Organizing Theory & Artistry

March Recap: Change

Frozen Spring Blossoms. Photo by lowjumpingfrog. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

All this month, we have been discussing change, particularly looking at how adapting to change is a big part of staying organized.

We learned that change = learning and discussed the most stressful life changes

Chip and Dan Heath taught us from their book Switch that implementing successful change requires some consideration of analytical/logical factors and lots of consideration of emotional/motivation/external factors. The easier we can make the change appear to our overtaxed brains, the more likely we will expend the extra energy to make that change. My favorite tip from this post was looking for bright spots, i.e. find someone who is in a similar life situation to you, who faces the same challenges you do in terms of time and resources, who has achieved your goal, and find out what that person did to achieve the goal. Chances are that a life-specific tip is going to work much better for you than generalized advice from someone who does not face your same challenges.

John C. Maxwell’s Thinking for a Change reminded us that we need to make time for self-reflection whenever we are attempting to make change or achieve a difficult goal. Writing up a brief diary/status report on your weekly progress and personal reflections can really help focus your attention. I have been trying it out for the past few weeks and while it takes some time to do it is very helpful.

M.J. Ryan’s book AdaptAbility helped us process the emotions of change. She reminded us that we live in a constantly changing environment and that while we can’t control the external changes happening around us, we can take some comfort in knowing that we do control our response to these situations and that with the right mindset we can use difficult experiences to become better versions of who we really are.

Amanda Ripley’s book, The Unthinkable, walked us through the process of change under extreme duress, in emergency/survival situations. Her book reminded us that when faced with an immense, stressful change, the best thing we can do is be prepared in advance and follow our training because our thinking under these conditions is poor and often wrong. We also need to have the confidence to be our own leaders rather than waiting for insight from others. While her advice was specific to disaster/emergency situations, and we applied it to the case of airplane evacuation, Ripley’s advice could be translated to a variety of situations.

Ruly Ruth gave practical and emotional adjustment tips on moving—one of life’s most difficult changes.

We also looked at the new culture of change in business, where the pace of change is accelerating rapidly. Robert H. Schaffer and Ronald N. Ashkenas’s Rapid Results! made their case for constant 100-day mini-change projects, rather than limiting change to massive once-in-a-while projects. The authors reminded us that mobilizing an organization for change is the most important quality in a business leader today.

Finally, we got a wonderful sneak peak at producer Helen Whitney’s book and upcoming documentary film, Forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful life changes. Whitney’s work shows the resiliency of the human spirit when faced with overwhelming hurts and inspires us to examine our own lives and see whether we can work to free ourselves from thoughts and experiences that limit our potential.

To end the month with a lighter twist on change, I wanted to relate what we have learned in theory about change to the change process I have been watching on The Biggest Loser. Weight loss has to be one of the most difficult changes to process. We know the simple formula, eat less and exercise more, but we all know that in practice, weight loss is anything but simple.

First, when we meet The Biggest Loser contestants, they are whisked away to a special camp where they are required to eat healthy food and exercise strenuously with some of the best physical trainers in the country. They are taken away from all the stresses of everyday life and they don’t seem to need to work to earn money. Their full-time focus is weight loss. While some of the contestants are there with a paired family member or friend, most are separated from their families and not allowed to contact them during the show. This appears to be both stressful due to the lack of support but also beneficial in terms of the lack of peer pressure with regard to bad habits.

  • Change strategies involved: make the path easier

Each week the contestants weigh in (shirtless for the males and in sports bras for the females) and vote to eliminate one of the contestants who lost the lowest percentage of body weight. Contestants who remain are competing for a grand prize of $250,000.

  • Change strategies involved: motivation (through earning money, team pride, fear of failure/loss of privileges by going home, seeing the physical transformation)

Contestants meet with a doctor who counsels them on the dangers of obesity and even provides some contestants with an estimated death date if they don’t lose weight. Contestants occasionally meet with a professional chef who advises them on cooking low calorie, healthy meals.

  • Change strategies involved: analytical/logical knowledge of the problem

Contestants have psychological coaching sessions with the physical trainers to discuss the emotional barriers they face when confronting their weight loss.

  • Change strategies involved: reflection, emotional processing

Contestants express remorse for becoming overweight and the impact being overweight has had on their own lives and those of others around them.

  • Change strategies involved: forgiveness

As the weight loss program proceeds, the contestants go from losing lots of pounds each week to fewer and fewer pounds. Losses are sometimes not correlated with the amount of effort a participant puts in. Sometimes contestants cheat on their diets or don’t put in maximum effort on their exercise.

  • Change strategies involved: expecting failure, dividends of learning, willingness to experiment

You can see that aside from being entertaining television, there is a lot of thought that went into helping these contestants transform their lives. It has been very inspiring for me to watch these contestants confront their weight issues so publicly and to see the results of their honesty and hard work.

The only disappointing aspect has been that the “make the path easier” attributes of the training camp is such a big part of their success. It would be very hard to duplicate their results for average people. We see on the show that weight loss slows down dramatically when contestants go home even for short periods and this Anchorage Daily News article shows the harsh reality contestants face after the show ends and the weight they often regain.

Change is not easy but it is possible. We have to learn to accept change as a continuing process rather than a quick fix and know that difficult changes will require ongoing effort, setbacks and a continued investment of time and resources to achieve our desired result. I hope that this month’s discussion has given you some insight into your own change process.

Next week, we start a new month and another Ruly theme. Please check back then.