Homeostatic Change

by Jan Yuill

I like to think of change (need for, resistance to) in a biological way.

When our bodies experience a disruption to the natural balance (disease, fatigue, hunger, low blood sugar, temperature, etc.), we seek to rebalance the system using external means (food, drugs, a sweater, etc.), or our bodies do it automatically (sweating, sleep, digestion, etc.). The balanced state in biology is called homeostasis.*

I believe that organizations function more like a biological system, than a mechanical one. Homeostasis challenges our (my) concept and handling of change. It is a response to conditions, rather than an initiative to change conditions. Perhaps, we should be talking about rebalancing (i.e. changing back to the equilibrium) in response to disruptions to the system? Do we need to let go of change-for-change-sake and the great-big-fat-goals-treadmill (a mechanical view), and see organizations as the living, breathing beings that they are? Good health and success look quite different through that lens.

The analogy to homeostasis becomes particularly useful when we realize that perfect balance is only fleeting. Think of a mobile that is in a balanced state. It is never still, but is actually in constant motion and rebalancing itself in response to air currents. Continuous change and improvement only make sense when they are in response to internal and external influences on the organization.

*Homeostasis – a relatively stable state of equilibrium or a tendency toward such a state between the different but interdependent elements or groups of elements of an organism or group. (Mirriam-Webster)