There are many metaphors for change and many theories about change, but I particularly like Otto Scharmer’s Theory U. Here’s my interpretation: Change can be recognised in a U shape. The top left of the U we can call “now”, while the top right of the U is our preferred destination. Here’s a diagram of it, showing that change requires an open mind, an open heart and an open will.
In order for us to get from “now” to our preferred destination it’s necessary for us to go down the left hand side of the U to that silent, deep place at the bottom where we know that change has occurred, before moving up the right hand side. You see, change is a process that requires many steps, and they often take a very long time.
At the top left of the U where where we begin the process of change, our normal approach is to download from the past. We make decisions based on habits or experiences from the past. That’s why it’s not uncommon when we talk about change in an organisational setting to hear the phrase: “We’ve done that before; it’ll never work.”
The journey down the left hand side of the U is the process of “letting go” while the journey up the right hand side is “letting come.” But the process of letting go involves three significant stages: Letting go of the voice of judgement; letting go of the voice of fear; and letting go of the voice of cynicism.
The voice of judgement calls on us to control people; we make decisions about people based on our experiences and our expectations. Letting go of the voice of judgement also means letting go of these people; accepting that we don’t need to control people by our standards and expectations. The voice of judgement hinders our ability to love and prevents us from opening our hearts to the people who we need the most.
The voice of cynicism is that dark place where trust is stifled. We’ve been hurt by people, by organisations, or processes and we cynically refuse to be hurt again, sensing that those people, organisations or processes will never change and there is no chance that change can occur while they are a part of our situation. Letting go of the voice of cynicism allows us to trust again and thus release the process of change.
The voice of fear paralyses us. Often it’s fear of change. Sometimes fear of the unknown. Whatever that fear is, it can stop change dead in its tracks. As we let go of fear we allow our hearts, minds and will to be opened up to the possibilities of change.
CS Lewis once said: It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
For us to grow, change is necessary, but we can stifle change and hold it back if we are not prepared to let go of the voice of judgement, the voice of cynicism and the voice of fear.