Planning your personal transition through change

“Events, dear boy, events.”

So said Prime Minister Harold McMillan back in the early 1960s when asked what he thought the biggest challenge was to him as a statesman.

In our personal and working lives, big ‘events’ probably present the most difficult things that we will ever have to deal with. In all areas of life – career, family, health, relationships – we can, in an instant, be exposed to the prospect of huge change. Change which we were not seeking.

These ‘shocks’ are usually out of our control. We don’t have a lot of influence on the events themselves. They just ‘happen to us’.

They leave us facing an uncertain future. Maybe trying to deny the harsh reality of the facts facing us. Angry at the prospect of what we might lose.

We can feel paralysed, not knowing what to do. Lacking the focus and energy necessary to take action in the situation.

Fortunately, there are ideas and ways of thinking that can help us as individuals (and as organisations) move successfully through change. We find the work of William Bridges particularly useful. He introduces the concept of the ‘personal transition’. This is something that we all, naturally and predictably, have to go through in responding to change. Especially when that change is thrust upon us.

While the external changes are often rapid, Bridges’ research stresses the much slower internal psychological process. He describes 3 phases of transition – the ‘ending’, the ‘beginning’ and the ‘neutral zone’ (see graphic below).

Bridges work teaches us that we have to pay proper attention to each phase. We can’t make the mistake of thinking only about the new beginning. This is what organisations tend to do in announcing restructurings – all the focus is on what is coming (even though the details of that may not be that clear). But before people can contribute effectively to making the new reality come about, justice has to be done to what is being left behind.

Our personal response to change is also shaped by factors like personality, previous experience and the resources available to us at the time. So, while we all have to go through the transition, we do it at different speeds and with different states of mind.

By recognising this, it is possible to work through, in a structured way, the questions that can help individuals and teams move successfully through the changes they face:

  • what is my attitude to change, especially to losing things?
  • what can I celebrate and what do I want to change?
  • what skills do I have and which ones do I want to use more of?
  • what is happening in the wider world (economy, technology, society, etc) that will offer opportunities for me?
  • what are the alternative scenarios that I imagine – the best case, worst case and ‘Plan B’?
  • what resources and people can I draw on?
  • how can I increase my capacity for action by building my resilience, keeping focused and managing stress?
  • how can I best support others in the team at this time of change?

Some examples of the material that we use in this sort of work – with groups and individuals - can be found in this PDF on Personal Transition Planning.

To test your own resilience, try this quiz:

And for more details on how we can support you or your team on this, please contact

The time to act

In 1513, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote his best-known work, Il Principe (The Prince), as advice to any in the ruling classes who wanted to gain or maintain power and also attain glory.

He describes what he has seen in his political life as the necessary things a prince must do – in essence combining the guile of the fox with the force of the lion.

Subsequently, the use of his name has had very negative connotations. Most people would not relish being called “Machiavellian”. But his thinking has been very influential in shaping our history – and in many good ways. It helped stimulate liberal political philosophy to advocate positive change for the citizen, promoted the supremacy of civil rather than religious or monarchical power and stressed the ideals of honesty, hard work and people’s responsibility to their communities. Like Kafka and Freud, the adjective derived from his name paints just a narrow idea of what he had to say. So his reputation is rather ill-deserved.

Whilst The Prince is not meant to be a moral guide for the day-to-day living of the modern average Joe Bloggs, it nonetheless has ideas in it which we can all learn from. So, for example, he tells us that Fortune is the force that can always crush you. “Extremima malignita” or pure misfortune can be just around the corner. The results of the current economic conditions might feel like that to some. What seemed certain is no longer so.

How can you defend yourself against what might happen? Machiavelli says that you should try to “master Fortune”. To paraphrase, as they might say in the US, you should try to “get lucky”. How do you do that? You have to take action: “It is better to have acted and regretted than not to have acted and regretted”. In doing so, “Fortes fortuna adiuvat” – fortune favours the brave (here he borrows from Levy the Roman historian).

Maybe now is the time to act. What steps can you take?

Make Meetings Matter

We’re pleased that our 1-day facilitation skills course this month has been a popular sell-out. We have a number of people who have pre-booked to be on our next one so we are bringing the date for this forward to 1st December.

The course helps you:

  • develop skills for designing and running your own meetings
  • manage group dynamics and diverse personalities
  • know how to handle difficult questions or awkward participants
  • gain confidence in speaking within a group and delivering your own inputs
  • have ideas to help colleagues with their meetings, as facilitator or participant
  • save money by minimising spend on consultants and improving team productivity
  • reduce the stress associated with overloaded diaries full of poorly designed meetings.

All of this will give you better results from all sorts of meetings that you run or take part in. You can find details here. We also deliver this course in-house for teams of between 8 and 16 people.

And if you want to develop your analytical and thinking skills to write the best papers, proposal and presentations ever, then try this course.

The Times has changed

The heading is not a typo. It refers to this blog which we did on how the appearance of newspapers has changed over the last 21 years.

What difference does 20 years make?

It doesn’t seem that long.

But a lot changes – often silently and unnoticed.

Comparing a few newspapers, both tabloid and broadsheets, from the same date 21 years apart reveals a few striking features:

1) They are smaller – not just the shrunken Times, but the odd inch here and there on most titles.

2) There was no use of colour, other than the defunct Today. Now it is everywhere, including the Metro, the new daily freebie in London.

In what ways do these changes in appearance reflect the changes in the newspaper market, the way we ‘consume’ news and the wider digital media landscape in general?

In response, we got this piece back from one of our readers which we thought we would share with you all.

Having started life as a journalist in the midlands and on the south coast, I thought I would add 5 years to your timeline and mention the major societal changes that have occurred as a reflection of how the media functions.

When I first started there was no internet and no e-mail (and I'm not that old!). I typed all my stories - on a typewriter because that's all we had. It's interesting that we still talk about 'typing' things when we don't have typewriters anymore and many people have no idea what they are, or were.

The advent of technology brought keyboards and screens to newsrooms - it all spelled the end of the powerful print unions. The highly skilled days of hot lead and web offset production were over and even all those years ago diversity was the name of the game in terms of who could be part of the news gathering operation and how they managed it. I well remember the days of going out with pockets bulging with change I needed to 'phone stories in from a 'phone box near wherever I happened to be. Of course now you can use a satellite and send things straight from the other side of the world.

Technology didn't just mean the end of the print unions. The 'culture' of news changed overnight and long lunches in pubs disappeared - all of the new news channels meant increasing competition among news gatherers and hours became longer and you had to be at your best. It's funny now to think that back then, the newspapers I worked for actually had bars within the building. At lunchtime, for instance, it was routine to join a couple of colleagues from the newsdesk to go upstairs to the bar for lunch and have a couple of beers. The bars were among the first things to go!

Titles merged or disappeared altogether and many of the family-owned groups that remained particularly within the regional media sold out to big groups like EMAP and others. As you know, newspapers have struggled more and more to stay afloat as advertising revenues have fallen away or advertisers have chosen to go online and papers haven't yet found a way to turn news content into business. Only The Times have gone down the route of forcing people to pay for their online edition and, conversely, the Evening Standard in London relatively recently scrapped its cover price and is now free.

The increasing move towards paid-for content is also making people choose 'packages' these days - do you read all of any newspaper you buy or pick up? Not many people do - news content managers are now looking to people who only read, say, news or business or sports or entertainment - in the same sort of way Sky have packaged their films and sport and Disney etc for some time now.

It's not all good, back in the day it took ages to complete a print job for a report, document, etc. You actually had to go to the printers to do all the work and I remember some very happy times rolling back and forth from my old Winchester base to a printers in Lymington. And then some smart alec came up with the pdf. Now, instead of a nice trip out to see real people, I e-mail text and get back a pdf proof almost immediately. No longer a few weeks per job, now several jobs all going on in parallel and never leaving your desk!

Journalism used to be such a social profession - everything had to be gathered outside the office, you had to go to court yourself, or the council building or to someone's house and talk to people and find out what was going on. Now you sit at a desk and get a 'feed' from someone anonymous.

And bang up to date? Government would now like to ban all printed products and publish everything 'online' - some try to argue it's because that's what 'customers' want but I can tell you it isn't, it's purely to save money.

Beware what's done in your name in the name of progress!

If you’ve found something we’ve written useful, or have any other feedback for us, do get in touch. We really appreciate it.

The idenk team
September 2010

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