"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way." Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities”

This paragraph is perhaps one of Charles Dickens’ most well known passages. It is from a Tale of Two Cities a story set in and around the French revolution. I find this is a great quote to describe change and the uncertainty associated with change. Change is one of the few guarantees in life and how we deal with change is one of the most important aspects of our lives.

I have two stories of people with two different extreme reactions to change.

The first individual refused to accept any change regardless of type. For example the building was being renovated and he was being moved to a new office about 20 feet away from his old one. It was change and he was doing everything to prevent from being moved. The company had given him a week where he would have his old and new office to make the move easier on him. On the Wednesday before his Friday deadline he had not thrown out one paper or packed done box and he was still trying to find a way to stop the move. Everyone else around him had moved offices and the demolition crew was showing up on the Friday and Saturday to demolish the office. Finally the Facilities Manager gave him an ultimatum either he moves or he gets moved. Imagine his reaction to new techniques or practices based on his reaction to moving offices.

The second person was the complete opposite. He did not believe in manuals, forms or standard approaches to any project. He believed that if he did support the use of or used any of the above he would be for doing things the old way and would be resistant to change.

Due to their attitude towards change both these individuals had become a liability instead of an asset to their companies. One was attempting to live in the past which makes doing business in the present difficult. The other one is so obsessed with change he was constantly “re-inventing” the wheel which wasted valuable resources. In addition it made it difficult for another employee to assist or take over any of his projects.

There is a middle ground which I believe is better. I believe you need to accept and embrace necessary change. The worse thing an organization can do is to become static. By necessary change I am referring to evolutionary change because change for the sake of change is also very detrimental.

I believe you should understand why you do something the way you do it and then periodically examine your approach and make the appropriate changes. This natural evolution I believe is the best approach. You are not re-inventing the wheel yet at the same time you are changing with the current trends within the industry.

As Dickens so eloquently expressed above change is uncertainty and can be many things at once. Change is also the one certainty in life. As such how we navigate change is one of the most important tasks we will do. We can either deal with it poorly by panicking or ignoring it or we can deal with change rationally and navigate it successfully.

Cyrus Jeejeebhoy
M.A.Sc., P.Eng.