** Y2K: A Look at the Post-Rollover Transition ** ---

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Link Individual and Collective Responses to Y2K: A Look at the Post-Rollover Transition

By Colleen Childers

January 10, 2000

William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, said it best:

It isn't the changes that do you in, it's the transitions. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal.[1] The rollover from 1999 to 2000 was the change. That's (definitely) over. For some people, the effects of the rollover were negligible. But for many others, perhaps millions worldwide, the millennium rollover was symbolically and pragmatically very significant. Those that are feeling the significance of the rollover change in one way or another, are now in transition. Although preparedness advocates shouldn't give up the boat (there is always something to prepare for), their current focus should be on, or at least include, transition management.

The Y2K literature has dealt mainly with technological transition, offering little information or guidance on the psychological aspects of individual or collective Y2K experience. This lack of information accounts for some of the confusion I'm noticing on the Internet about what exactly is going on, psychologically speaking, and how best to describe it.

The Need for a Model with Greater Descriptive Power

What has been presented (with few exceptions) regarding the psychological aspects of Y2K has been described in terms of: the K|bler-Ross bereavement model, various models for societal/global transformation, and erroneous disaster response and disaster mental health theory (For more background on the latter, see my article The Truth About Panic).

The K|bler-Ross bereavement model, although excellent and widely recognized, has, in my opinion, been significantly overworked in reference to Y2K. Psychological adjustment to Y2K prior to, during, and after the rollover, involves a broader range of emotion, thought, and behavior than the K|bler-Ross model can realistically accommodate. That, along with little or no input on how to use the model has greatly limited its usefulness as a means of understanding and moving through Y2K-related psychological experience.

A number of authors, primarily futurists, have suggested Y2K as a potential catalyst for local and global societal transformation. I share that visionary perspective, yet, due to its abstract nature, sometimes find it difficult to translate my vision into strategies and behaviors that, along with the "catalyst Y2K" will lead to genuine transformation. This is true despite the many years I have spent experiencing, studying, and teaching transformational processes. I can only surmise that if I have this difficulty, others will too.

I have professionally worked with and personally participated in projects with individuals that scholars such as Paul Ray and Robert Gilman would classify as Cultural Creatives or the "transformers" of society. Without exception, these clients and peers intuitively recognized their readiness to individually and collectively engage in both inner and outer transformational work, and actively sought opportunities to do so. Most of these individuals chose a path that involved groups of people coming together to create sustainable communities.

There are many external paths to societal transformation, and therein lies one of the major organizational challenges inherent in making use of potentially catalytic events such as Y2K, no matter how opportune. Questions such as: How do we create a composite vision that reflects cultural diversity on a global scale? Should "collective" be defined in terms of majority or consensus? How will we know when the desired transformation has occurred? What will the indicators be? may appear rhetorical, but in fact require careful consideration and clear answers if such an endeavor is to be seriously undertaken.

Now, even in groups of like-minded people with similar goals, worldviews can vary considerably. In addition, processing this type of information requires cognitive skills that not all people have. And quite frankly, many people see no need to develop them. These are but a tiny fraction of the issues involved in utilizing Y2K as a catalyst for local and global societal transformation.

Whereas the K|bler-Ross model interprets Y2K-related psychological experience too narrowly, the global transformational model does just the opposite: it does a good job of addressing possibilities, however its ability to describe current Y2K-related psychological experience is lost in abstract, futuristic language.

What is needed is a model that includes -- but is not limited to -- the bereavement process, and that can conceptually expand to include the possibility of local and global societal transformation without losing its ability to adequately describe ordinary yet specific Y2K-related psychological experiences. Bridges' Transitions Model (one of several that I regularly use) does this quite nicely, and has the added benefit of being highly teachable.

Transition Fundamentals

The transition process itself is neither good nor bad. It isn't a consequence of either preparing or not preparing for potential Y2K disruptions, now or prior to the rollover. (However, depending on your particular Y2K circumstances, preparedness factors could indeed affect your transition experience.)

There are certain fundamental truths about transitions, some of which follow:

They're normal.

They're intrinsic to human experience, natural.

They provide a context for initiating and participating in activities essential for psychological growth, such as the reworking of identity, values clarification, and the identification or reconsideration of one's life purpose.

The reworking of identity can pertain to aspects of one's identity, or to one's identity as a whole.

In general, they are characterized by three overlapping phases: an ending, a neutral zone, and a new beginning.

They last longer than most people think they will or want them to.

They're governed by the wiser aspects of self, or Self (this is good).

They can be blocked (not recommended) by internal or external factors, but once you're in it, there's no real turning back.

The process is knowable, meaning it doesn't have to be mysterious.

At the same time, it (the process) can and usually does put us in touch with Life's greater Mystery (this is beautiful).

The process is universal, meaning it is basically the same for everyone, regardless of gender, race, nationality, religion, culture, occupation, or socioeconomic status, yet no two people or groups of people will experience it in exactly the same way.

They always occur in the context of other life experiences,which can include different phases of multiple transition processes (this is complicated). First, An Ending

Transitions always begin with an ending that ultimately matters to us, although we may minimize or possibly not even recognize it at the time. Endings can represent positive as well as negative outcomes or have a meaning that we interpret as positive even if others don't. There is a tendency to underestimate the impact of positive endings, simply because we assume that positive endings will present few if any adjustment challenges. It helps to keep in mind that "positive" and "easy" mean different things.

The primary significance of an ending is this:

When something ends, it is over.

Not maybe, kinda, sorta. Overas in finished, done, nevermore.

As straightforward as that sounds, it can be surprisingly difficult to identify what has ended, and as a result of that ending, determine exactly what is over.

But this is precisely what those individuals and groups even mildly impacted by Y2K must now do to facilitate their post-rollover transition.

Endings are often obscure because we tend to assume that if an ending has occurred, it will be "out there" somewhere, separate from our physical being or conscious mind, and readily seen. In truth, endings can represent inner as well as outer change.

Take a few minutes to think about and write down what has ended for you, what is now over. To help with this process, Bridges offers the following list of possible endings:

It could be a dream that has motivated you thus far in your life and career.

It could be an assumption about the rules by which you were playing.

It could be a tacit understanding about your value to the organization or the value of the project you care so much about.

It could be the belief you have held about your boss or the head of your company -- that he or she was ethical, for example, or concerned about his or her employees.

It could even be the image you have had about yourself -- the faith you had in your competence, honesty, or organizational clout. [2] The above endings represent internal losses associated with career and the workplace, but the context could just as easily be the home and family, peer relationships, the neighborhood, a place of worship, or the community at large. And in that sense, all are potentially applicable to Y2K.

When Endings Are Ignored

The world's infrastructure remained largely intact at rollover, and that is a blessing beyond measure. Still, I am certain that Y2K-related changes of measurable impact have and continue to occur, and that many of these changes have and will continue to initiate individual and group psychological transitions. Failure to recognize and address transition issues in a timely manner can have serious repercussions.

For individuals, the repercussions can include: residual or free-floating anxiety that interferes with daily functioning; grief reactions that may seem unrelated to anything important; prolonged transitional disorientation misinterpreted by oneself and/or others as incompetence or perhaps even as a sign of major mental illness; difficulty organizing and/or executing life plans; isolative behaviors that do not facilitate the transition process; increased interpersonal conflict; and clinical depression, to name a few.

For groups, the repercussions can include...well, let me put it this way: when organizational changes don't "take," the primary reason is almost always a failure to recognize or take transition issues seriously. If I had a mantra I could offer group leaders, supervisors, and CEO's, it would be this:

The change is not the transition.

Even the most transition-aware supervisors are tempted to compress the transition process into unnatural time frames to satisfy a higher up, or to just get it over with as quickly as possible. Planners and policy makers have the luxury of playing "virtual transition (no pun intended)," but supervisors on the front line who try to force the timing of a transition will quickly alienate the "organic" element of any organization: its employees. Transitions are live processes that cannot be separated from the people experiencing them. The timing of transitions can be successfully managed, but not forced.

Transitions and Disaster Response

When we think of communities in transition, we usually think of natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes, or man-made disasters such as nuclear facility accidents, oil spills, and more recently, pipeline explosions. (Of course, community transitions occur for reasons other than disaster.)

The various disaster response professions have identified a "disaster life-cycle" which begins with a warning phase followed by an impact phase or phases, which in turn are followed by longer recovery and resolution phases. Like transition phases, disaster life-cycle phases overlap, but in ways that are more difficult to predict due to the overall complexity of disaster response operations.

Disaster response professionals -- including those in disaster mental health -- utilize, along with other planning and assessment tools, the disaster life-cycle concept to identify, conceptually organize, and respond to the needs of disaster victims.

Y2K has radically altered the parameters of the disaster life-cycle. How? By virtue of its extraordinarily long warning phase. I cannot emphasize enough just how different Y2K's warning phase length (years) was compared with the warning phase lengths emergency managers are accustomed to dealing with, which prior to Y2K typically ranged from a few minutes to a few days, but usually minutes-to-hours. Flood, tornado, and hurricane studies have resulted in the development of reliable public warning message protocols for emergency managers, particularly with regard to timing, which has to be "just so" in order to obtain optimal citizen response. This "just so" window is much narrower than most people would guess. Had the potential magnitude and scope of Y2K, as perceived prior to the rollover, approximated that of the disasters emergency managers are used to dealing with, these timing protocols for public warning messages could have been generalized to the Y2K situation with reasonable accuracy. Unfortunately, the combination of Y2K's potential magnitude and scope and its extremely atypical warning phase length resulted in completely unique planning conditions that greatly diminished the usefulness of certain planning tools emergency managers have come to rely upon.

How does this relate to the kind of transition I've been describing?

Emergency managers essentially define the official onset of the disaster life-cycle that in turn defines the disaster transition parameters others will be working with. This pertains to citizens and professional responders.

When the nature of the disaster provides a warning phase in the minutes-to-days range, there is a goodness-of-fit between the disaster life-cycle and the amount of time spent in transition as a direct result of the disaster. With Y2K, there were no specific guidelines for determining an appropriate interval between the point in time when emergency managers first recognized Y2K's disaster potential (which varied from individual to individual) and the date on which the initial public warning message should be delivered for optimal results (which also varied). This, I believe, resulted in free-play in the timing of public warning messages that normally doesn't exist. Whether or not this created an artificial distortion in the amount of time individuals and communities spend in transition during Y2K's warning phase is a question begging (my professional bias reveals itself here) serious, collaborative investigation by emergency managers, disaster mental health professionals, and general disaster researchers.

Additionally, emergency managers and disaster researchers have an opportunity to develop a new set of criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of various types of public warning messages delivered at different times throughout the duration of an extended warning phase, particularly in reference to technological disasters. One of the most interesting variables in this type of study would be locus of control. How effective can any public warning message be when sources beyond an emergency manager's or other preparedness advocate's control contradict the information presented at the local level, or deny the existence (inconsistently, at that) of the potential disaster event?

Concluding Remarks

Some people are mad about the time they spent preparing for Y2K and the stress they believe was unnecessarily imposed upon them as a result of their heeding repeated suggestions by Y2K activists and emergency managers to prepare for potential Y2K disruptions. Not understanding the uniqueness of the situation from an emergency management perspective, there is a perception that preparedness advocates, including emergency managers, had more familiarity with Y2K-like situations, and therefore should have "known better" than to "make such a big deal" of an event that turned out to be less disastrous (thus far) than predicted.

Not so. Not even close.

I would guess that the public warning message aspect of Y2K emergency management didn't feel "normal" until several days before the rollover, when emergency managers could perform their duties within familiar time frames. I don't mean to imply that emergency response professionals lack the ability to adapt to new or unusual circumstances: such an ability is central to all emergency response work. My point is that there were enough unknowns about the nature of "a Y2K event" to create formidable planning challenges for even the most experienced emergency managers.

I see much of the backlash that has occurred since the rollover as indicative of a post-rollover transition process/reaction that isn't being recognized for what it is. Of course, some people behave quite badly under circumstances most people would consider benign, so if you are currently under attack by a "serial flamer," don't hesitate to set boundaries or ask a forum moderator to intervene.

What I have presented here is by no means a full description of the transition process, transition models, or the relationship between the process, transition models, and Y2K. My goal has been to get people thinking about transition, especially the nature and significance of endings, and to offer some perspective on the uniqueness of Y2K that hopefully will serve to eliminate certain misunderstandings about the timing of preparedness and public warning messages.

In my next article, I will provide a more in-depth description of the Endings phase of transition, adhering to the Bridges model, but also including excellent material from other transition models, as well as non-theoretical descriptions of endings that clients and students have found helpful.


1. Bridges, William. 1991. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, p.3. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, Massachusetts.

2. Ibid., p.89.

-- snooze button (alarmclock_2000@yahoo.com), January 13, 2000


GOOD STUFF, Maynard.

Rates a reread or two, snooze.

Good catch.


-- Chuck, a night driver (rienzoo@en.com), January 13, 2000.

So...that's why so many people are pissed off!

-- JoseMiami (caris@prodigy.net), January 13, 2000.

Huh? In an effort to understand people, you have inserted this board's experience into a massive pre-erected construct. Why not listen, learn and then draw conclusions? What you are dishing out is seemingly a very large portion of academic BS.

-- anon (anon@anon.calm), January 13, 2000.

It is interesting that the people who didn't prepare seem to be angry at people like Hyatt and North. I haven't noticed that most of the regular posters on this forum who prepared are angry at them. I didn't read all of the long piece above and wonder if it provides any explanation for this.

-- Dave (dannco@hotmail.com), January 13, 2000.

From: Y2K, ` la Carte by Dancr (pic), near Monterey, California

I haven't noticed that most of the regular posters on this forum who prepared are angry

Dave: Exactly. I wrote a little essay on this same point on another thread: Supposed Groundswell of Doomer Resentment Toward Their Leaders

-- Dancr (addy.available@my.webpage), January 13, 2000.

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