Making space for change

I’ve been thinking about making space for change. When I get overwhelmed, my instinct is to stop doing the most recent thing I took on. But is that really the best choice?

Instead, this time, I took a few minutes and listed my current commitments, ranked them in order of the value I get from them, and was surprised to see the result.

An activity I used to enjoy, and had invested lots of time and money training myself to do well, was at the bottom of the list. The change in ranking happened less because I no longer loved the activity, but that the context in which I had enjoyed it was no longer satisfying me – the group I did it with had lost its inspiration, and none of us, including me, was willing to put the energy into getting it back.

So, instead of giving up the thing I was enjoying today, in a fresh, exciting, inspiring group of people, I decided to put the old activity on the shelf and give it a rest. I might come back to it one day. Or not. And that’s ok.


The slow swell of business cycles

I’ve been pondering a cycle that I’ve noticed in my business. It seems to go action, reflection, reinvention and back to action. As a consultant and coach, I deliver as long as the client needs my help and wants me to be their helper. Fortunately, I get repeat business. But even so, the process has a fairly stable cycle to it. There’s always “slow time”, during which the client is regrouping, or getting funding for the next cycle. During that time, I reflect on what went well, and what I’d like to improve. I follow that with decision-making and beginning the new behaviour or activity. Then the next gig starts.

What’s interesting to me is to ponder the possibility that we are all participating in a meta-cycle, both creating and reacting to it, resulting in economic bubbles and recessions. We could all be on a slow swell of action, reflection and reinvention, which collectively creates a kind of macro-cycle, like traffic on the highway. One car slows, and all the rest slow too.

A macro-cycle would make sense in the organic view of business since life does proceed in cycles of output, rest, renewal and more output. It’s anathema to the machine model of business, born in the factories of the Industrial Revolution, which requires and expects production to never stop. That could be why business people are caught off-guard when the cycle plays out.

Thoughts? Do you see patterns in your business? Let me know…

Resilience thinking and adapting exercise in the dark months

There are a couple of ways to look at what I did this morning.

One is that I started exercising.

Another is that I resumed exercising.

I’ve been reading a lot about resilience and reflecting on how it helps people adapt.  One way to test your resilience is through your view of  yourself, “Am I a ‘me, always, everything’ person or a “not me, not always, not everything’ person?”

I use to be, and sometimes still am, a “me, always, everything” person.  If I didn’t exercise the way I had imagined and sometimes achieved “exercise” in my world, then I had failed to be committed to fitness, I had failed every time I tried, and in fact I failed at the entire fitness model.  The result was I was scared to commit to getting fit again because I didn’t want to face the shame (I’m a bad person) when I inevitably didn’t exercise, proving yet again that I was a failure.

Now I see my taking action on fitness, or not, as “not me, not always, and not everything”.  There are specific circumstances that lead me to stop exercising.  Those circumstances are temporary, and I do continue to pursue physical activity that keeps me reasonably healthy until I resume the intense workouts I know my body likes.

Today, I started it up again, doing what I know will give me strength, flexibility, a sense of self-efficacy, better sleep and a good appetite.  I did a long walk, some serious lower and upper body work, and some good stretching.  And I’m going to ask for help.  I’m going to use my network of coaches, friends and family to help me talk through my high and low energy days, and keep me in action.  

And I’m going to keep adapting!  If some days on the journey I don’t bench press 80lbs, then it’s not a character flaw, it’s temporary (one day), local (circumstantial) and impersonal (I’m still a good person).  I can adjust for days when I haven’t had much sleep, or when work really is more important.  There will be days when it just makes a whole lot more sense to go tobogganing with the neighbour kids than to do lunges in my spare bedroom.  There will be days when we have to tramp through the woods and cut firewood because the ground is frozen and we will best be able to pull the logs out over the snow.  And there are firehall dances where Twist of Fate will keep me moving like a teenager for two hours.  Those are the temporary, local, impersonal triggers to exercise adaptation.  And they themselves are exercise.  I can adapt my “vision” of exercise to the goal I want to achieve – physical strength and endurance, healthy weight, and positive mood.

References: The Resilience Factor: 7 Essential Skills for Overcoming Life’s Inevitable Obstacles

The Adaptive Coaching Framework

I have observed the following skills of people who successfully adjust in a highly volatile environment:

  • Knowing what matters
  • Noticing what matters
  • Knowing when and with whom to connect
  • Taking action to connect
  • Knowing when and how to respond
  • Taking action to respond
  • Learning and adapting to the results of their action
  • Committing to repeating the cycle to grow and become strong

From my observations and discussions with those adaptable folks, I’ve developed the following simple approach for thriving in a world of constant change:

  • Notice
  • Connect with others
  • Respond 
  • Learn and adapt
  • Repeat

Of course, “simple” doesn’t imply “easy”!

Adaptive beings, whether human or otherwise, notice things happening, connect with each other about what they notice and whether it’s important, they respond to the change, they learn and adapt, and repeat again and again.  Notice that the response occurs before the learning.  Action is important to adaptation.  

In fact, the two most important steps are connecting and responding.

Life on earth doesn’t wait to be told what to do.  It self-organizes, makes mistakes, tries new ideas, and adapts.  If we can give up the machine model of people and organizations, we can learn this too.  

My clients and I work on the goals they want and build their adaptive capability by loosely following the Notice, Connect, Respond, Learn, Adapt framework and adjusting as we go.

It’s a great journey!  

A coaching model for adaptive behaviour

Adaptive behaviour:

Any behaviour that enables an organism to adjust to a particular situation or environment.


A simple model for adaptive behaviour:


Connect with others

Learn and adapt




How I, as a coach, use this model with you, as a client:

In my work with teams as a coach, instructor and consultant, I have learned or developed tools to get great results out of each step in this model.  Together we’ll work on questions like the following:  


What things are important to notice?

How can you get really good at noticing those things, things that will be important to you or your team or your family?  

How can you get good at choosing between what is important to notice and what isn’t?  How do you live with the ambiguity that you may be wrong?  Or right?  


Connect with others: 

How can you connect deeply with the people who can give the best help?

Who is the right person to connect to?

What if the right person is someone you are afraid of, like your boss?  

Or someone you don’t like, like a co-worker?

Or someone younger than you, or older, or different, or the same?

How can you use diversity to build the most resilient connections?


Learn and adapt:

How do you learn?  

How can you expand your learning styles to allow you to take in a wider variety of information and retain it better?  

Or give up what you’ve learned when it no longer serves you? 

Once you have learned, how do you apply that learning in the new context?

How do you gracefully give up old paradigms and adopt what will work now and in the future?



When you know what needs to be done, do you do it?

What might hold you back?  What might you be willing to let go? 

What action should you take, if any?  

How do you honour what you’ve learned in the past while you stay open to ambiguity, risk and potential?



Then, how do you stay energized, positive and open to starting all over again?

The Adaptive Coach – for business people at the edge of change

Time to replace the old paradigms?

In contrast to static engineered solutions which so often die on the vine, self-organized solutions survive and prosper and create organizational success.  Self-organizing, diverse, local solutions build adaptive capability in the path of ambiguity and chaos. People who choose to learn new paradigms skillfully respond to change in ways that matter to them.  They and their network become experts at change in their world, seeking more change, building the niches of the future.  They become more efficient and more effective at getting to what really matters to a business than any external program will ever be.  


All of life adapts at the edge of chaos.  The industrial revolution left us with a model of human interaction and human systems that we still have not given up.  We cling to the machine model of people because it is easy to measure, easy to tinker with and its failure to accomplish real change has created decades of work for consultants.  Those organizations who have pursued adaptive self-organization are living on the edge of an experiment millions of years old, and they have prospered and survived.  They beings who use this model are more likely to survive and prosper.  It’s time to start learning from them again.

Change and adaptation

Change happens without our consent, sometimes without our even noticing.  It occurs at the edges when we aren’t looking, in the inconvenient times and places, when we are least prepared and most overwhelmed.   


We all seek to control change.  We want to believe we can plan for the future.  Recent events are giving us reason to believe we may never be truly successful using our old models.  Businesses will try to put programs in place to plan for change or to make investments in externally designed programs on behalf of their stakeholders.  In fact, I have been responsible for some of those programs.  And what I noticed over the years was that “programs” that approach human systems, and human beings, as fixed machines with parts that can be swapped out for newer or different parts don’t give us what we expect.  


We call what we see “resistance to change” and try to put more controls in place.  Those controls meet even stronger resistance.  But it really is a smart human adaptation to reject these static solutions.  The challenge is to provide a different model than the one we have inherited from the factories of the 19th century.  The new model must take real human strengths and capabilities into account, strengths of individuals, and the strengths of a network of people.  Learning from the model life on earth has used for millions of years, we can adapt, quickly and effectively, and we can become resilient in the path of change.  


And that’s good for the bottom line.


The model that we see working in life on earth is something like this:


Adaptive beings notice things happening, connect with each other, learn and adapt, respond and later notice anew.  Over time they become adept at knowing what is important to notice, noticing those important things early, connecting effectively to their network, finding new ways to learn and adapt, and responding in ways that get the best result. 

More on using that model coming up…