03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Did We Learn From the Recession? Maybe Nothing

What Have We Really Learned From the Recession? Nothing!

I really thought this time in our history, a national disaster would create impact. In fact, I was writing about how the recession will be an opportune time to rethink the way we do things, connect with passion, create sustainable change and innovate. The severity of our financial crisis was forcing us to broadly evaluate our lives, our national policies, how our government functions, Corporate America and business strategies and systems. I was convinced that this was the time and we were going to be led by a strong, passionate President who also believed in change.

The problem that will always remain is the limited awareness of the change process. No matter whether Democrat or Republican, private or public sector, national versus regional-the challenge of change prevails. When Obama was running for President last year, the psychological state of most Americans was grim. People were disenchanted with previous leadership and what was taking place across the globe as well as in our own backyards. The idea of change was enticing. We all craved something new because we had hit rock bottom. In fact, a powerful impetus of change stems from despair and dissatisfaction. The questions that should have been posed were "Are we ready for change?" "How can we prepare for sustainable change?" "What can I expect once change is being initiated?"

The idealization of what change would look like has led us to our current state. Did Americans expect that Obama would wave a magic wand at his inauguration and America would be transformed? Was there an expectation that change would come without sacrifice or cost? Or was it that we were not prepared for what change may look like and what to expect as we move into this transformation.

To make dramatic changes is the easier part of the equation-it is the change process that is not. That is where our country repeatedly gets stuck no matter what the cultural shift may be. From the gender revolution to civil rights movement and now the financial crisis-our country takes the first few steps and then regresses to old paradigms of behavior and thought. Minimizing the process and the work that needs to be continuously done is dangerous. Superficially things may look differently but cut to the core and look at how beliefs, ideas and behavior remain the same. It is much more difficult for our culture to relinquish strategies that have been ingrained for decades and have become traditional approaches.

Leaders always seem to start from the outside and work inward, stopping at a critical point necessary for sustainable solutions to occur. If one was to examine each reign of leadership it would look like a pendulum-a movement from one extreme to the other. There is an absence of transitions-a critical part of sustainable change. Psychologically, people are reactive versus proactive. There is a strong pull to get in and 'fix" the problem. Thinking about the problem systemically is perceived as a waste of time. We operate in crisis mode and want a quick answer. If our leadership fails to provide this quick fix they are criticized for being inadequate and their ability is questioned.

What about working from inside out? Thinking about the issue at large in terms of stages and creating a process of change that supports the physical act. Real change does not happen overnight-it is gradual. What needs to be put in place to facilitate change is the real question. How can we keep people engaged, involve them in the solution, assess what is needed emotionally as well as concretely in order to move forward. Can we examine change efforts continuously and redirect if needed? Is our country taking a good look at who we are now, our vision for the future and what is getting in the way? Are we looking at establishing a foundation to support necessary changes? We can no longer slap a new coat of paint on the walls and call it innovation. Real inner work needs to be done in corporations, not for profits, government and education. I already witness businesses reverting back to old ways because they think the recession is ending-slashing costs and people to make it seem as if their business is doing better. We are too concerned about outward appearance and not worried enough about what is underneath the shiny new coat of paint. Guess what? The paint will be chipping in no time and then what?