Archive for July, 2009

The Inevitability of Change

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

I was listening to someone talk the other day and they referred to “the inevitability of change”, and it was a phrase that really resonated for me. So often I hear people talking about Change as if it was an occasional stroke of bad luck, a bit like a traffic accident or a snow storm, something visited on us by the gods to test and try us. Nothing could be further from the truth! It is much more like weather, something we live with every day, just another dimension of our lives. And who should understand the changing nature of weather better than the British?

Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” Benjamin Disraeli

Every day we grow a little bit older and perhaps a little bit wiser (of course inside we always feel the same 16 year old we have always been) but as we grow older we notice the young people around us seem to change each time we see them, so why should change be such a threat when it is so much a part of our daily lives?

The truth is that we fear, fight and resist those things which are imposed from outside and this usually includes most business change programs. The very phrase ‘change program’ is enough to send a cold shudder of dread through an organisation. The usual methodology seems to involve someone at the top getting sold some new idea; perhaps a consultancy has some ‘new’ methodology to peddle. This is the silver bullet, the secret ingredient that will kill all known germs, the one element that is required to transform your business! Usually it is snake oil and as likely to work as consulting the magic mirror in the executive washrooms! Intuitively the workforce realises this and resists it as pointless.

Since the industrial revolution, the language of the workplace has become ever more the language of the production line. We want to eliminate waste and have reliable processes. Of course there is nothing wrong with either of these aims but in our efforts to turn people into machines we rob them of their spark. We need to create an environment that supports their genius and humanity and allows them to respond to things with all their gifts and intuitions. How often has a potential cock-up of monumental proportions been defused with a smile and a sincere sorry? An incident book and H&S manual would do nothing but compound and perpetuate it.

Of course I’m not suggesting we don’t need structures and processes, but when we treat people like components we are breeding resistance to the natural flow of things, including change. The farmer goes out into his field every day and sees something different and responds appropriately. He has no expectation that he will see the same conditions nor will his crops look the same; he knows things will have moved on. Leading business thinkers are warning that the old wisdom about peaks and troughs in business is now a thing of the past and that there no longer is a ‘recovery’ phase. It just keeps on coming.

It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.” Isaac Asimov

The thing is we don’t tend to fear things that we are familiar with, we learn to deal with them. I believe the key challenge for every business leader today is Change. Every decision is fundamentally about what things need changing and what things need preserving, and allocating resources between these things. Strategy is about mapping a safe route through the minefield, where to turn and where to keep straight on. So leaders need to build a culture that sees Change as inevitable, a force to be worked with as sailors use the wind, not to be feared, but harnessed!

“Champions know that success is inevitable; that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. They know that the best way to forecast the future is to create it.” Michael J. Gelb

I was listening to a Kyudo (the Japanese art of archery) master speaking the other day about how the desire to hit the target prevent you from doing so, one had to simply be in the flow and release the energy stored in the bow. This make seem overly zen and weird but I think a leader builds energy in his system, chooses his target and then his job is to simply release it and trust it to find its target.

Find a new language for discussing change, involve people in a dialogue about it rather than imposing it, set a direction rather than giving instructions, release energy rather than seeking to restrain it and remember “Change is inevitable.. Except from a vending machine!” The best way to get people to join the ‘dance’ is to be the first one onto the dance floor…

Are you fighting the Change too?

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

We are always hearing about businesses instituting change programs, and how they have to overcome resistance to change.  The trouble with this kind of thing is it makes it seem like something that someone else is trying to do to us, and of course the most natural thing in the world is for us to resist that pressure.   However, given that none of us is perfect, and in the words of Richard Bach:-

“Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.”

So we are all Work In Progress, and it is our job to seek out these changes rather than to resist them…

How do you stay open to Change?


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Feeling a little koi

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

We went out today and bought four new koi for the pond; they were a little smaller than I had expected so I was just a little disappointed, but once they were added to the pond they really added something to the community.  I guess you don’t have to be a star to add to the overall ‘team’ performance.

We are brought up in a culture that seems obsessed with stars, whole magazines are devoted to who did what with whom.  Yet in business we are told it is all about teamwork, and yet, and yet we still pay more attention to the star performers. 

We can’t all be stars all of the time, and some of us never do.  Does that make us any less important?  Or is a team, or an organisation or even a shoal of koi made up of all sorts with a beauty and a performance that outshines any individual?   Today might be a really good day to notice and enjoy the role and contribution played the ‘little guys’, and perhaps you could even take the time to tell them so too…

Solar eclipse

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Yesterday, one of the longest solar eclipses for a long time was visible in Asia.  The moon moved in front of the sun for over 6 minutes and the world was plunged into premature darkness.  People watched in awe as they have for as long as man has walked this planet.

However, this eclipsing of the sun; the turning out of our main source of illumination allows us to see things in a different light.  During this financial upheaval and the ensuing economic chaos many have had their smooth progress arrested and been forced to question what they are doing and how they are planning to achieve it.

It appears there are a lot of people about now who are questioning their assumptions, their methods and perhaps even their goals.  In these topsy-turvy times, we are being invited to review and reconsider what we are doing, the lights have been temporarily dimmed and we are offer a different perspective; we can see and follow lesser, less dazzling lights.

I’d be interested to hear if you have been experiencing any of this and what you have done about it.

It’s only during an eclipse that the Man in the Moon has a place in the sun”


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Not all progress is forwards

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

As a Change ‘expert’, this shouldn’t be news, but as a human being it is always hard to recognise that not all progress is forwards.  Just as in the marathon at a certain point you ‘hit the wall’, in life and in business one sets out on a journey and sometimes it is not only ‘uphill’, but sometimes the terrain takes you back on yourself.  Recently it has felt a bit like this for me; no sooner have I sorted one problem or issue out than two more take its place!  I won’t bore you with all the rubbish that has been going on, it is neither serious enough nor interesting enough to recount.  However, it is emotionally wearing.

So if like me the current of life seems to be taking you backwards despite your very best endeavours, take heart, the tide will turn and I hear tell it is good for the soul…. [goodie, goodie!]

What do you do at times like this?

“Life must be understood backwards; but… it must be lived forward.”   Soren Kierkegaard


Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Yesterday was my daughter’s graduation day.  It is one of those rare day’s in one’s life when there is a visible transition; an old fashioned rite of passage.  It was full of pomp and ceremony, gowns, hoods, mortarboards and caps, swords and maces.  Yesterday, the Chancellor said, marked the beginning of the rest of their lives rather than just the end of their time at university.

Most of the changes in our lives are more gradual… Tick..Tock..  Tick… Tock  Time passes and we don’t notice the subtle changes.  Day-by-day, we grow older, greyer, wiser.  I think it might all be a little easier if we had a few more ceremonies and certificates telling us that we now know something.  Mostly Life creeps up on us; one minute we are kids, the next we are parents (but still feel the same way!)

I tend to find that I don’t know what I know till I am  tested or asked a question, maybe it is the same for you.  I think there is a real value in these occasions and rites, but we shouldn’t forget all those little changes slowly add up and we aren’t the same person today that we were even a year ago.  Maybe we should pause occasionally, take stock and see who we are today?

“Old age and the passage of time teach all things.”  Sophocles


How to untangle a B*ggers Muddle

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

I was busy in the garden fiddling with the pump for the pond and I mooring it with some paracord (I had 100yds of the stuff neatly rolled on a drum for just such eventualities).  When I looked up I discovered that the drum had broken and the string had spooled off the broken drum and become gently tangled.  Now those of you who have anything to do with string will know that this appearance is a snare and a illusion, because the moment you touch it it becomes a mass of snarls!  So the very next thing I knew was that I had knot consisting of the remaining  95yds of string.

Well at this stage you have two choices, you either patiently unravel it or bin the whole buggers muddle!  The art of untangling this kind of involuntary knot is to gently tease it apart; to create space so you can see which way the string wants to go.  Interestingly, if you allow your fingers to just guide you, they seem to be able to feel their way where your eyes just get overwhelmed.

It occurred to me that there were many parallels between the way one has to approach knotted string and to how one unravels knotty problems.  You have to tease the various parties and components apart and let in a little space and light; it is better to let one’s instinct guide one rather than one’s mind.  You need to be patient and recognise that it is one single bit of string and every bit is connected to the rest of it.  If you slowly work it out and take your time the knotty mess gently resolves itself.

My problem was just a bit of string, if yours is a bit more significant, I wish you luck and hope that this approach helps you. 

“Writing fiction has developed in me an abiding respect for the unknown in a human lifetime and a sense of where to look for the threads, how to follow, how to connect, find in the thick of the tangle what clear line persists.”   Eudora Welty


Life is like a traffic jam

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

There are times when despite your very best efforts you just don’t seem to get anywhere.  For reasons beyond your control, you are forced to mark time.  Perhaps customers are not paying you on time, maybe key appointments are cancelled, you can not get access to the resources you need, be that people, credit or technology.  One moment you are motoring down Life’s highway, next you have ground to a halt. 

Like all traffic jams, sometimes they move along quite well and don’t last too long, other times one just find yourself parked on the motorway literally going nowhere and not even knowing what is wrong.  I find that if you can find out what is happening and you know if there is anything you can do, or whether you just have to wait for someone else to do something helps.

Doing nothing goes against our nature, this suggestion that we should surrender, and there is in fact, nothing we can do, so the only area for us to change is our attitude.

At present, despite my very best efforts, I am not getting any sense of forward motion.  I’m not necessarily worried by this but it is a far from comfortable sensation.  The usual metrics for business success no longer apply here, it is a bit like being in the Arctic Circle and having a compass… When you are out walking and you are lost you basically have three options:-

  • Sit down and wait for something to happen that changes your situation
  • Go back and try and retrace your steps (and start again another time?)
  • Press on to the best of your abilities

In business you can cut-back, bring in outside ‘experts’, try something new, or just keeping ‘pluggin’ away.’  If you are a fisherman, once you have tried all your usual tricks, and gone to the best places you know, if you still haven’t caught anything, you have to decide whether to just keep at it, stay home for a few days and wait for the water/weather conditions to change, or go out hunting!

I’m interested to hear whether you have encountered similar situations and if so how you have dealt with them and what the results were…

“What to do if you find yourself stuck in a crack in the ground underneath a giant boulder you can’t move, with no hope of rescue. Consider how lucky you are that life has been good to you so far. Alternatively, if life hasn’t been good to you so far, which given your current circumstances seems more likely, consider how lucky you are that it won’t be troubling you much longer.”    Douglas Adams

“Most of the time it was probably real bad being stuck down in a dungeon. But some days, when there was a bad storm outside, you’d look out your little window and think, “Boy, I’m glad I’m not out in that.””    Jack Handy


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A Question of Pace

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Sometimes I have noticed that it isn’t that the ‘wrong’ things are happening, simply that they are either happening too fast or too slow for us.  I’m not sure which is more challenging.  Too slow and we get impatient and try to force things to happen; too fast and we go into overwhelm.  Dealing with Change is a much a matter of getting the pace right as much as the sequence.

Champion athletes are lucky enough to have access  to a pace setter, we don’t have this luxury, so we have to master the twin arts of waiting patiently, and the stress of handling it when it comes at us from every direction at the same time.  I think one key is trust.  Trusting the Universe to give us what we need, and trusting our own ability to handle what it chucks at us.  After all, as Nietzsche observed “that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

At the moment I seem to be having to deal with both extremes at the same time!  Some elements are  just taking forever to work out and I find myself wondering if I have, somehow, got it wrong; and at the same time, the other day I was inundated in a sh1tstorm of epic proportions!  And today, the pendulum seems to have swung back to its middle position. 

Do you have any helpful strategies in dealing with the pace when it gets out of hand?

“It is always the simple things that change our lives. And these things never happen when you are looking for them to happen. Life will reveal answers at the pace life wishes to do so. You feel like running, but life is on a stroll. This is how God does things.”   Donald Miller


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Let my people GO!

Monday, July 6th, 2009

The last few days have been rather testing.  It seems like a litany of tests, trials and mini-disasters.  My son got reversed into and insulted for his troubles.  We had barely got over that when my middle daughter came home to announce that she had just backed into someone, and whereas my son’s driver had been very pleasant about it, the owner of my daughter’s victim was much less amenable.  This was followed up by discovering that her insurance company had her down for twice the excess she had thought.  And my wife has been ill since Saturday AND my daughter has just been signed off work for eight days by the doctor… and… and .. and!  [I won’t go on..]    I’m soon expecting a plague of locusts, boils and frogs and Moses to come striding in shouting “Let my people go!”

Have you ever had one of those days/weeks, and how do you respond?