impermanent. And we forget that principle number two, because we forget that all things are impermanent. When certain things come above the line for change, either it’s already happened, or it has the potential of changing, we get back in touch with that core reality of life. Whether we intellectually or cognitively get in touch with it, it’s there at a very real level. Because of principle number one, and number two, then principle number three, effective teams and their leaders embed change as a consistent traveling companion into their culture. They’re expecting it, they’re there, they are looking for it.
But they know that it is just part of the deal. Just like they know that walking from their office to their car is going to include a number of impermanent steps to get there. So they embed it, they see change as part of the work, not an interruption to the work. So when they come up, here we go word now we’re making their corner into principle for when they come up with a strategically sound change effort. And that’s my big giant caveat. When they come up with a strategically sound, change effort. They then enact principle number four. Here’s the final principle. effective teams quickly believe in their new strategic effort as an important change, and behave in accordance with that belief. Now, this might sound basic, but it actually is not only quite powerful, but not often utilized to its greater potential on a team. So a strategic effort has been decided on. It’s quite natural, and quote, normal for teams, not to believe in it.
Not to believe in it, to somehow question it, and challenge it and push on it after it’s already been decided. Now, there might be all kinds of reasons why a team is doing this, but I’m telling you once something has been decided, and it is a foregone conclusion, if you will, that it’s we’re going to make this change. This is our next strategic change effort. Then it’s time to engage that Through belief and behavior, meaning we’re in, we’re in with our will, and we’re in with our hands, the longer it takes for a team to believe in the effort, the change effort, and to engage it actively, the more splintered the team becomes, and the less effective the change will be.
You got to be in at some point, you’ve got to be in as a leader, this then requires you if you will, to help your team do a few things, one, let go of the old, there needs to be a conscious letting go of the old, there needs to be a conscious embracing of ambiguity. Because as we let go of the old, we don’t yet know how the new is going to work out. And we can’t know before we start. So we have to let go and then go into the ambiguity and work in the ambiguity to make the change a reality. And only as we experiment our way into that change effort, are we going to know how it’s going? And we may have to adapt almost in real time. Why is that? Because all things are impermanent. So imagine if you wanted to get from your office to your car, but halfway there, you said, You know what, I’m just not going to let go of this next step.
I’m just not going to let go of this next step. I’m sorry, I’m just not going to let go of it. I like this step, and I’m just gonna stay right here. Would you ever get to your car? No, you know that you must embrace impermanence to get to your car, the impermanence of your steps are part of how you get there. The same holds true for a team. If they don’t believe in and engage behaviorally in the new change effort. What they’re basically saying is, we’re not willing to get to the car, we’re not willing to get to the next space.
Now, remember, my caveat, remember, it’s already been determined that this is a good strategic change, it’s, it’s as good as we can come up with right now. Or it’s essential and necessary, and we have to do it, you might not agree with it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t engage it for the sake of the mission. So teams that are effective in change, as quickly as possible get to believing in it, they believe in the change effort, even if it has challenged them personally, they subjugate their personal desire, they believe in the change, and then they act accordingly they behave into that new world, the leader is helping them let go. And as a leader, it may be important for you to actually say, team, let’s agree together to let go of the past process, or the past policy, or the past, whatever, let’s get to it together, let’s let go of it.
Let’s move into the ambiguity. We don’t know how this is going to work. We don’t know how this is going to turn out. But we are going to work to make this next step work. And, and we can’t do that if we’re always going back to the part that we’re not willing to let go of, we will stall or we will become an impediment. So a leader is helping the team in this fourth principle, let go embrace ambiguity, ambiguity, and work to implement the new change whatever that is. And then the last thing the leader is doing is reminding the team of principle number three,
change is part of our DNA. So you know, this new thing we’re working on, it’s going to have its day and then it’s going to fall away. And that might be a day from now, or a year from now, or five years from now. But one thing we can know for sure. The new thing we’re working on is also impermanent. You see how powerful of a message that is. If you lace that message in to the early new work, rather than what a lot of leaders do at that point and say, Well, you know, we’re going to do this new thing and then we won’t change for a while or you know what, let’s just get through this and then we won’t Again, no, how could you ever say that no leader could ever say that I shouldn’t say that no leader should say that.
Because everything is impermanent, we just don’t know how long the remaining part of the process Remember, it’s arising remaining and falling. We just don’t know at work, how long something is going to remain. It might remain for a day or a year, but it is eventually going to fall. So you lace into that, that new work right at the beginning of it, Hey, everybody, remember this is vulnerable to and will one day change. We just don’t know when it could be sooner or later. But it’s going to happen. Four important principles drive, this idea of change, and leadership.
All things are impermanent. And we forget that, because we forget it. When change comes above the line, and we see it for what it is. It not only can throw us off because of the specific change we’re looking at. But it can remind us of this deeper core reality. And that can cause a big reaction. Because of this, leaders in teams that are effective, embed the idea of change as part of their DNA, they don’t see it as an interruption to their work, they see it as their work. And then finally, they once they identified a strategic change effort, and they they know that that this this is a good effort to embark on, they believe it, engage it, behave accordingly. And let go of the old embrace the ambiguity as they work to the new and then even as they’re implementing the new. They prepare themselves that one day, the new thing will become the impermanent thing, and the process will begin. Again. I hope these four principles can help you navigate change in your personal and professional life and as a leader, help your team do the same. This is Dave Fleming at the ingenuity lab.