According to Wikipedia, "anticipatory grief" refers to a grief reaction that occurs in anticipation of an impending loss. Anticipatory grief is the subject of considerable concern and controversy. Anticipatory grief does not always occur.
A friend recently sent me the Web site for all of the variant spellings of "Arrghhh!" It’s called The Aargh Page. It’s quite the list, and some spellings are quite a bit more popular than others. "Aaarghhhh" is one of my favourite sign-offs to emails when I am feeling a mixture of frustration and ennui. I know things have to change – but why now, why me? It feels so personal somehow.
In early 2007, we at SirsiDynix changed equity partners. In the past few weeks my boss, Pat Sommers, left SirsiDynix. My travel agent was terminated the same day (and since you already know that I travel too much, this was a tragedy). Around the same time, a few other close work friends and colleagues went on to other pursuits as well. My apartment suffered a flood that took down the wall and ceiling of my dining room. I wasn’t home – again – and heard all of this through my wife’s gritted teeth. This was enough change to handle in a short time! Dealing with it all during the SirsiDynix SuperConference in Colorado Springs was just icing on the cake! It is so wonderful to have understanding clients.
As many of you know already, during this time the folks tasked with leading SirsiDynix were struggling with making decisions of what would be the best roadmap for our joint future – customers, partners, our investors, and our customers’ end users. It was an amazing time. Within weeks of SuperConference, we implemented the best decisions we could to ensure the long-term health of our products and customers. These were tough decisions and, of course, added a lot more potential for change in our sector. Simply put - Aaarghhhh!
Soooooo – I haven’t had a lot of time to think about change, but I am immersed in it. For all the logic in the world, change still remains the one constant. And even I react emotionally to the most predictable and logical decisions. The world changes, and it seems everything stays in constant flux. External factors drive the need to adapt.
As the old wag noted, the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct because the climate changed – not at all. They went extinct because they couldn’t adapt to the changes happening around them. Anyway, shift happens. So I found myself spending the first part of 2007 shifting gears. Some things have become very clear that we predicted in our strategic planning exercises years ago. Some parts of our crystal ball are cloudy. It does seem that change in library land is happening more quickly:
- Consortia are growing and becoming more complex and multi-type.
- Hosted software is emerging as a major model for all enterprises.
- Portals and portlet standards, along with XML and newer visual display options, are driving a wider range of end user experience opportunities.
- Diversification of devices in the end user space is expanding.
- Resource sharing among like-minded enterprises is growing.
- Data sharing and mining of user experience information is becoming central to understanding Web environments.
- Sharing and collaborating on experience enhancement tools and content is a key opportunity.
- Putting the professional advisor into the end user search experience is emerging as one of our greatest challenges.
- And I am sure you could add many more. It’s a dynamically changing world.
So, we are challenged with clear changes happening in the environments we manage. We also recognize that these changes are occurring faster than previously predicted. What is the window of opportunity to establish a valid and sustainable presence for libraries in this emerging ecology? Do we need to move faster and more nimbly? Either way, we have legacies to defend. We have babies in our bathwater that need protecting through these changes. We have cultural assets that need good management, and not just popularity-ranked lists produced from a single-search box bully.
Anyway, I mentioned earlier that I was thinking about change. I believe that we can’t control change on a personal level. I can, however, control my own emotional reaction to it. On the other hand, I do agree with those who say that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. We, libraries, have the ability and the intelligence to create a future that is compelling, desirable, and independent of the visions that are driven by advertisers. In fact, I believe that we have a duty to invent this future.
In order to move on, for myself personally, and to adapt to the changes that I know are necessary to seek and invent the future we so strongly desire, I recalled the stages of grief. I know these stages were originally offered by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book On Death and Dying, as the stages we go through when confronted with death and dying. In it, she identified five stages that dying patients experience when
informed of their terminal prognosis, which are:
The best way to predict
the future is to invent it.
- Denial (This isn't happening to me!)
- Anger (Why is this happening to me?)
- Bargaining (I promise I'll be a better person if...)
- Depression (I don't care anymore.)
- Acceptance (I'm ready for whatever comes.)
It’s debatable whether these have applicability to other changes in our lives – travel agents, floods, or software upgrade strategies. It has, however, entered the public consciousness and provides an interesting framework to discuss our emotional reactions to change. Many don’t believe these are progressive steps, and there is some evidence that they don’t occur in order and can actually happen all at once – that conflicted, confused feeling that comes with change so often. Someone once said that time was invented so everything doesn’t happen all at once.
Anyway, I know I’ve experienced my share of these feelings lately. For some reason, and this must be related to how human memory works, I find myself thinking or dreaming about other big change events in my life – changing jobs, changing schools as a kid, etc. The funny one that came up in my daydreams this time was how I felt through several generational changes of word processing software. I started using Multimate™ on dumb terminals (are you old enough to remember that one?). I felt proud of how well I could make this beast dance on the green screen. It wasn’t very good at offering too many options. If I remember correctly, there were very few fonts and little control over basics like bold and underlining. We were forced (yes, forced - arrrghhhh) to “upgrade” to PC-based WordPerfect™. I focused, especially since my job depended on it, on learning how to use what would now be seen as ancient versions of WordPerfect. I could program macros, insert typesetting codes, and more – even DOS commands. I could upload from WordPerfect to my ILS! Again, I was proud of myself. I was master of my word processing domain!
And then we went to Windows 3.1™ and switched to MS Word™. Arrrghhh again! Why did I need to change? I know how to do everything well in WordPerfect. Can’t you just leave an old version on my PC in DOS? Anyway, I kept an open mind and tried Word. Ooohhhh – this WYSIWYG thing is pretty cool. I slowly weaned myself off WordPerfect. It took weeks, but I stopped getting those pop-ups that proclaimed I was using a WordPerfect keyboard command and should try “X.” Slowly, but surely, I saw the wisdom of making a major change in order to get current and future benefits.
Am I going to be thrilled to change word processing programs again? No. Do I think it will never happen again? No – I lost my computer system naïveté many years ago. Am I going to stop saying “Arrrghhhh”? No. Shift happens. My role is to make the best decisions with the information I can access and in the context of my role, goals, mission, and vision. So I am digging deep into my soul to try to deal with my own emotional reactions to change. I value emotional reactions and don’t personally find them something to edit or ignore. They tell me where my real feelings about the changes are, they tell me whether there are things that are conflicting with my personal values, and they allow me to sense how others (like co-workers, friends, and customers) whom I care about may be receiving the changes. So what are the tests I’ve been contemplating? Here they are:
The Five Emotional Stages of Change
1. Disbelief and Denial
For starters, I find myself checking how permanent the change will be. Is this just temporary? Can I wait it out? If I keep my head in the sand, will everything revert back to my version – “normal?” Sometimes the answer to this is “yes.” Often it’s not. The talent for me is telling the difference. If I stay in this stage too long, I worry. The best strategy for this stage is empathy. Everyone feels an attachment to the methods and ways of our success. It’s natural to worry that something valuable may be lost. Empathetic listening can assure that we collect those value-laden thoughts and allow them to inform the change processes.
2. Anger and Blame
These emotions seem to be common reactions. I remember when I was forced to cancel a version of a product that could not make Y2K compliance. We gave ample (more than a year’s) notice and I still got angry, blameful, and threatening phone calls from customers for this change. I was pleasant and saw a little humour in these clients’ suspicions that my small employer had the power to protect them from global change and dealing with a Y2K upgrade.
Either way, they were exhibiting a classic reaction that had little to do with the facts and everything to do with the environment of too-much-change that we have existed in for many years. The best strategy for this reaction is to listen. The best second step is to over-communicate to temper the tendency to speculate and share misinformation or half-baked theories. The more you can contextualize the change as renewal or renaissance, the better. Is the change revolution or evolution?
3. Reluctant Acceptance
This is a processing stage. I think to myself, “OK, this is happening and I have to deal with it. What do I need to do to help my colleagues process it too? What leadership stance do I take? What leadership style suits this change?” If people are angry, how do I let them vent while informing themselves about how best to deal with the change. If they’re in denial (e.g., Y2K is not going to happen), how do I help them to see the changes in our overall ecosystem? What do I need to know and who can help me and my colleagues to adjust and plan to sustain our enterprises through these changes? Is this part of a larger change in the information landscape, like WYSIWYG was vs. character-based WP and the Web was vs. traditional online dial-up? What are the bigger planning issues? The best strategy here is to involve those in the planning who will most likely be affected by the change. Continue to emphasize the benefits of the change, current and future.
Building a platform for success is essential, while devolving to dogmatism or doctrinaire attitudes will drive resistance deeper into the organization rather than focusing on future success. I know I resist change that I’m forced into – or that I don’t understand, respect, or support. It’s natural, and part of the conservativeness of society to protect ourselves from danger.
I like this stage best. Here’s where I can take action and control some of my destiny. I can set up learning strategies to increase my understanding of the reasons behind the changes. I hate the shallow, first-gut reactions to change. I find they’re almost always wrongheaded and driven by negativity. Most major changes in the information world, of which we play a large part, are a slice of a larger trend in the overall information and technology landscape that are driving and/or reacting to trends in demographics, human behavioural changes, inventions, commercial trends, and other changes in a broader, and now more global, world.
So, I bargain for time to adapt, I bargain for training and education, I ask for more information, and I insist on informed conversations with the experts personally, in phone calls, and at conferences.
5. The Final Stage: Commitment
When we commit to the change, we start focusing on the future instead of dwelling on the past. We develop a clearer sense of our roles – and where the future is going – and how it empowers and enlightens our own visions of where we want to succeed in supporting learning and communities. In this stage, our success is dependent on consolidating the change and cutting the strings to the past. If we stay in two camps too long, we damage our ability to invest in our future. We must ensure that we recognize and reward people who are responding well to the change. We also need to recognize some change resistance as positive, if it’s able to be turned into good feedback on how to implement the changes more effectively. Seeing all change resistance as “bad” empowers the resisters as negative contributors, instead of as critical thinkers.
Finally, in my readings around the stages of grief, it was noted that real change occurs after the primary stages of grief have ended. I came across this model that uses the acronym TEAR:
T = To accept the reality of the loss
E = Experience the pain of the loss
A = Adjust to the new environment without the lost object
R = Reinvest in the new reality
I think this is very insightful. Everyone thinks that it will all be over when "closure" occurs and “everything is supposed to be back to normal.” It's at this point that the new reality begins.
Stages of Change
Another interesting Google search is on the stages of change. Lots of fodder for thinking here! One model proposed five steps. They are:
It’s an interesting model, but it assumes a lot more advance warning than most changes give us. I couldn’t plan for my boss to leave. I couldn’t predict the flood in my apartment. I can’t predict any specific change event. I do know that change always happens, the future will be different from today, and we can see the roots of our future on the fringes of what’s happening now. I can acknowledge the emotions inherent in major change. I can manage my own emotional reaction and know that it’s a needed component of change. I can stay focused on what is needed to seek and find our future and do what’s needed to achieve that.
Stephen Abram, MLS, is vice president, Innovation, for SirsiDynix, and the chief strategist for the SirsiDynix Institute (http://www.sirsidynixinstitute.com/). He is an SLA Fellow, president-elect of SLA, and the past president of the Ontario Library Association and the Canadian Library Association. Stephen would love to hear from you at email@example.com.