Creating Conversations that Matter
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Category — Questions

How does change really happen?

What have been your real lived experiences with major change inside an organization? What was the initial catalyst? How did it migrate throughout the company? What might the model for that messy, complex change process look like? 

For me, the most appropriate metaphor is the hologram because it best captures the true complexity involved. Over the next few weeks, I plan on going into detail for each aspect of my model for change. For now, I invite you to simply reflect on the words and image and see what emerges for you as you think about your own lived experiences of change.

I once heard Meg Wheatley say that if you trace any major change back to its origin, it started with: “A friend and I were talking.” The example she shared was Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) which began when two women were chatting and discovered they both had lost children to drunk drivers. Their conversation deepened into wanting to make sure other mothers did not experience the same tragedy. They built their relationship, broadened their inquiry to many others, tried different approaches and built on those that seemed to work and learning along the way. Their initial connection and conversation in 1980 sparked a movement that has grown into one of the nation’s most respected non-profit organizations.

What about change inside an organization? Does it happen the same way? I believe it does. In fact, I think it is the only way that successful change occurs. And by successful, I mean long-lasting and beneficial to all stakeholders–change that lasts beyond the existing leadership! But how to convey that kind of messy, complex, emergent process in a two-dimensional graphic. Through conversations with my colleagues Patricia Shaw and Nic LeDourec, I came up with the model below. (Note: Models make me very nervous because they are both our best friend and worst enemy. Friend because they simplify the messiness and complexity of real life and help us make sense. Worst enemy because they simplify the messiness and complexity of real life and can easily give us a very distorted sense of reality! What a paradox!)

I call it a “holographic” model because even though it looks on the surface like 6 discrete steps, in actuality, every step is embedded in every other. Consider a hologram: When a laser is bounced off the plate a 3-D image appears. If that plate should break, a laser bounced off any piece will still reveal the WHOLE image (though dimmer). I chose the image of the fern to convey the fractal nature of the model. That is, that the pattern repeats at every level of detail.


May 15, 2008   No Comments

Some Questions

Over the past two weeks, I have found myself continually returning to one particular story and a John Quincy Adams quote.

A Story: Two Wolves

An elder Apache was teaching his grandchildren about life.

He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego. The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Grandpa simply replied, “The one you feed.”

A Quote:

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.
– John Quincy Adams

I believe that the same fight the elder Chief refers to goes on every day in many organizations–within individual leaders, within the leadership team, within and between departments, between the field and home office, between management and staff… I could go on.

The questions it raises for me are:

  • Which wolf have I been feeding? (Which wolf do you feed?)
  • Are we choosing which wolf to feed or simply continually re-running long-standing patterns?
  • What impact is it having on us and our organizations?
  • How is that choice affecting our ability to inspire others to dream, learn, do, and become more?
  • What possibilities might a different choice create?

I would love to hear your answers to these questions. And perhaps you have some questions for me, too?

April 22, 2008   No Comments