Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Final words on fast change.

One of the most frequent reasons for slowness in implementing change has to do with people’s non-conscious but habitual mental patterns. This automatic-pilot mindset creates an unconscious inertia in thinking and in individual patterns of behavior.

To illustrate this, quickly fold your arms. Now, reverse the way they’re folded, placing your other arm on top and see how this feels. Most people experience the second way as awkward and uncomfortable. It would probably take some time to get used to folding your arms in the new way. This illustrates how our habit patterns work.

A second reason is the bias toward training that assumes that ideas agreed to in the classroom will find ready acceptance in the office or on the shop floor. When you teach someone baseball, they become interested in knowing what the rules are because they’ve enjoyed hitting and catching. You don’t start by sitting them down and teaching them the rule book. When there’s too much bias toward training, a powerful means becomes an end in itself.

And a third reason is the general absence of support for the novelty (surprise, uncertainty, unfamiliarity) brought about by change. Support must be available in the form of changes in rewards, availability of new information, and access to additional skills needed.

The first year of any long-term effort is a critical year. Change has to begin with the business itself, not with the organization that’s there to serve the business. It’s important to deal with fundamental solutions initially rather than trying to change all the band-aids. You can do this later on, when there’s more time. On-going status reviews are supposed to bring up implementation problems. But, who wants to be the bearer of bad news? And if problems aren’t welcomed by the boss, somehow they never seem to come up in the reviews.

This is both a personal and a cultural issue. Typically, lots of people at the bottom of the organization know that all isn’t well. But people at the top often don’t accept that bad stuff can or will happen until it’s too late. Then comes the search for the guilty and the execution of the innocent and all that palaver, which we now see concerning the mortgage / credit crisis. So, it’s very important to get people to work together, focusing their conscious attention on the interdependencies that can screw them up. This shared knowledge and awareness is very powerful.

I’ve read that the audience of the game show, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," is right 90% of the time, whereas the "expert" participants are right only 60% of the time. This phenomenon is known as the "wisdom of crowds." To manage significant change in a compressed time frame, it’s imperative to actively engage the collective IQ of the organization in making the right choices and taking preventative action before mistakes happen. The faster the rate of change, the more it pays to be reflective, that is, open, able to take in views other than our own. And being clear-minded is key. As the martial arts demonstrate, being fast on your feet means being thoughtful so you can accomplish more, using more force with less effort

Albert Einstein, when monitoring an exam at Princeton, was told by the students that the questions were the same as last year. ”That’s OK,“ he replied, “the answers are different this year.” When people are obsessed with prospective thinking, such as long-range planning, they’re often bewildered when events don’t turn out the way they planned. This is increasingly common as we move from an era of planning and prescribing to one of imagining and inventing.

In the next few weeks, I’m going to write about creating and supporting innovation in today's turbulent world.

1 comment:

cukie6 said...

I love Albert Einstein!