Simon Terry

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Five Daily Reflections of the Change Agent

Reading Seeds for a Boundless Life, a book on Zen Buddhism by Zenkei Blanch Hartman, I came across a reference to the Upajjhatthana Sutra’s Five Daily Reflections. The Sutra recommends daily reflections to help Buddhists to focus less on their attachments to ego & desires and more upon their actions.

Reflecting on these, I saw a parallel to common challenges for each change agent’s practice of bringing about a better world. Change agents are taking on difficult work, not for the benefits of ego or any personal desire. Change agents act out of a purpose to make an impact that helps others.  At the same time what surprises many who take on change is that the road is harder and more difficult than they ever expected.

Every change agent lives with these five daily reflections:

  • I can’t go back. There is no way to go back.
  • I can’t avoid obstacles. Obstacles are the work.
  • I don’t have forever. Time is limited.
  • Everything changes. Loss is part of that change.
  • My actions and my interactions are how I make the change work.

Once a change agent sees the need to make a change in the world, it becomes impossible to ignore. They can’t wish it away or pretend things are as they were. They can’t undo their commitment to purpose. 

Embracing that commitment means accepting that there will be obstacles to be overcome. The obstacles aren’t inconveniences or distractions. They are the work to be done to bring about the change. 

Time is always a constraint. Time demands we make the most of every opportunities to create change. Time means we must start now. Time means we must involve others.

Just as we must embrace the obstacles we encounter in our work, we must accept that there will be loss in bringing about change. Some things we lose will be important to us and to others. Part of a change agent’s role is to help others understand and manage that loss. 

We have only our actions and our interactions. That is how we bring about change. That is how our change will be judged. Ends don’t justify means. The means are a key part of the change.

Change agents can and do wish it were different. Keeping reflections like these ever in mind helps us to avoid the disillusionment that comes along with unmet expectations and unfulfilled wishes. Change agents are pragmatic and realise that little changes without the hard work to make change happen.

The Leverage of the Change Agent

Give me a lever and a place to stand and I shall move the earth – Archimedes

There’s a tiny thing on the edge of a rudder called a trim tab. Just moving that little trim tab creates a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. It takes almost no effort at all – Buckminster Fuller

Change Agents move the world to change because they understand the importance of leverage. Small actions can be leveraged into larger outcomes through their work.

The Leverage of Purpose

Change agents take grievances, disappointments and frustrations and turn them into purposeful action. Crowds can easily share a grievance. However someone needs to help the group to turn abstract frustration into a shared purpose. Discovering that shared purpose in a group is a lever of influence and motivation that scales rapidly.

The Leverage of Networks

Change agents understand that networks are extraordinary ways to scale their influence. They can connect with likeminded individuals, share information, solve challenges and develop new ways of working. The network expands the influence of the change agent across their organisation and across the world.

The Leverage of Role Modelling

Change agents do. Change agents understand that the most effective way to lead change is to show others change is possible through action. For every role model there are thousands of eyes in networks who can be influenced to magnify the scale of the change.

The Leverage of Experimentation

Change agents take advantage of the leverage that comes with experimentation. If you do more often, you have had a greater impact. Rather than wait for the perfect information, change agents experiment to learn and create an example for others.  Experimentation enables networks to scale beyond individual expertise and accelerate learning and change.

The Leverage of Tension

Change agents create tension. For many organisations, the existence of people pushing for change creates tension that focuses new attention on the need to change. Creating and shaping tensions in the organisation is a role that change agents play to create the ‘low pressure’ pull through the resulting focus, discomfort and action.

The Leverage of Generosity

Change agents give because a culture of giving expands influence. Working out loud with a generous intent, giving of their time and effort to help others or focusing on the needs of others are highly effective ways to move change forward and set an example that encourages others to do the same.

Change Agents

At the heart of every failed adoption of social collaboration in an organisation is a piece of technology. The technology is only a medium for work.

At the heart of every successful implementation of the value of social collaboration is a change agent. Change agents help humans realise the value of changed ways of working.

Change agents work from purpose. It is not their job or their project. Change is a quest. They lead change because they passionately believe in a better future for everyone. Purpose enables change agents to push on when others would stop. Purpose guides change agents to focus on the shifting needs of value over the demands of the means.

Change agents realise that others must come to the same realisation of the value of change as they have. They know change can’t be mandated, managed or measured into existence. Change agents use influence, experimentation and open agile change activities to create networks of allies experiencing the new changes. They build capabilities and confidence in others through experiences, support and personal motivation. Change agents connect people, encourage the people to engage in two way sharing and solving of issues on the way to new ways of working.

Change agents focus on the system of the human organisation to influence new ways of work. They don’t focus on the technology of the medium.

Infographic of my CMI Keynote presentation on 11 November 2015

Lessons from Presenting

Last week I had a long and challenging presentation to give. Here’s some lessons that I take away from that experience:

Blogging helped: all the ideas in my keynote had been explored out loud before on this blog. It is so much easier to put together a big presentation when you have ideas that you have worked up, shared and discussed with others. Where I saw gaps in the presentation, I even blogged them to make sure I had worked out what I wanted to say.

Networks helped: a fortnight out from the talk I lost confidence that what I had to say was worth saying. I asked my Change Agent Worldwide colleagues for advice. As ever they were wonderful encouraging me to speak to my passions, tell stories and be practical.

A Role Models helps:: Looking for a role model to emulate, I studied Nilofer Merchant’s TED talk. At once, I saw a way to connect quickly with the audience and to advance my presentation.

Structure helped:With days to go I had my content, but a mess of a presentation. I went back to first principles and used Barabara Minto’s pyramid principle to rebuild the presentation. I discovered my issue. I had forgotten to explicitly make & support my main point. It sounds obvious but your point can get lost in all the action & theatrics. Fixing that helped.

Practice helped: All the way along I had been practising and refining the pitch. There was one more glitch. The night before I delivered the talk I felt my stories were like a laundry list and not very practical. As I grappled with this I realised I needed to add a pattern to help the audience follow the stories. I settled on Idea>Story>So What>Extended Story. This pattern forced me to make the ‘so what’ real in another story of the same organisation. That was good discipline and helped the flow.

Preparation Helps:Because of all the changes I need not have time to commit my talk to memory. I created a bullet point list of key points, lines and transitions. This enabled me to iron out kinks and simplify again. I was very nervous when I woke but the preparation gave me confidence it couldn’t be too bad. Thankfully my nerves vanished as I began to speak.

The audience enjoyed the talk. I couldn’t have been more thrilled that the message connected and people had idea to take away and try.

How are you going to throw disruption & delight into your work today?

Your work is ready for you to light the fuse. The obstacles are the work. Your purpose is in the work. Start.

Image credit: Banksy

Arbitrary Power

‘A tyrannick and arbitrary power …is contrary to the Will and Happiness of any rational being’. – Benjamin Franklin

Arbitrary power has a huge effect on the human psyche. We have devoted much of our efforts at civilisation to restrain its negative effects. So why does your organisation still have arbitrary power?

The Civilisation of the Arbitrary

The cost of arbitrary power on human performance is real. We have spent centuries trying to restrain it.

We began sacrificing to fickle gods in efforts to control the weather, prosperity or safety in a harsh and uncertain world. We build institutions to protect us from the arbitrary powers of other tribes and eventually our own. We invented insurance to mitigate the uncontrollable. Our culture is rife with constraints on untrammelled power: etiquette, rule of law, political systems, etc.

The Last Domain

We’ve come a long way to constrain the arbitrary power in our businesses. All sorts of legal and social changes have made the modern organisation in many ways different to that of the early capitalists. However our organisation remain the social sphere with the strongest residual legacy of arbitrary power.

The costs of fickle managers are real. Engagement is poor. Trust is low. The psychological costs of a highly uncertain workplace are rising. We even impose our corporate power on customers and the community in arbitrary ways. All this results in wasted human potential at work and wider social impacts

If we have spent so much effort to constrain power and to make it fit within human relationships, why don’t we extend that throughout our workplace? Next time you have a choice ask yourself is there a way to make this process more engaging, transparent and predictable? You may not change the results of the process but you will be making work more human and improving the long term outcomes.