Most everywhere you go, people will tell you that change is tough, change is hard, change is difficult.

Yet, we start changing the moment we are born and NEVER STOP. Compare your 5 year old self to your 1 month old self. Your 20 year old self to your 5 year old self. Your 40 year old self to… Well, you get the point: we are ALWAYS CHANGING.

So, why do we continue to hear that change is impossible, that people fear change?

Well, aside from personal psychology

[which, make no mistake, is a HUGE part of the challenge]

I believe it comes down to all change being lumped together into one huge category: CHANGE. As a result, we end up treating all change as change, approaching it in the same way, using the same coping strategies.

[As an aside, in my original counseling training, the difficulty of change was often presented on a linear chart, ranging from death of a loved one, through relocation, on into job change… All of which adapted from research on stress. In fact, the Kubler-Ross change curve (Excitement – avoidance – denial – acceptance – experimentation) has become such shorthand for change that we often forget that it emerged from observations of grief and mourning.]

And, while all of that is valid, and useful, when it comes down to pragmatic change, I’m all about creating focus that drives meaningful decisions and actions.

The Game or The Rules?

When I first work with a client, I’m listening for the foundation of their change – is it a shift in the game (what you need to do), the rules (how you need to do it) or both?

Think of a change you’ve been through recently, or are going through right now. Got it in mind? OK, now take a look at this graphic:

Which quadrant does your change fall into – is it the old game, played with a new set of rules?

[like doing your existing job under a new boss]

or a new game by the old rules?

[like taking on an adjacent product]

Perhaps you’re being told that change needs to happen, but nobody appears to be doing anything to make change a reality, so it’s easier to play the old game by the old rules until a truly burning platform turns up

[like when executives talk about becoming innovative but keep the same stifling decision structures in place]

In 5 Reasons Your New Business Will Fail, I pointed out some hard truths about blind spots we all have, and which can be particularly damaging when starting a new business for the first time. Each of those reasons fall under the category of trying to play a new game using the old rules, and you’ll see that the adaptations I suggest there all fall under the category of get learning… FAST!

How does this work in practice?

Well, as with all mental models/frameworks, the trick is to apply it within situations and not as the end result. Too much change stops at the assessment and definition of what’s happening. It’s simply not enough to spot that someone is trying to play a new game by the old rules, for example. The trick is to use that identification to focus decisions and actions.

For example, the executive I coached to better manage internal politics when a new boss was brought in from outside was trapped playing old game – old rules. By helping her see that new rules were needed, she was able to move away from random attempts to socialize with her new boss (the old rules of a very individual/social organization), and instead focus upon renegotiating expectations with all stakeholders and reviewing mutual progress (the new rules of collective performance).  Within 3 months, she’d built the necessary alliances to handle both her boss’ (mis-perceived) micro-management and her fear that others were ready to pounce should she so much as stumble. With both imagined threats diminished she was able to flourish in her role, regaining the confidence and credibility to make things happen.

[even as I write it, I know that’s a very short paragraph to summarize 3 months of intensive work, but such is the nature of the beast, I guess]

So, when you think of your change has the game changed, or have the rules shifted? Or is it both at once?


Vincent Tuckwood is a coach, consultant, and founder of View Beyond LLC. He coaches people, teams and organizations to break free of self-imposed limitations. In his individual coaching practice, he helps people looking to start their own business, with particular focus on those leaving long-term corporate employment to do so.