Thinking about How I Think

A prospective client asked me to come talk with a few board members about how I think about transformative change and how I might help their organization work through some significant short-term and long-term challenges and aspirations.

There was a time – when I was oh so young — when I might have gone and talked about various models that could help them with change management or strategy development, but in these chaotic times I have no prescriptions or magic bullets to offer.

So I prepared a brief document that focused first on my perspective, attitudes, and mindset about transformational change. I thought these were more important to talk about to the client because they didn’t really expect a one size fits all model; I figured they wanted to engage a consultant who offers a way of seeing and being that fit their aspirations and culture.

Here are some highlights of what I spoke with them about:

1. People are the organization. Not systems, not functions, not technology, not the building or the program. People. If you want to make big change, people must be involved and ultimately want to make it. That principle alone speaks volumes about how an organization should approach organizational change efforts.

2. Accept and work with dichotomies, with apparent contradictions. For example, organizations need systems and they need the capacity for innovation. It is people who make systems, and it is systems that often limit people. Another one: each employee’s personal mindset as well as the organization’s culture are simultaneously barriers to, and critical elements of, transformational change. We cannot deny or ignore such dichotomoies; rather we need to acknowledge them, embrace them and work with them to get through them.

3. Welcome what has not been welcome. Organizations serious about big change do not shoot the messenger; they welcome what is being said. They do not avoid people who rock the boat; they invite them out for a sail. They do not frown upon debate or even dissent; they welcome the diversity of opinion and perspective.

4. Change is personal. Organizations don’t change; people do. And for an organization to change, the people within it have to change together. Any transformation venture must understand the personal nature of transformation. Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO) is a theory “based on the belief that when people get together in a group, there are three main interpersonal needs they are looking to obtain – affection/openness, control and inclusion” (Wikipedia). I add to this two more: the need to add value/be valued and the need for clear purpose.

5.Transformation is about creation and destruction.  An artist chisels away stone to create a sculpture.Wood is cured, cut and shaped to create boards in order to build a house. Much of what we have learned has replaced what we used to know. We need to be honest about how transformation works. It’s hard to break apart what we do in order to do something new or differently.

6. Self-interest should be encouraged. We should work with one another’s self-interest, not fool ourselves with the notion that we can all check it at the door. People need to be themselves, not hide what they need or want from one another. Besides, people have other interests than themselves; let’s work with all of what makes a person tick.

7. Structures should be liberating. Think of your skeleton. It is a structure that is the foundation of movement and mobility. All too often we create structures that limit people, confine them, which is the antithesis of what structure should do.

8. Engage in Upside Down Thinking. All of us get into patterns, routines, and act throughout the day without questioning what we take for granted. Up Side Down Thinking is a term I use to describe  how to challenge what is so true for us we don’t even question it. For example, an upside down exercise would be: explain how outcomes serve to harm innovation and change. Or, explain how volunteer programs demotivate volunteerism. The purpose is to explore how what we create can stop us from creating, how what we think is good sometimes has negative impacts.

There’s a lot more I talked about with my prospective client, but I think this a good beginning for the newsletter.

Let me know if you want to talk about change in your organization.

4 thoughts on “Thinking about How I Think

  1. Mark – I enjoy the notion of “Upside-Down Thinking.” I take a similar approach in the world of sales and business development. My book in 2012 was Upside Down Selling. It would be enjoyable to compare notes one of these days.




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