I remember once having to sit through a two hour seminar on change management in schools given by a consultant who was earning far more than I was.
To be fair, the guy did a pretty decent job of speaking much and saying little.
I think most people attend these kinds of training events with the hope that they will leave with hard and fast strategies. When ‘A’ happens do ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ and if that doesn’t work you can always fall back to ‘X’. That kind of thing.
The consultant’s main advice when managing change was to ‘have a firm grasp on the context, both pre and post event and to adjust your position accordingly’. It’s the kind of phrase that sounds impressive when you earnestly write it down on the PowerPoint handout, hoping your boss is looking your way as you do so you look diligent and sincere.
Later, when you read it back, you realise that it is utter bollocks; a fancy way of saying ‘it depends’.
It is a fallacy in any case. Change can’t be managed just as cats can’t be herded. Or teenagers convinced that their best friend at secondary school is, at best, a footnote in their lives.
The wife and I have undergone a substantial amount of change in the last four years. Moved to Thailand, married, child one, started blogging amusing stories about being pooed on, wrote a book, child two, stopped blogging due to crushing lack of sleep. You know, standard stuff.
And now we’ve returned to the UK. For good.
The reasons for the move are many: the unrelenting heat, family illness back home, fewer deadly snakes (i.e. none), the ‘interesting’ political situation in Thailand, Raj Ladva, the traffic.
It is easy to identify a big change such as this. There is a solid date in the diary, with one side labelled ‘Thailand’ and the other ‘The United Kingdom’ and the middle bit labelled ‘Hellish Flight With Projectile Vomiting Baby’ (apologies if your shoes were splattered by a heady cocktail of Aptamil and Infant Nurofen, we tried – oh god did we try).
It’s only when you pause and reflect on all of the other changes you live through that you come to realise that change is both unrelenting and sly – insinuating itself unbidden and unseen, creeping into the very marrow of your being like a cancer. Like a drug.
It starts on a Sunday evening when casually flicking through the television channels and, having skipped beyond Antiques Roadshow, you stop, move the selection back and settle down to watch middle-aged chaps struggle manfully as the expert laughingly explains that the family heirloom – once thought to be an original Heda and worth several thousand pounds – turns out to be a Victorian reproduction by some East End forger named Barry. “But obviously the memories of seeing it on the wall at Grandmama’s are more important than money” says the chap through gritted teeth as he furiously works out how much of his mortgage he now has left to pay.
You look outside and see your car. What was once a nippy little thing is now a Vauxhall Astra Estate. It does close to 45 miles to the gallon. This doesn’t make sense because all you know is metric. You’re just glad that it fits two car seats, a buggy and still has room for the weekly shop. You excitedly look forward to your second car being delivered next week. It’s a bigger estate.
The baby you watched struggle in an oxygen box when he was born unsteadily walks by, his chubby legs stabbing at the ground with what looks like a genuine hatred of gravity. Somehow his angry and unsteady gait manages to keep him upright and moving forward, round the corner and out of sight. He’s mobile enough to find all things he shouldn’t eat and eat them. His soil flecked milk vomit is like Satan’s Oreos. He will smile as he throws it up into your lap.
It’s his first birthday this weekend.
His older brother is sitting unhappily on a potty, his ‘big-boy pants’ grudgingly lowered to his ankles. His frown at having to give up nappies is juxtaposed by the cuddly owl toy he clutches guardedly. After two minutes of concentrated bitterness he stands to urinate proudly on the carpet. “Oh no”, he says with faux concern, “big mess”. He shakes his head ruefully before raising his eyebrows in hopeful pleading, “chocolate button?” he says extending a grubby hand.
The expensive mountain bike you bought the other day was selected not just on its ability to hurl you down hillsides at breakneck speeds, but also to accommodate a cantilever child seat for sedate trips along the riverside. The extreme-trail-mad sales assistant looked mortified when you suggested it. You bought one anyway.
At no point have I thought to try and manage this change and no overpriced consultant would be able to convince me otherwise. Indeed, it is an arrogance of humanity to suggest that we can. Better by far to embrace it, be moulded by it, to ride it and then to reflect on it as having happened and that happening to have been at best good, at worst have happened.
I suppose it’s easy to get caught up in the inward looking worry. Change fundamentally signposts our own mortality, the reinforcement of that which is will pass. It is a signpost many of us, myself included, choose to ignore.
But if one were to manage change, it would be with an open mind, a warm heart and an acceptance that your concerns are, on a cosmological scale, nothing.
Or, as Terry Pratchett’s Didactylos would have said, ‘things just happen, what the hell’.