Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

6.14.2013

Fear the Future



I define anxiety as experiencing failure in advance.
 - Seth Godin

I'm a self-professed slow, reflective thinker, and I very strongly prefer to deliberate extensively before making decisions or taking action.  Seth Godin is not my kind of guy--a hyper, frenetic doer--but I've read him a few times because he challenges my thinking.  One of his books I've read is Poke the Box, about taking initiative and being willing to take risks, and it's where the quote above comes from.

More recently, someone at work sent me a link to his short blog post "We Don't Need to Make It Better" with the lead-in, "This is a helpful viewpoint of why change brings fear."  A couple of things he wrote in the post jumped out at me and spurred some thoughts of my own:

Improvement comes with many costs. . . . Perhaps making it better for the masses makes it worse for the people who already like it. . . . One of the most essential tasks a leader faces is understanding just how much the team is afraid of making things better (because it usually means making things worse--for some people).

Here's what I wrote in response:
This reminds me of something Ed O'Malley said when he spoke at our Leadership Seminar in 2011: that people don't fear change itself, they fear the loss they perceive taking place with the change.  Doing something in a new way means at least some aspect of the old way of doing things will be lost, and they still value something about what that is--what it accomplishes or provides--and fear its loss will be heavier than what's gained by the new aspect.  So I think fundamental to successfully accomplishing change is acknowledging and empathizing with the fear, which means understanding the perceived loss.  And often it's not just perceived loss, but actual loss--as Godin says, "Perhaps making it better for the masses makes it worse for the people who already like it."  It's important to affirm that it's true, we are losing something, and not just gloss over or dismiss those reactions.  Because people won't listen to your reasons why you think the change is better until you listen to their reasons why it's going to hurt (even when "people" is "me" and I'm trying to convince myself).  And sometimes, maybe even most of the time, exploring what will be lost might help us adapt our change plans in ways that minimize the loss while still allowing us the full gains of the new.

The very first morning of my week in the new Leadership program, the presenter said our goal is to be a high performance organization, which meant we had to define "high performance."  It's a situational definition different for every context, with the overriding concept of constant pursuit of more quality, more efficiency, and more effectiveness--or always trying to be better, faster, and cheaper.  Constant continuous improvement.  The idea resonated with me, because I've always said that's my personal goal for myself.  But constant continuous improvement isn't necessarily the same thing to me as constant continuous change.

A very important piece of that, in my mind, is that I'm working not for revolution but for evolution.  Revolution implies that what currently exists is not redeemable and must be overthrown and replaced by something new.  That doesn't work for me in most situations.  I think evolution is a much worthier goal, because that causes us to recognize what is already good in the present situation and to make sure we preserve it as part of our gradual improvement process.  It minimizes the loss that will occur with the change, seeks to simply take what is already good and make it better.  I know I'm a slow, deliberate ponderer and don't always jump on new things right away, but that's because I'm taking the time to work out in my head how to incorporate the new while losing as little of what's good about the old as possible.  It's not as quick or flashy as a revolution that changes everything, but I think it is a process that works with instead of against fear, encounters less resistance, and creates a stronger, better final product.
I was ready to call this post "Evolution vs. Revolution," but then I remembered I've already used that title for another post.  Interesting how I keep returning to some of the same concepts and terms, whether talking about leadership, organizational change, and deliberate thinking or religion and social change.  I think a key part of that is an instinct mindset to always find value in the present even while looking to the future.

(See also: Longing and Tranquility)

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