Communicating change is a specialist field. PR and HR companies charge a small fortune for seminars on the subject. Whilst corporate and government communicators wrestle to understand how they might persuade colleagues that important, imminent, organisational changes are good for them - so that they can achieve that all important "buy-in" which leads to the shiny path of success - organisations are using change as a selling point or a process improvement to their customers.
The key thing to understand about change is that it is all about us, all the time. Nothing is static, everything around us is growing, decaying or evolving. This may be a bit abstract for some, but I think once communicated in context it is broadly acceptable. Last month Barack Obama made history, and the newspaper headlines read "Americans vote for Change", however, in my lifetime I have seen the arrival of the internet, social networking (blogs!) and virtual worlds (like Second Life); a female Prime Minister in Britain, a car run on vegetable oil and the advent of the global War on Terror. I have seen the IRA murder innocents in my country and I have also seen the conflict in Northern Ireland come to rest. I've seen walls come down (Berlin) and walls go up (Jerusalem). And I have queued, heavily pregnant, outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square together with voters, who delivered the first black President of South Africa.
Although dramatic, these changes are as much a part of life as a blade of grass uncurling as it grows, or the wind eroding tiny flakes of paint from my house, or the sad death of an anonymous old man. Life is a fluid thing, and what interests me is not change as such, but shift. Some call it a global shift of consciousness – and I have no doubt that over the past few hundred years as a species we have shifted rather rapidly towards compassion. In today's world we care about equality, human and civil rights. We give generously to help people starving and suffering war on the other side of the planet, and condemn slavery and torture by supporting organisations like Amnesty. Many associate the global rise in vegetarianism with animal welfare concerns rather than diet or availability, and we understand, perhaps for the first time, the impact our actions may have on the planet. So whilst Americans did of course vote for change in electing Obama, as did the white voters of South Africa when they ending apartheid over a decade a go, I think the potential for change in America as a result represents more of a shift.
The quandary for those in communications is that whilst a change is something that is relatively easy for professionals to communicate once presented in context, a shift is something unstoppable, and it propels itself. The art then, surely, is to capture the sentiment and to ride the wave.
Photo Credit: Flickr user sandcastlematt