Change launches chaotic but predictable process

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

It’s an old story with many variations. But in these economic times, it’s worth hearing again.

A man lived by the side of the road and sold hot dogs. He didn’t hear well, so he had no radio. He didn’t see well, so he read no newspapers.

But he sold hot dogs.

He put signs on the highway telling how good they were. He stood roadside and cried, “Buy a hot dog, mister.”

People bought.

He increased his meat and roll orders and bought a bigger stove. Business boomed, and his son came home from college to help.

“Father, haven’t you been listening to the radio?” the son asked. “There’s a depression coming. The European situation is terrible. The domestic situation is worse.”

That made the father think: “Well, my son’s been to college. He reads the papers and listens to the radio. He ought to know.”

So he reduced his meat and roll orders, took down his signs, and no longer stood by the highway to sell his good hot dogs.

Sales fell fast, almost overnight.

“You’re right, son,” he said. “We certainly are in a great depression. There just isn’t any business to speak of.”

Positive thinking cannot hold back a depression. But negative thinking can produce one.

In times like these, we are measured not by what the circumstances are, but how we react to them. A negative mindset faces reality and puts a period. A positive mindset faces the same reality and puts a comma.

A period is final, closing out creative thinking. But a comma indicates “more to follow,” leaving the door open for discoveries, addressing the new reality.

But reality today is often illusive. What exactly can we count on?

Change. It’s here to stay, it seems.

We invited and welcomed some change while other change bubbled up and caught most of us off guard. Both have merged, creating a period of unprecedented uncertainty.

Yet, we can count on the process of change.

Years ago, as consultant with career services firm Drake Beam Morin, I worked with people facing work force changes. Based on the premises of transitional consultant William Bridges, we taught workshops that described the change process as a series of “endings” and “new beginnings.” The mandatory step between the two was labeled the “chaos period.”

We emphasized that the path from “endings” to “new beginnings” must go through the “chaos period.” There were no short cuts. Chaos was inevitable. Expect it.

The outcome may not be predictable, but the process is.

Characteristics of this chaos period included mixed messages, lack of structure and quick changes in the work environment. Yet, it was also a period receptive to creative ideas, new ways of doing things and trial proposals.

Sounds familiar.

As we adjust to the many changes around us, perhaps we should resist the distractions of negative mindsets, embrace the spirit of comma-based thinking, and roll up our sleeves for the hard work required in this mandatory period of chaos.

New beginnings await.