I had a lot invested emotionally in the name Catalyst OC. The name of the company I founded had become part of my identity over the past 9 years. Even though I am now excited about being Kairos, a few months ago I wasn’t. Initially I rejected the name Kairos. In fact, I rejected the idea of changing the name at all.

I had asked Daniel Herndon from MilesHerndon to help us sharpen our marketing approach. In assessing the strength of our brand, he discovered that a critical mass of our clients and colleagues didn’t know the name, didn’t really like it, or associated it with only one of us on the team. He recommended we consider rebranding, in order to better communicate our unique values, approach, and philosophy. I agreed. But it turns out I wasn’t really ready to let go.

William Bridges was an English professor until 1974. From that point until his death in 2013, he devoted his life to helping people navigate change. He became a change guru, creating one of the simplest and most powerful models in the field of organizational change management—the Bridges Transition Model.

Bridges Transition ModelBridges drew a distinction between two words that most people consider synonyms—change and transition. He defined change as an external event, and transition as an internal process, or a reaction to a change. He observed that people move through three phases of transition as they experience a change:

  • The Ending: We let go of both our old ways and our old expectations about the future.
  • The Neutral Zone: We have let go of the past but have not yet fully adopted the new reality.
  • The Beginning: We start to turn the new reality into our new normal.

My experience validates that these phases are real and helpful to understand. Here are a handful of lessons I (re)learned as I went through my own Ending phase:

Mourning a loss takes time, and can it be painful, but there are actions we can take to help each other through transitions. Early on in the rebranding process, I clung to the name Catalyst OC. Even though outwardly I stated I was open to a new name, internally I was reluctant to abandon the word “catalyst.” Out of 11 possible brand names I seriously considered, 5 of them had “catalyst” in them. I struggled to switch, even though there were compelling reasons to change. What helped me most was time—getting used to the idea of a new reality. What also helped was fellow team members (Christin and Alyssa) showing authentic enthusiasm for a new future state. And they provided good emotional support as I let go: “Chip, you’re grieving the loss of what you had. It’s normal. You’ll get through it.”

Engagement leads to quicker and deeper commitment. Christin and Alyssa went through their own Ending phases much more quickly than I did. Although they had less invested in the name Catalyst OC, I believe the bigger factor is that they had their fingerprints on the new identity. No one asked them 9 years ago if Catalyst OC was a good name. This time, they were actively engaged in the process, so they felt ownership of the decision and the result. Their buy-in meant they were going to actively ensure the rebrand was a success. Engaging them early and often in the process (in this case, fully engaging them in the entire process) led to quicker transitions for them.

It’s hard to read the label from the inside of the bottle. As an outsider, I can observe others’ transitions fairly easily; in fact, I do it all the time. But when I’m experiencing a change (even one I initiated), I’m less aware of the broader situation, and I rarely pause to observe my own transition. But it was very helpful when Alyssa and Christin pointed it out to me, so I could see the bigger picture. In fact, we’ve found that one of the most helpful actions we can take with individuals struggling with change is to simply show them the Bridges Transition Model and explain how people experience transition. It calms them down by providing a context of normalcy for their emotional journey.

Next month, Christin will talk about our journeys through the Neutral Zone, which we sometimes (melodramatically) call “the dark night of the soul.” Stay tuned.

21 Comments

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  1. I like the idea of Change as an external event and Transition as the concept of going through the external factor. The emotional side of marketing, brand, sales is fascinating… and why do we “fear” turns from a path. If we could figure out a “magic pill” that reduces this reluctance to moving from the known and trusted, and not focusing on the one time in life when it was better to say put… how much different would we be. I am guessing a few more people would take the leap into more fulfilling life choices..

    Good blog.

    • “the one time in life when it was better to stay put…” Ha! Too many times we “catastrophize,” imagining the worst case (but highly unlikely) scenario, instead of taking reasonable risks.

  2. HI Chip! Greetings from ThirdRiver…John Porcari and I were noticing your very attractive email today – glad to be on your list. I love the Bridges work and focus on the psychological importance of creating a personal and collective narrative to go with difficult and significant change. A formative time in my life was working in a firm that managed and advised clients in insolvency and reorganization. Being with people as their companies were re-focused, downsized or closed and seeing both despair and the rising up of new stories about what can be created in the midst of loss. New choices appear that were never thought possible. And sometimes the way that people turn to one another in crisis is the most important part of the story.

    I love the image of not seeing the label when you are inside the bottle! So helpful to realize that many of life’s transitions are not fatal or final.
    And so interesting to find out how others are experience us. Thanks Chip

    • Hi back to you (and Ken) and John. I miss y’all.

      You bring up two topics that are near and dear to my heart: 1) narrative and 2) community. New stories of the possible can be so powerful, and can liberate us from our mental chains. And in community, we weather storms (and celebrate good times) so much better.

  3. Chip- I love the vulnerability and the courageousness in your change. You bring about an important revelation that we can’t just find success then drive a stake in the ground hoping that we will continue to experience success forever there. We have to evolve as the world evolves. You get it. You rock!

    • Thanks, Angela. It seems you yourself have been evolving your business over the past year (instead of driving a stake in the ground after initial success). It has been fun to observe your journey, your growth, and your achievements. Rock on.

  4. Hi Chip, as usual you are getting to the “heart” of the matter. Nice work! It reminds me of the work we did together at Guidant while planning the anticipated J&J acquisition of Guidant. From previous work we knew that change management was going to play a key role and we reminded ourselves of the reality of “staggered experiences” ie not only is change deeply personal but various people in the organization are going through it at different times as they become aware of the anticipated change. Because everybody is in “transition” at different times. leaders need to be prepared to give the messages about the change repeatedly and consistently.

    • I never would have entered the field of change management if it hadn’t been for you inviting me into that acquisition work. I’m indebted! I learned some great lessons at your side.

  5. Kevin D. Russell

    Chip, congratulations and thanks for sharing the real life experience of the concepts your team leads your clients through change with.

    In fact, you helped me in my sermon prep for Sunday on Repentance! Im looking at the parallels between the Bridges model and when we repent and turn back to the Lord. Specifically, how after rejecting our old ways we sometimes pause in the neutral zone, not yet fully embracing the reality of who Scripture says we are and the Identity in Christ that we have.

    Blessings to you and your team as you enter this new season…..of change & transition!

    • Thanks for the congratulations and blessings, Kevin. If memory serves, the Greek word for repentance is “metánoia.” Isn’t that right? It means “seeing through” or “seeing from a higher perspective.” This is exactly the concept of “seeing ourselves from the outside of the bottle.” But you probably already had that in your sermon…

  6. Thanks for your transparency, Chip. Good stuff from which many of us can learn… Thanks for paying the tuition and sharing the education…hopefully the tuition will be cheaper for all of us the next time around….

    • The funny thing is that I keep forgetting and re-learning some of life’s most important lessons. Apparently I’m on the tuition installment plan.

  7. We went through a similar process in leaving the name “Slaughter Development” (which was always temporary) and finding the name AccelaWork.

    I still get emails to that old account and it makes me wince. But it’s great to be on the other side.

    Congrats!

    • Does the wincing decrease with time? I’m still trying to eradicate all traces of the old brand, but I fear it will be futile. Years from now, I expect to be handed my check at Twenty Tap and find a Catalyst OC pen hitching along for the ride. : )

  8. Chip/Team,

    Kairos, the Divine moment, has great significance in our family’s life as well as many of those we serve. The process of “pruning” or “letting go” is regularly a piece of God’s process for leading us toward these Kairos moments in our journey. I look forward to seeing how He blesses your team in the months and years ahead.

    Blessings,
    Chris Arnold

  9. Chip–
    Great to hear that you have gone through your own change to remember what it is like for those you help transition in this “change” process. Adds to your creditability and expertise! Thanks for sharing!

    • It is good to be humbled/reminded of our humanness. Helps us be better healers. Thanks for the reminder and the encouragement, Debi.

  10. Love that phrase “It’s hard to read the label from the inside of the bottle.” Reminds me of a wise old mentor I had who always told me, “Scott, distance is a prerequisite for perspective.”

    • I’m embarrassed that I can’t remember who taught me that phrase, but I like it too. I imagine I’m blind to quite a lot because of my lack of distance.

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