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Change management & leadership: a Design perspective

by | May 5, 2020 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

PProcesses and frameworks are a way for us humans to make sense of the world around us, whether it’s using design thinking to build products, the Montessori method to raise children, the scientific method to create new vaccines, or the stages of grief to help process change.

I was inspired by a wonderful interview / teaching between Rich Litvin and Vicki Shillington, focused on Vicki’s work as an executive coach for ThinqShift around leading in crisis. The interview shares this model, borrowed from change curve theory about Three Phases of change— Chaos, Acceptance, and the New Normal.

I love this framework and in thinking about leadership through change management, have been adapting it slightly with my own design perspective to apply it both to the current pandemic and more generally to how leaders face ambiguity throughout their work & home lives. I’m sharing a design perspective of it to:

The goal is to move through the 3 stages, then rinse & repeat when the next change, big or small, comes along.

Chaos > Choice > New Normal

Stage 1: Chaos

Chaos begins when a new thing just happened. It could be the kickoff a new project, the death of a loved one, starting a new job, or experiencing a global pandemic.

Yearning for Safety + Security

Deep down towards the base of our hierarchy of needs, we are craving safety & security. We have a new thing that just happened and we’re not sure how our world view has adjusted yet. There are two paradoxical reactions to Chaos (Doing & Being) and often people will cycle between both rapidly, sometimes exhibiting traits simultaneously:

Reaction of Doing
Some of us jump into action and activity. There can be a flurry of expansive creativity— volunteering at the food bank, taking on more tasks & projects at work, perfecting that sourdough recipe, or creating that perfect hour-by-hour homeschool schedule for the kids. Some this is self-initiated, others are a reaction to external expectations depending on our jobs. This can feel motivating, satisfying, and impactful. We experience chaos through activity & creativity. When we’re in a new project or a new job, there is the expansiveness of brainstorming different ideas, with so many new things to learn and do.

Reaction of Being
Some of us are paralyzed and crave slowing down and giving ourselves time and space. We are scared and feel depleted. We want to take care of ourselves both physically— we know that we should sleep more, drink more water, eat healthily, and move our bodies— and emotionally— slow down, take time to think, relax, and mediate. We are grieving the loss of a different future, something that has been taken away because of this new change.

Keep in Mind…

Stage 2: Choice

Choice occurs after an extended period of Chaos. The length of time will vary. The change or crisis has been happening for a little while and we’ve had time to live with it and do a bit of processing.

The psychologist and author, Dan Gilbert, in his bestselling book Stumbling on Happiness, asserts:

“It’s only when we can’t change our experience that we look for ways to change our view of the experience.”

Acceptance and Yearning for a Path

There is yearning for change, for something to be different after the immediate aftermath of the crisis or new thing in our life. There is the desire, and readiness to see something different, even if the path is not yet clear. In Choice, we may see a variety of characteristics:

Ways of Being

Ways of Doing

Keep in Mind…

Embrace the new problems & new routines. Focus on the near-term and what needs to happen today. Continue to empathize and be aware that people are in different stages, some are in Chaos and others have moved to the New Normal.

Stage 3: New Normal

The New Normal is when the change has been incorporated into our personal and professional lives over time. A new path, or several paths, have been chosen and we’re going through living it and feeling our way through it.

️Hopefulness for the Better

The yearning is a hoping that this newness is now a part of life and that our experience has possibly improved. It’s still tentative and unsure, however there’s a renewed innovative energy of forward motion.

States of Being

States of Doing

Keep in Mind…

Innovate and learn from this latest change. And recognize that the next change is about to happen. This is all a cycle of the human experience.


This framework for change management plays with the divergence<>convergence of the design process. It tends to be my worldview and is my current working model for handling change and a global pandemic. See if this continuing cycle of Chaos>Choice>New Normal is something that is helpful for your life. And recognize that when change affects a community of people, everyone will be in different stages. Knowing what stage a key partner is in can help facilitate empathy and communication.

This content was originally published here.


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