Success Doesn’t Strike, It Accumulates.

Why you’re frustrated things aren’t moving quickly enough and what to do about it.

I’m working with a client that’s trying to reinvent itself. Somewhere along the way, they went from being barbarians and innovators to bureaucratic and overly careful. At one time they were different — they had an edge. That edge made people perk up and take notice of them but as with many organizations, that’s dulled over time. They’re getting it back or trying to do so. Not by adding unnecessary stuff like technology and catch phrases but by getting in touch with who they’ve always been and living from that place again. But it’s not easy.

The closer I get to the organization, the more I become aware of the complexity and reality of the situation. Marshal Goldsmith once said:

“After living with their dysfunctional behavior for so many years, people become invested in defending them rather than changing them.”

Yup! Go to enough meetings, see the political dynamics in action, watch some of the next generation talent meander, feel some of the dysfunction and THAT feeling starts to set in. Then there’s the question: “Can I really change anything here?”

The idealist in me would say, “Yes!” 
The cynic in me says, “Probably not.” 
The slightly older creative in me says, “You’re asking the wrong question.”

So let’s go with that for a minute. 
What’s the right question if not, can I change anything?
It’s, can I work to change one single thing?

The answer to that is always YES!

Trying to change the whole is like trying to swallow an entire meal in one sitting because you’re hungry. You’re going to get frustrated if you try to solve hunger that way. It gets really messy too. Instead, you dig in and select a piece, then another and then another until your hunger is satisfied. So what can I bite off right now that is in front of me? And how do I focus on the ones that will satisfy the larger goal? I may not be able to change the mind of a senior leader in one meeting, but I can change the old poster on the wall. I may not be able to change a process right now, but I can change the way we tell stories. I can always change something. Those examples are pretty specific to me, I know, but my point is that we all have things within our sphere of influence and abilities that we can change right now, and that should be where we start. That’s the focus, and that’s what I want my whole team thinking about. If we’re all aligned in this, in time, we’ll see change. That’s how it is with successful change management. It doesn’t strike, it accumulates. The posters change, the photos change, the design change, the way we tell our story changes, the videos change, staff changes and then sooner or later, people change, thinking changes and what you realize is a much larger shift has occurred. But over time.

I know that doesn’t seem as sexy, and I try to admit that to the people I’m asking to join me. In my younger days, I may have tried to hide the fact. I don’t anymore. Truth be told, this stuff is hard. It takes time and effort. I have a quote I revisit that reminds me of this. It’s by Kevin Ashton and says,

“Creators spend almost all their time creating, persevering despite doubt, failure, ridicule, and rejection until they succeed in making something new and useful. There are no tricks, shortcuts, or get-creative-quick schemes. The process is ordinary, even if the outcome is not. Creating is not magic but work.”

So, what’s in front of you right now that you can alter and change for the better?

Stop asking to change the world. (do you know how hard that is?)
Stop the hallway discussions about the dysfunction. (do you know how unproductive that is?)
Stop the fixation on the big problem. (Do you know you’re giving your creative powers away?)

Instead, find ways to put your fingerprint on as many small things as possible. Make this year a year of many small changes. Rally the talent around you to do the same. If those changes are part of a larger goal, you’ll experience change at greater scale. Guaranteed.