Obsessed with change – what about tradition and stability?

I recently attended a conference at which Ralph Stacey, a renowned professor in the field of complexity, said something that resonated with me.

He said that “we have become obsessed with change.” He went to say that “this is nonsensical. We also need tradition and stability”.

I’ve recently become acutely aware of how much pressure there is in society and in our organisations to change. I believe this obsession with change is creating unnecessary anxiety.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for change but it needs to be change towards a reasonable, enhancing or necessary, as opposed to idealised, view of what it is to be a fully functioning human being, member of society, employee, leader or organisation.

At the level of the individual, I also like to think of ‘growth’ rather than change. Change implies some permanent change of state or being. I’m not sure this is possible for human beings. What and who we are will always be with us. What we can do is add to this and allow some aspects of what we are and who we are to come to the fore more than others. These foreground aspects might be new. They might also be existing aspects revisited. Either way, this is growth. People might say “you’ve changed”. What they mean is “you’ve grown”.

What and who we are right now is our tradition and stability, the things Ralph Stacey was suggesting we need. What we add to this is our growth. The former offers comfort, meaning and a sense of self. The latter offers excitement, achievement and a sense of purpose.

The next time someone says “we need to change”, suggest they reframe their statement as a question: “How might we best grow?”

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