Last week I wrote about change, asking ‘what can you change?’ Tuesday morning I did a keynote for the Division of Student Affairs at Texas State University. Their Vice President, Cynthia Hernandez, gave me the title, “Embracing Change and Enhancing Creativity” which she apparently got from my website. I decided I’d share a bit of that presentation which looked at the opposite question, ‘how do we respond to change?’
When I started by asking who had experienced what they considered significant change in the last twelve months, it will be no surprise that every hand in the room went up. Six months? A majority raised their hands. Three months? Probably a third of the room. Twelve hours? It got the laugh I was hoping for, and no one raised their hands, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had. The amount of change that has washed over the people in our organizations in the past eighteen months really is extraordinary.
We all know that change is constant in our world and we’re all feeling a bit whiplashed from the need to change, change again and then again. One of the skills to cope with this level of change is developing an understanding of the way we respond to change. Here are four styles of change responses. (Unfortunately, I can’t find the resource for this to give appropriate credit, but I think it’s worth sharing.) I suspect we each have a preferred style, the one that occurs most naturally to us. But as I suggested to the group on Tuesday, understanding these four styles and learning to move between them is a skill that can help us manage the changes that come at us.
- Analytical – see change as a puzzle to be solved
- Conceptual – needs to understand the big picture, participate in the process
- Behavioral – want the group to be okay
- Directive – want specifics, know my role
When we understand and are able to choose our response then we can be more creative in addressing change.
In preparing for this speech, I found this definition of creativity from Michael Grybko, neuroscience researcher and engineer from the Department of Psychology, University of Washington.
“Pooling from this wealth of knowledge we store in our brains and making connections between different ideas, we have to solve a new problem, or create, write a new novel — that’s what science looks at when we study ‘creativity.’ Just to drive home the point, this is very much a function of the brain. There’s no need to invoke all that folklore into this. It’s our brains doing what they do.”
I love that last sentence. “It’s our brains doing what they do.” In other words, creativity is natural to us. Problem-solving, creating new programs, developing research projects, and other creative acts, are activities available to all of us because that’s what our brains do. That means when change comes at us and feels overwhelming, we are all equipped to figure out new ways to respond to new and ever-changing needs. And I think we forget that in times of stress and constant change.
I ended with a short section on curiosity as a way forward. Being willing to ask questions, to admit we don’t know all the answers, to try to understand more than our small piece of the puzzle, that’s curiosity. If we are complaining about changes, fighting changes, worrying about changes, I think we’re making change harder than it has to be. Being curious about the change and what it means, even more, seeking out possibilities this latest change might open feels like a more fruitful response. I don’t think it will make every change easy, but it might make some changes more manageable.
The purpose of higher education is change though we usually dress it up and call it transformation. if our work is about change, It seems to me we ought to find some ways to embrace the changes coming toward us. Because that’s the thing about change, creativity, and even curiosity – we never really know where they might be taking us. Yes, it’s scary, but it can also be exciting – usually both at the same time. Where are you being creative and curious through all the change you and your organization are experiencing?