the slow and arduous process of change, and the need for help

i’d just finished leading a seminar on organizational change yesterday, called “the flywheel of change”, when i popped online and saw this video (it’s short – watch it):

given the conversations i’d been a part of only minutes earlier, the video quickly became a metaphor for me. i had presented adizes’ model of organizational life-cycles (see this post for a little unpacking of that model). we’d talked about the hard path of rebooting an organization (business, church, youth ministry) that is already into entitlement and bureaucracy. we’d talked about the courage and challenge required for the first couple pushes on a flywheel of change, which have to (counter-intuitively) occur when everything seems to be going well, and most leaders want to ‘stay the course’. i’d shared stories of this from my youth specialties days, and consulting work i’ve done with churches and other organizations. and participants in the seminar shared stories of their attempts, as well as the organizational inertia or outright opposition that resisted their change efforts. it was encouraging, in the sense that we were all acknowledging the difficulty, as well as suggesting pathways to new vitality and life. but it was also discouraging in some ways, because change is hard and slow, and fraught with blind alleys and saboteurs, human and systemic.

the poor three-toed sloth just wants to cross the pickin’ road, for goodness sake. but even getting to the road (the metaphorical transition space of change) is a plodding effort. stepping (or crawling) onto the road is to offer himself up, unknowingly, to become likely roadkill. really, without the intentional, careful, knowledgeable (did you notice how the guy knew where to grab the sloth?) assistance of a gracious guide, the sloth would likely not have reached the other side of the road.

but… but, when the guy picks him up (did you notice this? watch it again if you didn’t.), the sloth becomes superman in flight — reaching out to the lush life on the far side.

in our attempts to bring change to the organizations in which we work and serve, we need help. the helper dude is a metaphor for many things:
the holy spirit, on whom we must rely for discernment while crossing the life-threatening space and duration of change.
the community of people who enter into change with us. leading organizational change (from a position granted that responsibility, or from a “leading up” position) is not, cannot be, a solo endeavor. in order for change to occur with both minimized risk and minimized damage, it absolutely has to be a collaborative process.
outside input, wisdom and ideation from others more familiar with the road.
hope. belly down to the road, the sloth could barely see the other side, and certainly couldn’t see all the oncoming threats. but from his elevated superman, flying position, hope rears its head. this isn’t x-games, no-fear hope; nope, this is peeing my slothy underparts fear mixed with a view of the destination. this is biblical hope: choosing confidence when it doesn’t feel logical.

the sloth can’t hop the road or run to the other side. change isn’t quick or easy. it’s slow and arduous and risky. how wonderful that (if we are wise) we don’t have to cross the road alone.

what are you dreaming of changing?
what are the risks you see?
who might have a better view of the risks you don’t see?
who is joining you in moving toward change? who’s on your team?
what role can/should the holy spirit play in your process of change?
where is your hope placed?

2 thoughts on “the slow and arduous process of change, and the need for help”

  1. great points and great post

    but my twisted brain is trying to think of the sloth’s perspective

    1) (strecthng out a paw) “This is so hard and it’s such a long way”
    2) (completely on the road) “Hot! This stuff is hot! Not sure I can make it”
    3) (sees scooter coming) “Don’t hit me!”
    4) (guy behind him) “Wait, what’s going on behind me?”
    5) (guy grabs him, still on ground) “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hands Off Buddy! I’m gonna go Sloth Ninja on you like the famous Sloth…never mind, there are no famous sloth ninjas”
    6) (in the air) “Flying!!! I’m Flying!!! I’m the famous sloth ninja…WOOOOHOOOOOOO”

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