Transforming Change

 

“Love your experiments…  Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors.  Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.”  -Bruce Mau

Seeing beyond what you are, to what you can be…is a gift.

We have this belief that vision casting and ‘around the corner’ thinking is a prerequisite for leadership.  It’s not.  If it was, status quo wouldn’t be so status quo.

And we wouldn’t have Gallup poles that inform us on just how disengaged today’s workers are, or that creativity and creative thinking has been on a downward spiral for the last twenty years, or how few change initiatives are actually able to enact change.

We’ve been inundated with so many failed change initiatives that leaders tend to begin the ‘change’ discussion with an already apologetic tone.  We’ve come to view the ‘idea of change’ as a forced drudgery, rather than a dynamic and ongoing process to transform and reinvigorate ourselves, as well as our organizations.

So, you are already probably thinking, here we go with another person telling us it doesn’t have to be like that…but it doesn’t.  It can and should be an energizing, exhilarating, evolving, and enjoyable growth experience.  But, for that to happen, it might require us to change our idea of change…

It is going to require us to try different.

To engage ourselves in a bit more creative, experimental, discovery learning.  Which will inevitably lead to some uncertainty, risk and vulnerability.  Which are not three of the most popular words on most leadership lists, but necessary of today’s modern leaders if real learning is to happen…if real transformation is going to occur.

Let’s begin by considering this quote from Bruce Mau and Warren Berger from his work Glimmer, “Every product, every service, every brand has the ability to stand for something else.  And if a company could begin to think this way, it could have a liberating effect by opening up new possibilities, offering fresh ways to present that company and its service to the public.”

The problem is, we sometimes get so caught up in what we believe we should be, that we never take the time to consider what we could be.  We never move beyond that perspective, that persona.  In a sense, we have allowed our own expectations to constrict and limit our vision for ourselves and our organizations.

We have chosen ‘what is’ over ‘what if’ thinking…

And for that reason, sometimes change needs a new lens, a new perspective.  We have to infuse a bit of creative and innovative imagination and playfulness into the process.  We have spent so long talking about how hard change can be, that we’ve lost the understanding that it is a natural, everyday, evolving part of life.  Instead we treat it like an event.  Something we have to do.  And in that process, we have forgotten to make it fun.  To make it playful.  To make it an enjoyable, adventurous and ongoing process of our organizational life.

So let’s consider a strategy for making change a bit more playful and fun.  

In Warren Berger’s Glimmer, he discusses this idea of “transformational metaphors.”  This idea that, “Wherein a company thinks of itself as something other than what it is – which, in turn, changes the way it behaves.”

So what does he mean by this idea of “transformational metaphors,” this idea of an organization imagining itself to be something other than it is?

Let’s try this on for size as an example.  Let’s imagine that you were a school and you were wanting your teachers and staff to take more risks and to become more agile and adaptive as an organization.  So, what if you used the “transformational metaphor” of a startup to try and get your staff and organization to think and behave differently?  What if you treated every classroom in the school like its own startup and created a Kickstarter fund for them to engage in their own creative and innovative venture for the year.  Think of the new learnings, the creative and innovative ideas, and the joy and fun that would inevitably spring forth from this real world experience.

It is this way of thinking, something as simple as “transformational metaphors” that allows us to expand our idea of possible, to intentionally design a new way forward.  To engage the change process in a completely different manner.  As Berger shares, “it could have a liberating effect by opening up new possibilities, offering fresh ways to present that company and its services to the public.”  He adds, “using metaphors to breathe life into mundane” allows you to “redesign the delivery system of services.”

“Transformational metaphors” provide the mental space to begin to break the rules and chains that bind us to stasis and inertia that eventually diminish the want, need or ability to change.  “Transformational metaphors” allow you to move past the perceptions and expectations that keep us tied down to a status quo existence.

“Transformational metaphors” are less about trying to be something different, and more about expanding the idea of what you can and could be.  It is a capacity-building strategy to increase the current limits that we’ve tended to place upon our organizations.  It is about making change a much more imaginative, playful and entertaining process.

Or as Bruce Mau shares, you have to “make your own tools.”  Which will require today’s modern leaders to infuse more creative and innovative strategies and practices if we are going to blaze a new path forward.

In the end, it is about designing AND, rather than committing to BUT.

This is about moving change from a chore, to an experience.  It’s about designing an organizational world of exponential change and what if, rather than resigning ourselves to what is.

“You have to be willing to grow.  Growth is different from something that happens to you.  You produce it.  You live it.  The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.”  -Bruce Mau

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Repositioning The Sun

 

Our world has shifted…

For a long time we were the sun.

The center of the learning universe.

And the world revolved around our learning institutions.

Allowing those institutions to exert influence out and across our system and society.

But that is no longer the reality…

Our learning institutions are no longer the sun.

They are no longer the center of the learning universe.

That gravitational pull has slowly become diminished and disrupted.

For learning no longer stops and starts at those very same doorsteps.

Which is neither good nor bad, as it just is…

This shift does not lessen the importance and impact of our learning organizations in society and our world.  However, it does require deep reflection on how this shift changes the way we must do business in the future.  And the quicker we understand and come to grips with this shift, the better prepared we will be to equip ourselves with the knowledge and learning to better serve those who step into our learning institutions each and every day.  The better prepared we will be to carve a new and better path forward.

And it’s not just that the idea of learning and education has shifted…

Society as a whole is experiencing tremendous upheaval as the world has been pulled closer together through the dizzying speed, intensifying advancements and expanded capabilities of technology.  And it is not just technology that is scaling up a much more dynamic and changing world, as  we watch our industries and workforce skill-sets and abilities rapidly expand and evolve to keep pace, as this transformation bleeds out and across the entirety of society.

Our economy is slowly being pulled away from the control of large, monolithic companies and organizations as we begin to see a proliferation of start-ups permeating the workforce landscape.  Especially as technology has not only effectively closed the global communication and access gap, but in the same process disrupted and displaced many of the jobs and positions that were previously necessary of human skill to fill.

Which necessitates better…

Awareness of how unlimited access has expanded the learning landscape.

Awareness of how society has and is shifting and changing, both nationally and globally.

Awareness of how there is a growing demand for more creative and innovative thinking and problem-solving.

Awareness of how understanding these trends and shifts are going to be paramount to better preparing our children, our students, to meet the demands of a shifting society and an exponential economy.

Burying our heads and feigning lack of awareness will truly be a disservice to our youth and their ability to be effectively prepared for the future.  This is not to say that we live in a world of diminishing possibilities for our children, rather it is a world of new and often unexplored possibilities.  This creative, innovative and entrepreneurial reality is gaining momentum, becoming a driving force of our current economy.  Not understanding or recognizing this trend diminishes our ability to prepare our students appropriately for these societal shifts.

As Bruce Nussbaum shares in Creative Intelligence, “Schumpeter, the father of ‘creative destruction,’ saw a version of capitalism in which entrepreneurs were the central, disruptive energy sustaining economic growth.” And it was not just Schumpeter, Peter Drucker foretold of “the emergence of the entrepreneurial society may be a major turning point in history” in the mid-80’s.

As educators, as educational learning institutions, it is imperative that we become much more aware of the trends and shifts that are affecting the myriad of ways that learning and society is shifting and changing.  That awareness is integral to better serving and preparing not only our children for a very different world than the one we walked out into, but the teachers and administrators that must do this very important work of preparing them for that world.

“Change almost never fails because it’s too early.  It almost always fails because it’s too late.”  -Seth Godin

The Acceleration Of Change

 

“Self-organization is not a startling new feature of the world.  It is the way the world has created itself for billions of years.  In all of human activity, self-organization is how we begin.  It is what we do until we interfere with the process and try to control one another.”  -Margaret J. Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers

Nature exists in a constant state of flux, as continuous change permeates the entirety of its environment.  It is neither driven nor controlled, as much as it is a natural consequence of adapting to its surroundings and the shifts that are occurring throughout its ecosystem.  Some of these shifts can be rapid and turbulent, such as a lightning igniting a brush fire, or slow and incremental as an animal adjusts to changes in the natural environment.

So, whether incremental or rapid and turbulent, change in nature is neither seen as event or something to be controlled.  It is not a linear, predictable mechanism to be turned on and off as much as it is a natural, evolving and fluid part of the ways things are and always will be.  And yet, throughout time, we’ve tried to turn change into an event, a predictable and linear process that we can control, regulate and maneuver as we wish.

Whereas in nature, as the environment shifts and changes, we see those in the ecosystem learn to adapt to the volatility and uncertainty in their surroundings if they are to survive, we often look to do the opposite in our organizations.  We put in place more restrictions, more structures, and more hierarchy.  We choose accountability over adaptability, in this hope that we can control the process and speed of change.

And we are finding that it is just not working…for our people or our organizations.

Especially as our world become more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous.  As the world accelerates, change will become less and less predictable and linear, no matter how much control and accountability we add to our individual and organizational lives.  Change is exploding around us in an ever disrupting fashion, uprooting foundations that have remained steadfast for centuries.

We live in a world where change never sleeps…

Take data for example: for every minute of the day Twitter users send over 100,000 tweets, Instagram users share 3,600 new photos, WordPress publishes 347 new blog posts, Facebook users share 684,478 pieces of content, Google receives over 2,000,000 search queries, YouTube users upload 48 hours of new videos, and email users send over 284,166, 667 messages.  And that is just a drop in the bucket of the new data that is being created by minute, by day, by week, by year.  Change and the world around us accelerating at an unprecedented rate.

To believe that we can provide assurances and certainty through accountability and control mechanisms in the face of this acceleration is delusional at best.

Instead, we need leaders who can both support and challenge their people and their organizations in this new and dynamic world that is shifting and shaking the foundations that we have stood on for centuries.  We need leaders who have the depth and width to connect dots amidst the chaotic frenzy of new information that is blasting towards us at a phenomenal rate.  We need leaders who can utilize the acceleration of change as opportunity to engage it’s momentum to propel us past the paralysis of uncertainty that can overwhelm and control us and our organizations.

We need leaders who can push through the anxiety and fear that has been created by the velocity of change that is accelerating throughout today’s world.  It serves as the difference between creating significance or falling into irrelevance…

“In a time of exploding change – with personal lives being torn apart, the existing social order crumbling, and a fantastic new way of life emerging on the horizon – asking the very largest of questions about our future is not merely a matter of intellectual curiosity.  It is a matter of survival.”  -Alvin Toffler

Hacking Innovation

 

“Life is trying things to see if they work.”  -Ray Bradbury

The idea of creativity, innovation, even intentional disruption and chaos, must be grounded in a cyclical mindset.  Unfortunately, we still tend to view them as an event, from the lens of an occurrence, a destination. Rather than an infinite loop of hard work and dedicated perseverance.

Let’s be clear, when we continue to perpetuate the myth and idea that creativity and innovation are the work of those born with the special ‘gene’ or as the ‘lone genius’ toiling away in obscurity, we diminish the determined effort and collaborative spirit required for this work.

We have to continue to view creativity and innovation as a journey, rather than a destination.  And the more we take on that journey…

Which takes us back to the cyclical mindset necessary in approaching creativity and innovation.  Which, for all intents and purposes, means that we are not only trying to better engage creativity and innovation as individuals and organizations, we are working to disrupt and hack our own understandings and creative and innovative efforts, simultaneously.

Which means we are constantly working to disrupt our own learning…as well as our best work.

The more we open ourselves up to the new, the more dots and unusual suspects we have in our arsenal to connect.  The bigger our arsenal, the more ideas we have to cross-pollinate, and the more opportunities we have to hack our own idea of creativity and innovation, both individually and organizationally.

For example, here a few dots to consider…

In a recent article issued from Big Think and Singularity University on a study they did around the practices necessary for “true leadership in the age of exponential disruption” they found that “experimentation, feedback and autonomy were important and essential to fostering disruptive innovation.”

Which are three dots that may be worthwhile for us to consider in regards to our creative and innovative efforts.

For today’s leaders, these dots are important to acknowledge and understand as they look at their own creative and innovative work across their organization.  To determine not only if “experimentation, feedback and autonomy” exist, but how does it exist, in what type of environment, and is it creating the returns that is leading to momentum and progress?

The more we dig in to creativity and innovation, the more we see that it is not event work.  It is not ‘destination’ work, it is ‘journey’ work.  It is deep, it is wide, it is challenging, it is constant, it is collaborative…and it is as exhilarating, as it is difficult.

“You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.”  -Friedrich Nietzsche

The Art Of Innovating Engagement

 

“Wherever there is a point of interaction, there is potential for innovation.” -Bruce Nussbaum ‘Creative Intelligence’

We live in a time of information and interaction overload, leading to a plethora of engagement access and excess.  Learning to traverse, as well as enhance these interaction and engagement opportunities will be the difference in our ability to communicate and collaborate at deeper and greater levels in the future.

But first, it begins with understanding the shifts that are occurring not only in society, but in our approach and mindset to these shifts.  These understandings will serve us better in creating opportunities to innovate our organizational environments and cultures in a more creative and dynamic manner.

For example, we shifted from a mindset of…

  • Hoarding to sharing information.
  • Passive consumption to active creation.
  • From silo environments to collaborative cultures.
  • Instruction implementation to creative problem-solving.

As society has shifted, so have those expectations around how we view engagement as individuals and as organizations.  As Bruce Nussbaum shares in Creative Intelligence, “These new interactions and connections provide people with a deep sense of meaning.”  From our schools to businesses, people are looking to engage in deeper, more meaningful ways.  People are moving from disconnected, detached collisions and contacts too much more connected, relational influences and networks.  Inability of schools or businesses to embrace these changes and shifts effectively and proactively are often the first signs of the unraveling of their relevance.

In his work Creative Intelligence, Nussbaum adds that “More and more people are rejecting the passive consumption of the past…”  For which he adds, “We want to be actively engaged, and we want to shape that engagement.”

Which is a shift that we have to be very aware of as we look to build the creative and innovative capacity of our organizational environments and cultures.  Individuals are not just looking to be part of that environment and culture, they want to have a voice in shaping and molding it.  Whether 5 or 55, people are no longer willing to remain passively on the sidelines, they want to be active participants in the process, whether that process is the learning they focus on or the products they are buying.

Seeing the importance of voice, will ultimately lead to organizations with individuals that have higher levels of engagement, of commitment, leading to greater organizational relevance and significance.

In the end, awareness of these mental mindshits allow us to create more engaged, more creative, more innovative, and more productive individuals and organizations.

“It’s time we recognized that today what we often value most are these special, active engagements.”  -Bruce Nussbaum ‘Creative Intelligence’

References and quotes from…

Nussbaum, Bruce. Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire. New York. 2013.