No one has to change. Survival is optional.” – W. E. Deming

The above was a subtle way to express the importance of change. Deming was absolutely right; if you can not change, you will not survive. Making it even more acute is the fact that we’re surrounded by change all the time. Time itself is but a measure of change. We all know that change often can be painful, but lacking the ability to change is usually even more painful.

Being that the ability to change is the single most important trait for survival and success, it surprises me that we don’t spend any time purposely practicing it. Our parents and teachers seldom or never help us learn how to cope with change. How come learning the details of photosynthesis or German prepositions are given precedence over learning how to cope with the inevitable changes that we have to face everyday?

My guess is that most parents and teachers don’t know how to cope with change themselves. Most of us have never been given the specific tools for living in a society of constant and rapid change, a society demanding that we change with it. The implications are that we bring out our defense mechanisms instead of going with the flow. Some people become submissive when facing new technologies and go into hiding instead of embracing the possibilities they offer. Some people become hateful against new cultural influences instead of enjoying all the new flavors that they bring into our lives. People grow ulcers from the stress rising from resisting changes in their environment. What is true in this for us as individuals is equally true for organizations. Most organizations will rather march slowly downward toward a predictable death than change their old habits.

The thing is that there are tools out there. Tools that can help us recognize the different stages in a change and help us move through changes with a minimum of pain. There are tools to help us anticipate changes and cope with them in a structured way. We can learn to become secure in our capabilities instead of feeling safe in what we already know.

The problem is that these tools are usually in the hands of a small number of therapists and other professionals. So why don’t we claim these tools and why don’t we demand the opportunity to learn how to use them? Why don’t we call for the teaching of them in our schools?

Change is naturally awkward, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We should all be able to embrace change and regard it as an exciting opportunity to arrive at something better than what we have today. But in order to get there we need to learn how to feel secure and comfortable with our own abilities and we can only get there through practice.

Let us all change into something more comfortable, comfortable with ourselves and our abilities to meet the unknown.

A couple of days ago I went to donate blood. I consider it an easy and cheap way to assuage my conscience. It’s also my only way of enacting my life as it might have been in the 50’s.
NL = Nice lady at blood bank aka my 50’s wife

NL – Do you want something to eat before we begin?
Me – Thanks but I’ve already had lunch.
NL – Can I get you something to drink?
Me – Thank you I’m fine.
NL – Are you comfortable like this?
Me – Definitely.
NL – Are you sure I can’t get you something to drink?
Me – No, I’m fine thank you.(A whisky wouldn’t hurt but I could only see pitchers with juice in them)
NL – Ok, this is just going to hurt a little. (I’m not sure where this last comment fits into my 50’s fantasy though)

Anyway. When I walked into the clinic there was a whiteboard by the entrance. I’m not sure if it was new or if I only noticed it now since I’m reading Deming’s “Out of the crisis”. The board looked somewhat like my poor drawing below.


Curiously I asked the nice lady, while she stabbed me with the needle, about the goal figures on the board.

Me – Where do you get your goals from? How do you set them?
NL – Uhm … goals? Hmm. Don’t know really. I guess that’s how much blood we need. … But we need more so it’s probably not that.
Me – Ok, so you don’t know why you’re supposed to get that many donors each day?
NL – No.

Problema número dos: (The first problem being the actual existence of the board)
Someone has set a goal for someone else without even letting the person know why. Where does the goal come from? Why is it important to reach?

Me – So how do you make sure that you reach your goals?
NL – Well we have commercials and we have booths at fairs and such.
Me – But that’s done on a central level right?
NL – Yes.
Me – So how do YOU make sure that you reach your goals? Can YOU affect how many people walk through that door in any way?
NL – Well, no. But we have commercials etc etc.

Problema número tres:
Someone has set a goal for someone else that the person has no way to affect the outcome of in any positive way.

NL – Maybe the board is there for you as a customer?
Me –
But I’m not interested in those numbers in any way. I would like to know how long I’m likely to have to wait though.But I don’t see any numbers for that.

Problema número cuatro:
The person who’s work results are exposed does not know why her result is being exposed on a big sign.

NL – Oh, and we also text our clients when we really need their blood type.
Me – From this clinic?
NL – Yes.
Me – Do you control that decision in any way or is it done automatically when your stocks reach a certain level?
NL – It’s done automatically.

Problem number five:
The worker only has an illusion of being able to affect the outcome of she’s being measured on.

Me – Does it ever happen that people walk out of here before they’ve donated their blood because the line is too long?
NL – Oh yes. That happens almost every time we put out a commercial or text people for their blood.
Me – That’s about the worst that can happen to you isn’t it? That a sure customer leaves before the deal is closed because you don’t have the time for him?
NL – Yes that’s a real pain. But we can’t do anything about that.

Problem number 4711:
One thing that really needs improvement and can be improved isn’t measured and the worker does not feel she can affect the outcome of it.

Machine – BEEEEEEEEP!
NL – Here’s a band aid. Thank you very much!
Me – No, thank you!

Not only did the nice lady act like my 50’s wife but this whiteboard made the whole organization look lika a factory from the 50’s where workers have production quotas posted on the walls. I don’t know. Maybe I misread the entire situation and interpreted way too much into our short conversation, but would you want your production results posted on the wall for everyone to see? Especially if you didn’t feel that you could affect the outcome in a positive way?

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