“Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). 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