Paying Attention to Discontinuities


Change is disruptive.  Whether it is a positive change or a negative one, it is still disruptive.   Sometimes we do not see the change coming, and it catches us off guard.  At other times, we should see it coming, but ignore the signs.  The signs that we sometimes ignore are discontinuities.  Although the exact definition is longer and more complex, we can think of a discontinuity as a disconnect, something that does not connect, or that does not make sense.

I first heard the term discontinuity when I was in a fellowship program at Wharton in 1993.  The focus of the discussion of discontinuities related to political changes, and how if we are paying attention, we can see the disconnects before we get mired in them, or in my case, fired.  I had just experienced a major change, loss of my job. The discussion of discontinuities clarified for me the disconnects that I should have seen, yet failed to.  In this situation, there were several significant discontinuities, and when I reflected on them, I was amazed at myself for failing to read the tea leaves.  The same thing happened years later when a client engagement ended, and I had failed to see that coming.  Looking back on it, I saw the discontinuities clearly.  In both cases, I had felt that things were different with both “bosses,” yet dug my heels in, ignored the signs, thinking I could fix it.  This also happened during my first marriage.  The marriage had ended long before the divorce.

For an intuitive (which I am), if things don’t feel right, they usually aren’t right.  While I don’t always understand the feeling, I have learned to trust it, and to have the patience to see things unfold.  Others learn this lesson not by feeling but by paying attention to how things appear, or how they look.  If things don’t look right, they probably aren’t.  Trying to convince ourselves otherwise is counterproductive.

One of our challenges is that many of us are so focused on getting things done, that we fail to have enough perspective.   We need to be more mindful of what is happening around us and to us, yet this requires that we slow down and pay attention.

Our most recent Presidential election is an example of discontinuities.  Regardless of your choice of candidate, most would agree that many people failed to realize the significant unrest felt by many people.  The best way that many found to deal with such unrest was to vote against one candidate, voting for change more than voting for the other candidate.  No, it isn’t that simple, it never is, but that was a part of it.

Simplistic thinking accounts for some of the reason for our failure to feel and see impending changes before they happen, or in some case, to be able to redirect the course.  In some cases, denial is involved.  At times we act as if we think if we hide our heads in the sand, that thing we don’t want will go away.  This is avoidance, and avoidance is never effective.

At other times we consciously choose to ignore the signs, pressing on whatever course we are on.  This can be effective if we are choosing to ignore a potential conflict that we have determined will have a negative outcome.   It is not usually effective if we are consciously ignoring signs of change just because we think we can work harder or smarter and keep what we have.  This is another form of avoidance and denial.

In dealing with change it is best to be proactive, not reactive.  Sometimes we do not act quickly enough and find that what we do not want happens anyway, and we have little to no control over the change’s impact on us.

Change often involves discontinuities.  Paying attention, being proactive, and moving with the change are better choices than trying to hold on to what is already gone.


About Patti Fralix

Patti Fralix inspires positive change in work, life, and family through Speaking, Consulting, and Coaching in three specialty areas: Leadership, Managing Differences, and Customer Service. Her leadership firm, The Fralix Group, Inc., has been helping clients achieve practical and tangible results for twenty-two years.
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