Monday, December 17, 2012

Changes in Attitude Changes in Latitude

Jimmy Buffet sings these lyrics, and most will find something in Margaritaville with which to identify. We all struggle with change, some more than others certainly. Even when we overcome the struggle and accept change, many of us remain in passive mode. We deal with how change is transmitted, how it is manifested, and how it affects us. Few “cross the river” and become agents of change. To do so, we have to revert to habits we accepted as children and forego some of the assumptions we accept as adults.

First Corinthians says:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

Understanding the wisdom this encompasses is simple. The message is clear, concise and persuasive. As a basic premise, however, I would suggest that giving up childish ways does not necessarily mean that we must give up thinking and reasoning like a child. I remember years ago going on vacation with my family and having to tell my kids to power-down their video players when the airplane door was closed. They asked “why,” and as the adult I gave them the best answer I could, “because the stewardess said so.”

I recently read The Secret Live of the Corporate Jester. This short book is full of messages and tips that can either help you understand how to be an agent of change, or at least how to understand why and how agents of change are operating in your organization. Understanding, at a minimum, is critical to you dealing with the change that results from the efforts of such agents.

Children bring to any process a critical element, not unlike that of the Corporate Jester. When you were a child, you always asked “why?” Every child does, to the consternation and frustration of every adult in the room. Such adults invariably seek the refuge of the comforting platitudes like “because,” or “because I said so.”

Similarly, in organizations, the question is posed “why do we do it this way,” to which the only response all too often is “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” This may seem to us to be a reason, but in fact it is no more than “because” or “because I said so.” These are not intellectual responses. They are the kind of pabulum that people hide behind while they wait for someone to steal their Cheese, as described in another worthy book Who Moved My Cheese.

I often recount the story of the five monkeys to illustrate my point on this. I am not sure of the origin of this parable, which is restated across the Internet in support of a variety of arguments. However, the parable is interesting because it illustrates that people acclimate to their surroundings, and accept that things are appropriate simply because that is the way they have always been. Asked to articulate a logical explanation for the status quo, they are at a loss.

Innovators are among us. Some of them we see coming, and to their threats we can adjust. Others surprise us, and their innovations allow us no time to prepare and adjust. Their success will be our failure if our only reaction is to disregard or denigrate their innovation, convinced inherently of our own superiority and comfortable in our paradigm of “this has always worked,” or this “is how we’ve always done it.”

Returning to Corinthians, I would suggest that we need to far more often return to the innocence of the child, and speak like the child. Ask the “why” questions. Do so until the so called adults can provide an explanation that is beyond “because.” Think like a child. That is be curious, creative, and uninhibited. Reason like a child. This is not to say be a child. How does a child “reason?” A child reasons from a position of unmitigated curiosity and often a dearth of data. This juxtaposition leads the child’s reasoning model in which all presumptions are questioned and all conclusions must be supported by facts. Whether the answer is acceptable to the child is dependent upon the acceptance of each fact upon which the conclusion supposedly rests.

Last week the Chairman of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) wrote a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Essentially, the FCC points out that there is absolutely no evidence that any portable electronic device can interfere in any way with any aircraft. The FAA’s own research fails to prove any foundation for the electronic device ban. Turns out there have been many times that passengers did not power-off their devices. Likewise, it turns out that none of those instances has resulted in any interference or mishap. Although claims of interference have been made by Boeing and others, no one has ever been able to replicate these instances. Furthermore, the ban on all electronic devices, some of which do not even transmit a signal such as a DVD player, is simply inexplicable. It is encouraging to see a Federal leader ask the “why” question. It is hoped that she will not accept the “because” answer that I provided my kids when explaining the inexplicable. Perhaps this FAA policy will be reconsidered in light of the absolute and complete dearth of data to support it?

To progress and grow, we must deny the efficacy of laddership and insist on the progress of leadership. That one is higher on the ladder, that it is this person’s “turn,” does not select the best leaders. A leader must have ideas, must question what others accept as assumptions of fact, and must focus the analysis on both the status quo and the potential for change. Are you a leader, a follower, or a “jester?”

Change for the sake of change, however, brings no value. First and foremost, our actions must be focused on bringing value. What goal are we striving for, and does that goal merit our effort? Is the goal appropriate and worthy?  Within the filter of this touchstone, we must question why we do what we do. From where do our processes come? Are they the best, most efficient, processes to our goal?

Examples of the Five Monkeys

The Corporate Jester:

Who Moved My Cheese:

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