“Change is good”, were the words whispered in my ear by my masterful art teacher as he erased every last pencil line I made as I attempted to draw the life model with great accuracy. 25 years on and those words still ring clear. With every endeavour, every new skill I wish to master, I only improve if I embrace change. As a trainer and lifelong learner, I find growth in learning and how we evolve over time deeply fascinating, so much so that I thought I’d type a few words. After all we grow a great deal more if we learn from each other, right? Well I’ll come on to that.
Change is hard
As a passionate storyteller let’s jump back to art college as I map out some key milestones along my life’s journey. So, the words ‘Change is good’ continued to echo in my mind as I progressed to university to undertake a Design degree in Illustration. Now a small fish in a big pond I was confronted with some pretty awesome illustrators who essentially owned their Sh@t. I’ll never forget how envious I was with the unique style one fellow student had mastered from day one BUT there was a flaw to this. The recurring message of ‘change’ resounded from the tutors who seemed dissatisfied with the magnificent way this student would crack out the same styled drawing. Consistency is good right? Well, wrong if it creates a fixed mind-set. With 4 years to draw, draw and draw again the desire was to grow, to fail, to learn and to fail some more and NOT to play safe.
Zooming forward to a time when I supported adults with learning disabilities it is apparent that change can be a bigger challenge for some. I had the good fortune of supporting individuals who greatly required structure, routine and stability within their lives. Where possible this could be offered in the form of visual activity boards and person-centred plans. Yes, this sparked my passion for visualisation as an enabler to enhance communication but let’s park this for another blog as I focus on the theme of change!
So anyway, where possible we did our very best to offer structure and stability but as you well know life will inevitably throw a curveball which for some can be incredibly traumatic and unsettling. My sister, who teaches in a local school, uses similar interventions to support children who also require a high level of routine and structure. One technique being the creation of social stories to prepare individuals for future change (yes, another example of the power of storyboarding and visual storytelling but stop getting distracted with visual thinking!!!) and another technique being the use of visual cards. Within the deck is an ‘Oops’ card, a card that symbolises the ‘Oops or oh-crap’ moments that life throws at us. For a pupil this might equate to a fire alarm or absent key worker and for you perhaps the discovery of a flat tyre prior to an urgent journey.
So how does this translate to the world of business? A lot of people within my network embrace Agile ways of working and will be familiar with the Agile Manifesto value ‘Responding to change over following a plan’. Makes perfect sense, right? This is what we preach to individuals, teams and businesses going through any type of transformation. Trainers and coaches within this space will also draw up the faithful J-curve of disruption as they explain the duration of time an organisation will inevitably face pain and disruption on their pursuit to transform to a higher state. But how often do we self-retrospect? I wonder how many people who advocate for change really and truly embrace change and feedback for that matter?
The power of feedback
On a personal level I too may stumble when it comes to walking the talk. In the classroom we often make use of the Johari Window (created by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955) as a technique that helps people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. The four windows are decomposed of quadrants describing self-disclosure from……
Arena- a space for things that are known to yourself and others
Façade- a space for things that are known by us and not by others
Blind spot- a space for things that are not known to us but known to others and
Unknown- well an area where you’re pretty screwed because these are the things that are unknown to you and others. OK, ok coaching purists this is the space for areas of importance that will become more visible over time. Better?
Well my real point here is that with every model and technique we must really absorb the learning and self-actualise 24/7. If you think you’ve mastered this with your teams make sure to step outside of the workspace and through the front door. Do you really know your blind-spots and do you really embrace the feedback you receive about your subtle sarcastic undertones that may or may not be modelled by your children? Surely not? Well perhaps.
Well feedback comes in many forms and whilst feedback should allow us to grow, growing pains certainly hurt!
I will never forget the first time I took to the stage to deliver my first Agile talk or may I say I’ll never forget the aftermath that followed. Recognised for being the guy shackled to the drawing board in the corner of the room or facilitating a workshop, a few years back I decided to broaden my horizons and deliver a talk.
In whole the experience and feedback was positive all bar the feedback from one individual. One individual with a mere 23k followers: Dave Snowden - best known for his thought leadership and expertise in systems theory, complexity theory, sense making (essentially any topic that will blow your mind). Dave is also credited for being rather vocal on social media and it’s fair to say he wasn’t enamoured by the delivery or content of my talk. Not a great pill to swallow but a hell of a way to adapt and strive for improvement. Years gone by would he agree with the principles and ideas shared within this article? Probably not! Would he find flaws? Certainly, but would I be less wrong and more right than our first encounter? Possibly yes. Having since delivered many talks and hosted many events I remain deeply grateful for the feedback that I once received and always remind Dave of my deep dread when I saw him sitting in the audience. This is followed by a gleeful smirk.
The speed of change
Those of you that know me well will most likely chuckle when I say that I was once a black belt in martial arts. I have to say I’m chuckling to myself right now. I’m not entirely sure why I stuck to it for over a decade but one thing’s for sure the growth of learning was rapid. Why? Well when someone’s hurtling through the air with all limbs blazing whilst headed in your direction, you have to think fast and change fast. You forgot to raise your guard you say? One moment you could see a foot making contact with your nose and the next thing you know everything went blurry? A sloppy guard will rapidly take shape. Certain life experiences do accelerate the speed of change and this is not different for businesses attempting to survive in a time of disruption.
Back in March I had the opportunity to host the Business Agility Conference in NYC. It was here that a line-up of awesome Business Agility Executives, Thought Leaders and Practitioners took to the stage to tell their unique stories, yet there was a salient theme that resonated throughout all talks; ‘Opposing a crisis’. A fitting theme when Covid-19 was increasingly impacting the world around us. Making light hearted fun of the pressing situation I joked of running a conference the following year for a ‘non-Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world, with a Gannt chart in full construction and a list of must have agenda items. If this were true, I would have received zero registrations, Why? Because disruption is the new norm and we live in a VUCA world. Period!! But what has this got to do with the speed of change I hear you say?
During a talk by Angel Diaz-Maroto (CST and enterprise coach) on crisis simulation Angel shared the sad news of the death of his father and how he had no choice but to adapt fast and learn from this experience. He went on to present a thought-provoking quote that should resonate with any individual, team or organisation….
It takes a crisis to obtain the right mindset for change.
This was an 'aha' moment for me. Consider a crisis that could impact on a business model, prototype a defence, review, generate insights and improve the process. Learn through doing, contingency plan, swarm and thrive for continuous improvement. Simple right? Well with the right mindset for change and an awareness that change equals survival it’s an important message. Survival is not mandatory.
Be wrong to get it right
Back in 2015 I ventured to Phoenix for my first Scrum Gathering where I experienced an unforgettable opening keynote by Mike Cohn “Let go of Knowing: How holding onto views may be holding you back”. Now this is the man that has truly influenced and inspired the world of agility and yet here he was clear as day informing a mass crowd that he has written a lot of books and said many things BUT he might have been wrong! Mike was exposing ways that our own personal bias may prevent us from questioning our assumptions and why being open to new views is hard but vital.
“Open your minds and say whatever opinion I have might be right but there’s a slight chance it might be wrong”.
He goes on to describe this as confirmation bias as you seek to find confirmation that your beliefs and opinions are correct. This is the very point that I evangelise the importance of team collaboration and fast feedback. Why the key to innovation is to embrace diversity of thought and why teams must continuously validate and test ideas collectively.
These principles reverberate with the views of Mark Mason in his book ‘The subtle art of not giving a F@ck’. Mark describes some poorly thought through life values that will not lead to happiness or growth and top of the list was ‘Being Right’ and certainty being the enemy of growth.
“Being wrong opens us up to the possibility of change. Being wrong offers the opportunity for growth”.
A conclusive question to the author of this post might be…… ‘So Stu who is this article really for, individuals, teams or organisations?’ Well my response to that would be, it always starts with you.
Now this is the part where I should say don’t go changing BUT perhaps I should say ‘do go changing’, but have fun along the way and grow a little. As a passionate visual thinker, I’ll leave you with one final quote from Joseph Chilton Pearce.
“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong”.
Joseph Chilton Pearce
If you want to grow yourself why not join our Advanced Certified Scrum Master classes and learn how to evolutionarily change organisations.