We all know that life involves constant changes, but we often don’t recognize the big transitions of life as opportunities to evolve. As William Bridges points on in Managing Transitions, there's an important difference between change and transition: change happens when we encounter new circumstances, but transition happens when we move between one identity and the next. Often managers, teachers, and organizations make the mistake of treating transitions like changes, setting new policies and expecting their teams or students to adapt. But this approach doesn't account for the challenges that come with transition - or take advantage of the opportunities.
People often have legitimate anxieties as an organization they're part of - or, in the case of coronavirus, entire societies - leave behind familiar routines and move into the unknown. We wonder if our jobs will survive, whether we'll be able to finish a course of study, what our organizations will look like on the other side of the transition. In addition, an uncertain future provokes anxiety in most of us as we wonder if the skills we've developed in the past will still serve us.
This workshop will draw from Bridges' work on transitions as well as a cross-cultural reading of the stories humans use to create meaning from changes in identity to discuss four stages of transition: the way things were, the collapse of the "old normal," the in-between state, and the growth of the "new normal" from the resources freed up by the collapse of the old. We'll examine the ways intentional storytelling can help ease the nerves of groups going through transitions by drawing on the classic themes of death and rebirth found worldwide in rituals and mythology, especially the theme of the hero's journey.
Including ancient ritual and storytelling tropes adds inspiration to Bridges' formulation of the structure of transitions. Rituals that mark major life transitions typically feature stages of separating the participant from their previous status in the community, sequestering them in a liminal state in between the old identity and the new (sometimes with others in such an in-between state) and then marking their entrance into the new identity.
Attending university can be thought of as such a ritual: young people leave home and are no longer children, but they're not yet expected to support themselves fully as adults. Over four or more years, they learn the skills that will support them in their adult lives, and finally the ceremony of graduation marks their entrance into adulthood. The hero's journey is also marked by leaving society, growing through adventures in a magical new reality, and then returning - transformed - with a gift for society.
These ancient building blocks of many of the world's most meaningful narratives offer us a powerful way of experiencing transition as meaningful rather than arbitrary. With the covid crisis forcing many organizations to rethink and restructure the ways they run, we can locate ourselves currently in the in-between state: we've left behind our usual way of relating with the world, and we have yet to arrive in a "new normal."
But everything we know about transitions assures us that eventually we'll emerge from this period of uncertainty into a world that's very different from the one we knew in late 2019, with new opportunities for those willing to let go of the past and think creatively about the future.
Everyone deals with change in our lives, but not everyone grows as a result of transitions. In this moment of massive disruption because of the coronavirus pandemic, many organizations are scrambling to adapt in order to survive.
But what about the human cost of such rapid and chaotic change? William Bridges' work on change and transitions in organizations not only offers a structure for navigating transitions but also demonstrates that such times offer opportunities for transformative growth.
In his best-selling Managing Transitions, Bridges identified change as a new situation and transition as the "process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about." As organizations grapple with the changes the coronavirus has suddenly forced us to make, managers and employees will need help navigating a very different work environment, from telecommuting to changing the basic tasks of their jobs to stay safe.
This workshop draws both from Bridges' work and from a cross-cultural comparison of transitions to lay out a model to help us all cope with massive levels of change. We'll trace the basic stages of a transition – the way things were, the disruption of the old, the in-between space, and the development of a new normal – and discuss the hidden benefits that become available in unsettled times.