Reading the pilot program

When change agents realize that actions speak louder than words, it make sense to let a pilot program speak for itself. Showing how the change gets accomplished and what results follow will be far more convincing than any propaganda about the change in the abstract. It's time to play "show and tell" with demonstrations, test drives and other hands-on experience whenever changes need widespread adoption.

To consider the receiving end of these "shows of changing", it's helpful to return to Chip and Dan Heath's metaphor of the elephant with its small rider on top. The elephant will be reading the change from its own perspective, not that of the rational rider. I suspect our inner elephants look for the following attributes in any pilot program for a looming change:

  1. How safe will the participants be during the exposure to embarrassing mistakes and vulnerability to criticism?
  2. How balanced is the change effort with preserving what's already working so the baby does not get thrown out with the bathwater?
  3. How reliable is the structure for orchestrating the diverse change efforts into a coherent whole?
  4. How strong is the container for the participants' misgivings, doubts, hesitation and cynicism toward the proposed change?
  5. How much stability will get restored after the upheaval?
  6. How useful will the change appear after the commotion dies down and the daily grind deals with the change everyday?
  7. How much consideration has been given to not changing or changing more gradually?

These concerns suggest that our inner elephants read any pilot program with a different set of questions than those who are championing the change. If the pilot program answers the elephants' questions, it will get read as a safe path, reliable bridge and protected path to take forward. If the pilot program only answers questions of the small rider on top, the elephants will balk at the change. There will suddenly be tons of motivation to preserve the status quo and avoid the crazies with their inflammatory talk of change.


Lured by the herd

We've all got tons of motivation to follow a herd or two. Our inner elephants feed off others' motivation when they appear to be our own kind. We usually choose our herd out of desperation. On this level of irrational urges, we're afraid of getting isolated, rejected or scapegoated. We cling to the security of safety in numbers regardless of out rational thinking about it.

When our herd changes, we change. We do not want to stick out like a sore thumb, to rock the boat or to attract unnecessary attention within our herd. We may join a herd that attracts attention by being troublemakers, competitors or some kind of warriors. We're okay with getting noticed so long as we're sticking to our own kind.

While we're identified with our herd, we cannot break out on our own. We're sure we lack the self motivation to "follow the beat of a different drummer". We cling to our herd and cannot let go. There's been no change in the fears that drove us to seek out that herd originally. Our inner elephants will defeat any ambition to be different or to make a change that the others are dismissing.

There eventually comes a time in our lives where our inner elephants reject the herd. We may come to some dawning realizations like:

  • we're acting powerless in sync with the herd and powerful when we deviate from its dictates
  • we're imprisoned by the herd's imposed conformity and liberated by stepping out of line
  • we're living in fear when we're lured by the herd and finding our courage when we strike out on our own
  • we're afraid of freedom when we stick to our own kind and we're loving freedom when we follow our inner calling

When these kinds of realization take hold, our inner elephants will take a different path. We will discover we have tons of motivation to leave the herd and follow our hearts. We'll find we have unique gifts to give the world that we're uniquely prepared to deliver. We will see how we want to make a questionable difference in our surroundings regardless of the lure to regress to safety in numbers. We will want to challenge our preconceptions, to test our abilities and to discover if we can produce results as we intend. We will make the switch from reacting (to what others think) to creating (what we think is right).


Actions speak louder than words

In their newest book, Switch, Chip and Dan Heath use a wonderful metaphor to explain how we get motivated to change. Imagine a big elephant with a little rider on top and a path the two is following. When we use words to convince people to change, the little rider on top is all ears and the big elephant is not moved by our exhortations. When we show how the change is accomplished and what results occur from the change, the elephant gets it. When others have joined in making this change, the path becomes a herd that the elephant follows naturally.

The little rider on top favors negative thinking about changes, about the elephant and about itself.  It attempts to change by its own willpower, self control and determined thinking. The little rider usually works against the elephant and loses the battle. Trying to resist what the elephant wants only ends up with more of the pachyderm's irrational urges to oppose rationally. The little rider gets nowhere with its negative thinking.

Elephants are easily spooked by the unexpected. Elephants get the urge to change when they get spooked by the status quo. They suddenly anticipate the consequences of making no changes. They became afraid of getting left behind, getting into more trouble or getting stuck in a dead end. Elephants also get moving forward when they see a better solutions for themselves. The change sells itself without a sales pitch because the advantages are obvious, the value is palpable and the results are undeniable.

The little rider on top needs to switch from trying to change a lack of motivation with negative thinking. As Yoda famously said in the first Star Wars film, "there is no trying, only doing and not-doing". When we think about doing change without trying, it makes sense to pursue approaches  I've explored previously here:

When we succeed at changing, we don't get to be in control. As Chip and Dan Heath show us in their latest book, we need to work the elephants and the structure of the path. We stop attributing negative motivations to others and start seeing the big picture. We join a herd that finds tons of motivation to do what is obviously a better way to get better outcomes.


From rescuer to redeemer

It's human nature to start our being selfish. We naturally want to accumulate lots of toys, friends and victories over others. We have no concept of others at first. We're absorbed by plenty of our own desires, demands and needs to fill.

We may break out of these selfish circuits at young age by caring for a family member, best friend or pet. We may experience a very caring individual in our lives whom we then emulate. Later in life we may burnout on being so entirely self-centered. We may experience a shocking exposure to others who are much less fortunate than ourselves. We may sacrifice our comforts and risk our lives for the sake of our nation's security, freedom and future vitality. We may step into cycles of abuse where the prey needs protection from predators.  We may become parents who put our offspring's needs ahead of our own. We may even fall in love and devote ourselves to our beloved's interests.

Each of these departures from self-interest involves a personal sacrifice. All our caring, nurturing and generosity amounts to a lose/win deal. We're showing the world how to compromise selfishness so that others' may win. We're coming from a place where our own interests cannot be satisfied without undoing what we're giving to others. We're thinking it's an either/or situation that cannot become a both/and deal with no sacrifice required. We're in the midst of rescuing others rather than redeeming our shared situation.

Rescuing does not work any better in our lives than being selfish. Both alternatives provide bad examples to others and negative emotions for ourselves. Both reinforce a chronic problem with losing when others are winning. Both send a message of unavoidable sacrifices when others are getting their way.  Both make it seem like winners must take all and winning always occurs at others' expense.

When we switch from rescuing to redeeming, we become indifferent to the obvious situation. We're not coming from the endless drama of power struggles, control issues and self contempt. We see there's no solution at the level of the presenting problems and unmet needs. We come from a place where the personal sacrifice of self interest is inconceivable. We have discovered profound freedom from our former selfishness regardless of what others' are thinking and doing right now. We join those living without fear of what could happen, what did happen and what has not happened. It feels like we're sharing from a place of infinite supply and unlimited possibility. We are ministering to situations which have yet to find the place we're coming from. We redeem others from their dramas of fear, lack and misfortune. We show them how it's done without making a personal sacrifice. We seem amazing to those who've become discouraged, disheartened or defeated. They seem amazing to us when they get the message we've sent by our mere presence.


Managing down and sideways

When our capabilities are a good match to our current job, we feel confident and competent. We're in a great place to manage down and sideways. We relate effectively to subordinates and colleagues. It's easy to take an interest in their interests and earn their respect in the process. We learn a lot by listening to their concerns, issues and problems. We see ways to cultivate their strengths and hidden talents. We'll also discover some of their limitations and need to rely on others. We discover how well it works to disrupt any tendency to power-trip, bully or intimidate subordinates. The practice gained in egalitarian transactions works equally well with colleagues (managing sideways).

Hopefully we're also experiencing higher ups and colleagues who also manage down effectively. We are then getting listened to extensively and understood thoroughly. Our own potentials are getting cultivated by their mentoring and coaching us. Our mentors must be in an equally great place of feeling confident and competent. They have not been promoted beyond the limits of their competencies. They earn our respect and inspire us to advance ourselves by their worthy examples.

When an entire enterprise runs on managing down and sideways, it becomes sustainable. Potentially debilitating problems get nipped in the bud or prevented from occurring at all. Rather than indulging in promoting people to their level of incompetency, there is no shame in getting demoted back into positions of feeling competent and confident. The promotion reveals that the job is not as easy as capable individuals make it appear. The loss of the necessary confidence to manage down and sideways becomes too great a sacrifice. The temptation to exceed one's abilities in exchange for excess compensation appears toxic. The return to a prior position gets widely regarded as progress a sign of increased confidence and a move in the right direction.

Unsustainable enterprises do none of this. They undermine their chances of thriving and surviving by managing up exclusively. The enterprises eviscerate all their essential mentoring and coaching. Few are feeling competent and confident to manage down and sideways effectively. These enterprises self-destruct by fostering a staggering number of problems:

  • Higher ups seem profoundly insecure in positions they perform poorly and fail to improve at with practice. They cover up their insecurities with bravado and attacks on others. They want others to tell them only what they want to hear and shoot the messengers who do otherwise. They get kept in the dark as a result and given the silent treatment whenever upsetting topics arise. 
  • Those who manage up successfully lose their bearings. They align their loyalties with incompetent higher-ups. They assume the critics of top management are envious malcontents who may become saboteurs and traitors. They have no tolerance for discussions of problems, changes and opportunities which call for considerable competence. They become addicted to their promotions, perks and inclusion in elite activities. They destroy their better judgement, creativity and intrinsic reward schema in the process of "kissing up". Facing a demotion could only be a devastating loss that would call for some destructive revenge.
  • Those who get labeled as enemies of the entourage at the top manage down without support from above. They create a chasm between the formal and informal leadership. The two sides of the divided enterprise cannot align on any change in structure, policy or strategy.  Sustaining innovations become impossible. Getting close to the customers, market or internal talent appears traitorous to Club Clueless up above. Those that leave look like heroes while those left behind lose their self esteem and self respect.

This large array of problems does not need to be solved within sustainable enterprises. The problems do not arise when managing down and sideways become pervasive. The critical mass of feeling competent and confident creates a culture that handles internal and external challenges superbly.


Our sense of timing

When we're inner directed, we enjoy a superb sense of timing. We get a feeling about our timing being off or right on. We know on the inside when something we could do would end up being too soon or too late to make the intended difference. We get inner promptings when something is taking too long or flying by too quickly. Our inner sense of timing can tell us when to start, persist, back off or stop everything we do. Our inner direction gives us feeling of profound contentment and satisfaction when our timing works out beautifully.

When we're outer directed, our timing is almost always off. Our tunnel-visioned outlook cannot calculate the right time to do anything. Without our inner direction, we take very little of the vast complexity into consideration. We don't know "when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em". We miss the boat or jump the gun without an inner sense of timing. When we're outer directed, we assume there is no inner direction and no possibility of a superb sense of timing.

We acquire an inner sense of timing by going within for guidance. We humbling admit we don't know the right timing for what we want to do. We become aware of the mind-boggling array of issues that factor into superb timing. We let go of being right, being in control or being superior to others. We face our sincere question of timing with innocence and receptivity. It's as if we're facing a mystery that will reveal clues to us if we patiently await signs of the right timing to deploy in this particular situation.

Less than ten percent of the enrollment in any scheduled instruction will experience perfect timing. The vast majority will find it comes at a bad time personally. The tempo will seem too fast or slow. The duration will either take too long or not take enough time. The scheduled offering cannot get it right for everyone because the diversity of right timing requires unscheduled or on-demand instruction. As learners become inner-directed, they will learn what they want when it works for them at several levels. They will repeatedly experience superb timing in the learning opportunities they encounter. They will join my delightful experience of life-long learning outside the system that delivers content on schedule.