Radical Reframing: From Resistant Reform To Creative Innovation

“Schools reform. Businesses innovate.”  -Peter Senge

There is nothing interesting, exciting, engaging or appealing about the idea of being reformed. Very few, if any, interpret the idea of ‘reform’ as a positive approach to change and organizational transformation. In fact, we most often infer it to be a punitive process put upon us for expectations not met. It does little to motivate us towards a new, dynamic and vibrant vision of the future.

In a time that next steps will be crucial in determining our ability to remain relevant, reframing our story, our narrative, will be vital to setting our expectations in and around the changes necessary and needed to remain significant in a world where insignificance and irrelevance arrives in a swift and devastating manner.

To do this work is going to require some rather difficult and uncomfortable shifts. It is going to require some radical reframing and purposeful perspective shifting that rubs abrasively against the status quo and the conventional wisdom of the day. It comes face to face with the ‘what we’ve always been’ and ‘how we’ve always done things’ mindset that pervades the mentality of many of our organizations. It requires us to not only question our current thinking, but our habits, behaviors, structures, processes, expectations

Radical reframing requires us to place an honest and reflective lens on how we perceive our ability to move from today’s current reality of possible, to tomorrow’s willingness to achieve what was previously considered impossible.

As Brene Brown often shares that we must be willing to dare greatly, however we must also be willing to dare differently. To do this daring work, we are going to need to reframe our perception of just how able an organization is to alter and change itself in dynamic and transformational ways.

In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, radical reframing and purposeful perspective shifting is not just a need to be filled, it is a necessity, a deep-dive to allow our organizations to remain relevant and significant in a very unpredictable and turbulent world of change.

The problem is, when organizations need radical reframing the most, during these volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous times, is when we tend to recoil the most from this purposeful perspective shifting. It is when we tend to focus in more and see less.  We find ourselves trapped by our lack of ability to see beyond our current circumstances, situations, challenges and problems.

And which is why in times like these, we choose reforming when we should be transforming.

The more we look deeply at the situations, problems and challenges that lay before us, the more that we realize that everything is ripe for innovation. 


Harnessing Chaos: And Unusual Suspects

“In our corporations, in other organizations in our communities, and in our personal lives, we strive to minimize chaos, with all its unpredictability and uncertainty.  By definition chaos is the enemy of organization.”  –Ori Brafman ‘The Chaos Imperative’

But what if it wasn’t the enemy? What if it was an opportunity? What if chaos was seen as a spark to ignite pockets of innovative change? What if it could be harnessed to push us out of the linear and predictable mindsets that predicate the majority of our institutions and organizations? What if it was seen as a penetrating dynamic to disrupt the regimented regularity and routine that dominates the majority of our organizational lives?

Think of chaos being like a tornado. On the outside it can be seen as an unpredictable and even destructive force, but the deeper we dive into it the more we see a strange, calming space that lies at its core. It is in this space that small pockets of chaos can create the opportunity for new, novel, creative and innovative ideas to incubate, percolate and collide against the structures of sameness and status quo that we’ve created over time.

Utilizing and unleashing that power and momentum, ultimately creates the space for more creative and innovative thinking, ideas and action to take hold.

It is in The Chaos Imperative that author Ori Brafman shares three ways to harness and use chaos to our advantage, one of which is the idea of unusual suspects. Which he adds, “For new ideas to grow, you also need some unusual suspects.”

The problem is, most of our hierarchical structures and organizational charts do more to force the usual suspects than allow space for the infusion of unusual suspects. Too often we keep the same people in the room, instead of the right people. We spend endless hours discussing maintenance problems without having a custodian in the room, a classroom management challenge without a teacher in the room, an infrastructure issue without an IT person in the room, and on and on the cycle goes.

We continue to focus on the same pervasive issues, challenges and problems with the same usual suspects in the room and still wonder why we struggle to solve them. Hierarchical structures keep us to focused on the same over the right people in the room.

The usual over the unusual suspects…

It is when we bring unusual suspects into those meetings and committees that proliferate our organizations and institutions, that we begin to see new connections, new ideas, and new thinking.  As Brafman shares, “And the knowledge was there all along. You just had to get the right people in the same room.”

The job of leadership is not only in connecting new dots and new ideas, it is in connecting the right people to the right challenges, issues and problems that plague our organizations. It is the work of today’s leaders to infuse a bit of chaos, to bring the unusual suspects to the table. Especially in a time where we will need all of the creative and innovative thinking and ideas at our disposal to deal with a world that has shifted from the technical to the adaptive.

So the next time a challenge, issue or problem is on the table, look around and make sure that the right, not just the same people are at the table. Otherwise, it might be time to bring in those unusual suspects.

“Inviting new people to the table – from different departments or disciplines and from different levels of the company’s or organization’s hierarchy – can help open the door for serendipity.”  -Ori Brafman ‘The Chaos Imperative’

Pockets Of Intentional Disruption

“How can an organization encourage innovative ideas and allow them to move through the system? The answer is that you need to create little pockets of chaos within the larger organization.” -Ori Brafman via The Chaos Imperative

Rigid, regimented routines and strict, controlled structures still epitomize the majority of our modern organizations. Our time is proficiently planned, programmed and agenda-ized for the greatest efficiency. Even if there were a little left over, it sure wouldn’t be wasted on fanciful ideas of imagination, curiosity and creativity. Those ideals live in the land of the dreamers, not the doers. Remember, if you can’t weigh, measure, or account for it, well, you know the story.

Unfortunately, our organizational talk seldom seems to match our organizational walk.

Let’s be honest, in most instances the mantra “think different” sounds great, until someone does. We love the concept of creative, innovative thinkers, until we come face to face with their ideas. Especially when they push up against the power and pull of the organizational status quo. That’s when it gets real. That’s when it no longer seems easy or sounds as good.

If we believe that we are going to create more creative and innovative organizations by being more open to a few out of the box ideas that get bantered around in a meeting, then we will find ourselves deeply deceived. We will find ourselves all aboard a slow train to insignificance quicker than we ever imagined.

If not already…

Building more creative and innovative organizations will require some very intentional shifts. We are going to have to infuse some pockets of creative destruction and disruption. And that won’t be at all comfortable, but very necessary in a world that is finding ways to take what is new today and make it irrelevant by tomorrow.

The problem is that we never think it is going to be us until the rug gets pulled out from under us. Until it is too late…

In a world that is looking to upend the latest and greatest, you have to be willing to constantly disrupt your best ideas, and your best work. Welcome to the exponential economy. It’s a new world and it’s shifting, daily.

Without some deep dive changes and intentional shifts, our organizations will ultimately become the graveyards where good ideas go to die.

Complexity Of Change: From Pain Masking To Pain Mapping

“When we experience the world as “too complex” we are not just experiencing the complexity of the world. We are experiencing a mismatch between the world’s complexity and our own at this moment. There are only two logical ways to mend this mismatch – reduce the world’s complexity or increase our own.” -Kegan and Lahey via Immunity to Change

The complexity of our modern world is escalating and intensifying, often at a pace faster than our mental models can grasp and can consciously or unconsciously reframe. It is that pace which is invoking increasing levels of frustration and fear in our organizations and our leadership. We are facing escalating issues of mental overload, which can often be attributed to a misalignment between our capacity and speed we find ourselves able to learn and the pace of change and the complexity it creates in today’s world.

This misalignment is evoking feelings of uncomfortableness at both individual and organizational levels. It is this increasing uncomfortableness that is making today’s leaders more reactionary than proactive, more attentive of the urgent than the important, more answer than question driven, more bottom-line implementation focused than discovery learning and capacity-building invested.

Creating organizations and leaders with well-polished veneers that are unfortunately ill-equipped with the necessary depth and knowledge to deal effectively with a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.

So we struggle with the concept and idea of change, even though we all know it is an integrated and evolving part of our daily lives. To appear productive in the face of this turbulent pace of change, we look for quick fixes and simple answers to the complex problems and issues that surround us and our organizations. We choose to be efficient over being effective, masking the problems and issues for a time, only to see them rise up again in the future meaner, leaner and stronger.

To deal with the complexity of change in our modern world, shallow and veneer answers and solutions will no longer be sufficient. We need leaders willing to deep dive into the problems and issues that plague us and our organizations.

One concept or strategy that will allow us to deep dive the complexity of change comes to us via the medical world. An innovative approach devised to better diagnose and treat the problems of pain that many patients endure.  An approach which they’ve termed pain mapping.

Too often, whether as doctors or as leaders of organizations, there has been this tendency to go straight to the point of pain. The problem with that diagnosis or approach is that the point of pain is not always the place from which the pain originates. For example, the problem may reside in the spine and yet the pain may eventually be generated out as headaches or leg pain. Which means treating the point of pain may alleviate the issues for a short time, it will just not effectively solve the underlying problem that leads to long-term healing and relief.

Pain mapping requires doctors to move past the veneer or point of pain, to truly determine the point of origin to better solve the problem and prevent reoccurring issues in the future. This requires more time and digging deeper to get at the very root of the problem to better determine the correct course of action or treatment.

For today’s organizations, pain mapping may serve as an appropriate tool or strategy for dealing with the complexity of change. Too often we look for the quick or simple answer to the problems that plague us during volatile and turbulent times of change. Often leaving us reactive to the issues and problems that arise around us and within our organizations.

Pain mapping allows us to take a deep dive approach towards the problems that emerge during the change process so that we effectively move past the point of pain to get at the nerve points of origin. It is in this process that we not only begin to ask better questions, but build the capacity and patience to provide the solutions that get to the core of the issues and problems that plague our organizations and keep us from real progress. It is with this mindset that learn to move from pain masking to pain mapping.

“Our current designs are not adequate means for promoting the transformational learning that is necessary to meet adaptive challenges.”  -Kegan and Lahey via Immunity to Change