Back to school

When I first began my PhD in Organizational Leadership through The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in May 2018, it took time to adjust to the exclusively online course format. Asynchronous learning required a mindset shift. Having done my undergrad and my MBA in person on campus (at Rice University and The University of St. Thomas, respectively), it was strange to switch to an environment where all of my course-related conversations took place on electronic discussion boards and via email. Real-time interactions with my teachers and fellow students have been largely by phone and video conference. I’ve been glad for the two residencies required by the program. During these multi-day sessions in Chicago I’ve gotten to meet the other members of my cohort and my professors face to face. Overall, between the in-person and virtual interactions, I feel a level of connection to my TSCPP colleagues and the program that’s equivalent to my on-campus experiences.

Summer semester begins today and I’m taking Strategic Change Management this term. It’s a bit surreal to be reading about the foundations of organizational change management theory against the backdrop of the complex, evolving change we are seeing in our world right now, from the worldwide upheaval caused by COVID-19 to the disruption in the global oil and gas markets. I’m struck by how much the early change management theorists, like Kurt Lewin, were able to anticipate the challenges faced by our modern world and how their initial prescriptions still ring true.

Perhaps most resonant for me is the complexity of my own process of change in the midst of this tumultuous time. I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between anticipation and prediction in the context of change. As last summer drew to a close, it was evident (even to me) that the way I was living my life was unsustainable. It was entirely possible to anticipate that I would collapse. However, no one, including me, could predict the exact time, place, and manner in which that collapse would occur. We can certainly guess at the details of what will come next, but we only really know the generalities ahead of time. As I consider my future, including the ways in which I reenter my professional life and create new habits and routines that are sustainable from a physical and mental health point of view, I am realizing that I can anticipate how the complex adaptive systems in which I exist will progress, but I cannot predict the emergence of new systems as a result of their interactions.

So, where does that leave me? Interestingly, it leaves me with another of Lewin’s inventions, action research (AR). AR is the systematic self-experimentation undertaken within an ethical framework in order to learn something that could not be discovered other than through lived experience (Masters, 1995). Talk about learning in real time…

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