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Change and The Life of Pi

Posted by Jan Craft - Thursday, February 07, 2013

Feb 07

I have been thinking a lot about Change Management and reading many texts on change theory by experts in this field. So much complexity and so many factors impact on how highly functioning adults react to change. One thing is certain - Change Happens, and it happens all the time. Sometimes it is an option, often not, but how we respond to change is always a choice. 

In his wonderful book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ©1989 Stephen Covey writes about the power of the paradigm shift. A paradigm, he explains, is the way we "see" the world in terms of perceiving, understanding and interpreting. He gives great examples of powerful paradigm shifts. My favourite is the captain of a battleship signalling to a light observed at night to change course. The message comes back that the battleship should change its course. After a number of heated exchanges the furious captain demands acquiescence declaring "I am a battleship". The signal comes back immediately "I am a lighthouse". The captain changed course. All of us reading this account experience a paradigm shift, what we had thought and understood about the world has changed. 

I have just finished reading The Life of Pi, winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2005, by Yann Martel. It is the story of a young boy, named Pi, travelling with his parents and brother on a ship transporting animals from his family's zoo in India to Canada. There is a storm at sea, the ships sinks and Pi is the only survivor. He finds himself stranded in a lifeboat with four of the zoo animals, a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal tiger curiously named Richard Parker. As the food chain would dictate before long only Pi and the tiger remain. Pi is terrified of being devoured by the tiger. He tries to think of ways to kill Richard Parker before he himself is killed. He knows that as the tiger becomes hungrier so the likelihood of an attack increases. He thinks of wild plans and schemes to rid himself of the tiger but each one seems more impossible than the rest. Finally a paradigm shift occurs. "It was at that moment that I realised...it was not a question of him or me, but of him and me. We would live or die together". Pi realised that his survival depended on Richard Parker's survival. So Pi adopted Plan Number Seven: Keep Him Alive. Pi fished and provided food for them both. Solar stills from the life boat provided water. They stayed alive.   

Like Pi, often we focus only on our limitations when change occurs. Listening to our inner voice and the language we use is key. Stephen Covey describes this in his First Habit - Be Proactive. Do we tell ourselves that there is nothing we can do or do we look at all of the alternatives? Do we see our options in terms of I can't or I choose? Knowing we have the power of choice is what will give us hope. Pi choose a different path for both himself and Richard Parker and together they survived.

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