Turning some familiar expressions on their head

Today, a bit of a fun exercise with some of our popular office expressions. Let’s put a lens on them and see if they are that positive after all.

The grass is greener

This is aimed at threatening you if you dare leave your current place. In a nutshell, you cannot compare that other place because you don’t know yet. It may just have the illusion of being better.

Most of the times though, those who tell you this have stayed put for a while and don’t have it in them to make the move. The expression is more a reflection of their regrets and fears. They believe that they can compare and give you sound advice, but in doing so, they ignore a simple truth: the criteria they use in their comparison is irrelevant to you. The grass will be greener for one simple reason: you have decided to change and therefore will put your mind towards discovering a new environment. The grass is not greener per se, it is greener in your mind because it symbolises a change you made.

If it ain’t broken… don’t fix it

I am a geek at heart (and by trade) so if something is broken, I want to fix it; and if it is not broken, then I open to open it to see how it works. So maybe that expression is designed to prevent people like me from destroying things that are working perfectly well…

But in managerial terms, this mostly is a barrier to change. Let’s not investigate anything that gives us the illusion of functioning. Therein lie 2 problems. Firstly, there is a clue in the word “illusion”: have we really assessed that the “thing” is actually working well? In the office, habits make laws. We take many elements for granted, included the view that a process we have used for decades is still working perfectly well today. There are many illusions like this that still get managers surprised when failure occurs, or when a staff they relied on decides it’s time for them to leave.

The second problem is one of limitation. By stating that you won’t change anything that seems to be working, you are in effect slamming the door in the face of improvements. It may not be broken, I give you that, but is it optimal?

There is always room for improvement. It is not about rejecting the thought of it, it is about prioritising all these potential changes. (by the way, a great way to encourage people to stay and be motivated is to give them ownership of one of those “not broken things” that they can then improve at will.)

Better the devil we know

This is somewhat connected to the grass being greener. It again represents the fear of the unknown which has existed among human for millenia. However, the reason we call ourselves “civilised” (though I bet £1Bn that in several hundred years, historians will look at us thinking “oh dear, what a bunch of wild beasts we used to be”), the reason we have discovered so much already, the reason science tells us many things about nature is because some among us have decided to ignore the devil they knew to explore the unknown ones.

The devil you know has one core characteristic: it is a devil (that was easy). The the one you don’t know could turn out to be an angel. If you don’t know, how could you disagree? The question is one of comfort: are you willing to lose it in the name of discovery?

(As an aside, Brexit is the large scale demonstration that under the right propaganda, people will choose the unknown at any cost. Did I say propaganda? I meant effective business change communication.)

Glass half full or half empty.

This is a very common question and customary wisdom will tell you: a glass half full means you have an optimistic bias and if it is half empty, then you have a pessimistic bias.

I beg to differ and I offer a new perspective on this famous diptych. I propose that the half empty glass offers a more optimistic interpretation. Seeing a half empty glass means that you are focusing on all the great opportunities and activities that await you as you fill up the remainder of the glass. If the glass is half full, doesn’t that indicate an impatience to see the end? That you have already achieved half of what’s needed and that you cannot wait to reach the finish line? That’s not very encouraging in itself…

In summary, what I wanted to show with this little play on words is that no matter what you hear, no matter what situation you are in, you can always put either a positive or a negative spin on it. Always. It solely depends on your approach: are you optimistic or not? And that alone will drive most of your productivity. As a leader, that alone will drive a lot of your entire team moral (and therefore productivity).