The 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.

Five Reflections of the Change Agent

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 Fabulous Cannon Of Aha: You Should Know…Lois Kelly

In Change Agents Worldwide, we had a conversation thread recently about how we talk about each other, so that others might know us betterLois Kelly and I agreed to correspond. Now, I have never met Lois in person. So what am I to suppose?

Well, importantly, and this is pivotal to the ideas of social business practice, I do know her through the network, through others with whom I have high trust relationships. This trust, and the value one puts into it, passes between network nodes like a genetic marker. It resonates.

Honestly, this network value is enough for me to say I value Lois. It is an automatic recommendation. But what happens when I dig a little deeper?

Before our video meeting, I clicked her avatar and profile page in our Change Agents network. Immediately, I get something more, partially by what is left out.

There is a close up headshot photo of her welcoming smile and her kind eye (singular). Her photo is cut in half, we see one the right side of her face. This I like, because it makes me wonder: what else? What is out of frame, awaiting discovery?

This resonates. I have long used an avatar of the top half of my face, eyes looking up, searching for something. It is the look of wondering, of seeking and creativity. This is how I hope people see me.

Then there is her “descriptor”: Creatively uncovering, communicating possibilities.

Sure, I’m buying. 

In VUCA times, possibilities are all that are available to us. It is a great place to aim for. I am distrusting of those who have answers all the time. I do know that Lois is a driving force behind Rebels at Work, and I have read a lot of that team’s writing, used quotes in presentations, and been inspired by the simple, direct ideals.Her brief bio includes:

The answers are found by listening and discovering in new ways, with unusual questions.

Lois’ website even has a section called #365questions  – she clearly doesn’t lack for inquiry!

So, I have a start, and plenty of holes. What is missing, what is just out of shot? Turns out, plenty enough for one hour of video chat!

We are all multifaceted, there is always more to us than anyone can know. We should be careful to boil someone down to the bare essentials. So, I shall share what I feel about Lois’ competitive advantage – what I sensed in her that is rare compared to all the other geniuses out there in the world.

I am always looking for a balance in people, how they manage the necessary tension in being multi-dimensional, how they hold themselves in the dance of dichotomy. For me, Lois’ tension is between rebelliousness toward, and relevance to, corporate audiences.

I am naturally attracted to the rebellious side. What’s not to love about someone who

“gets shot out of a cannon every morning”!?

That is a simple enough reason to say “I like you!” Her Rebels @ Work driver is such personal work for her – she has been charging into work for her entire career asking “Why don’t we do it that/this way?”

Early on in her career, that creative, exuberant approach got her into tight spots, stepping on (or maybe laying) landmines, until a senior leader told her, “Get revenue attached to your ideas, and you will be successful.” Madison Avenue beckoned, and the rest is (her) history (to tell).

So, here we have an ideas person. I meet plenty of those, always interesting, often marginalized. Lois is different. She is relevant. She understands organizational politics, she knows when to push and prompt, and when to wait and encourage emergence.

emergence

She can act as an external rebel and she can work to cultivate the internal rebels to develop the processes need for change.  Importantly, she reads the executive to see if they want to engage in the profound underpinning discussions of change or if they want to keep things simple.

Often, the intellectual, challenging conversations (the ones practitioners cherish) will ‘bore them to death.’ So she instead works to unlock the ‘one thing to do to get things moving.’

She leans on her studies of positive psychology and behavioural science – 95% of our decision-making is managed in our sub-conscious, so unlocking that understanding allows leaders to have better conversations about why they like what they like and want what they want.

This search for, and understanding of, relevance in the workplace led her to write a 2005 book (on what we might today call “social business”, among many contentious monikers for the workplace changes we see happening in the 21st century,) about “Conversational Marketing.”

Making it safe for leaders to investigate emergent practices and ready themselves for change, one step at a time, is prescient. Many contemporary #SocBiz visionaries struggle to make their views coherent enough for big business to buy. Lois has it down.

This ying-yang of rebel and relevance is a beautiful thing to observe. It ebb and flows so naturally in conversation, it is a lullaby for change. Is that balance, that interplay, her natural genius? Possibly. But she is also a constant learner too, she is never satisfied that she is done. Hers is a work in progress.

I will finish with a weird and whimsical image, one which I hope Lois will enjoy. If it is spot on, then she takes the acclaim as someone who shares creatively and naturally. If it is off mark, put it down to my active imagination that she was able to stir quite delightfully in a video chat hour that flew by.

On her website she lists a passion for uncovering “aha.” It conjured for me an image of the Fabulous Cannon of Aha, with Lois, smiling wryly, lighting the torch paper. The customer has three choices at the start of every day:

  • Lois can fire you from the cannon,
  • you can fire her from the cannon, or
  • you can both be fired from the cannon, and she will hold your hand the whole way.

The choice is yours! But here’s the thing: no matter which choice, it will work and it will be fun.

In the person-to-person economy, really knowing people is critical. You should know Lois Kelly. And here are two other people you should know…Simon Terry; and Richard Martin.

This post first appeared on the ←This Much We Know.→ blog.

Leadership in Transformation

flash-55045_640 A common topic of debate in the Responsive Organization movement is whether an organization can become responsive or it must be born that way.

Undoubtedly many of the leading case studies of future of work organizations are organizations created or rebirthed from near death by charismatic founders. Some use this as evidence that the elements of a responsive organization must be present from the beginning. In a previous post, I pointed out that we cannot rely on transparency alone to make change occur for us. The power structures in a traditional organization will prevent most radical change.

I am unambiguously in the optimist camp here in Change Agents Worldwide and the company in the optimist camp inspires me. I have seen organizations change enough to not recognise their former selves. Change to more responsive ways of working is possible. The question is how.

What gets in the way

Chris Argyris’ classic article Teaching Smart People to Learn is a rich source of observations of what gets in the way of a Responsive Organization transformation.  In particular, Argyris notes that:

… There seems to be a universal human tendency to design one’s actions consistently according to four basic values:

1. To remain in unilateral control;

2. To maximize “winning” and minimize “losing”;

3. To suppress negative feelings; and

4. To be as “rational” as possible—by which people mean defining clear objectives and evaluating their behavior in terms of whether or not they have achieved them.

The purpose of all these values is to avoid embarrassment or threat, feeling vulnerable or incompetent. In this respect, the master program that most people use is profoundly defensive. Defensive reasoning encourages individuals to keep private the premises, inferences, and conclusions that shape their behavior and to avoid testing them in a truly independent, objective fashion.

These hidden values in most organisation get in the way of the transparency-led transformation that many hope to see. The Responsive Organization poses a threat to control, a threat of losing and negative feelings. Importantly the delegation of authority in a Responsive Organization may cause people anxiety as to objectives and rationale for action.

The role of leadership is to act as a counterbalance these natural human values and shift the behaviours to that of a Responsive Organization. We need to create rationales for action more powerful than embarrassment. We need to create community to generate trust, support and connection. We need to enable learning through conflict and experimentation.

Purpose:

Leaders must create a strong rationale for the transformation. In cases of crisis, startup or near death of organizations, this rationale can often be imposed by a charismatic individual. The external circumstances enable a threat-based narrative to bind people together in a defensive rationale for change.

However, most organizations are successful to their own terms. As Argyris notes, we want to feel successful even if our results don’t pass external muster.

Leaders need to leverage two elements to create a strong rationale for change in this context:

  • The Purpose of the organization: a purpose is the ultimate rationale for why people come together in an endeavour. It defines the common impact the group of people wish to have on the world.  As a higher agenda, it is the perfect rationale for change for even the most successful organizations.  Purpose is a mastery quest. Very few organizations have the capability to completely fulfil their purpose. They can however strive to better realise it.
  • External orientation: No closed system will find a rationale for change. External orientation is where organizations find the challenges and opportunities that define the purpose into specific improvement opportunities. Leaders need to relentlessly focus the organization on its customers and community to see transparently the challenges and opportunities that exist for change. Well defined external impacts in this community will be what can drive the autonomy of teams in the organization.  Using customer and community data in line with Purpose, also enables change agents to overcome embarrassment-based resistance in the organization.

Community:

Individuals will need support to take on the risks of a Responsive Organization. The role of leaders is to create the sense of community that will support an individual through that change. At the heart of that community will be engagement with others and a growing sense of mutual trust.  Leaders set the tone for any community. They must also work hard to reinforce these key community behaviours

  • Engagement: Engagement begins with transparency and connection. I cannot truly care about the others in my community until I know who they are and understand their purposes, concerns and circumstances. Leaders need to create the conditions to enable people to be more social, to connect, to solve and to share their work challenges together.
  • Trust: Engagement will build trust as it builds understanding. Transparency will reinforce trust. However, leaders need to take on the role of fostering responsibility and accountability as engines of growing trust in the organization.  When people see that individuals and teams are accountable for driving change then they will have greater trust in the change agenda.

Learning:

This post is deliberately not titled like a listicle e.g. ’The 3 or 6 things to transform an organization’. Even a basic familiarity with change highlights that formulas will work only up to a point. Leadership needs to be adaptive to enable any system to change in a sustainable way.

To be true to their purpose and stakeholders, to leverage the potential of their community, each organization will take an unique path through change.  The role of leaders is facilitate the individual and organizational learning required:

  • Experimentation: creating a culture of rapid iteration to address challenges and opportunities will accelerate the cycle of learning in the organization. Leaders must help this experimentation culture to overcome the resistance identified by Argyris and also to spread and have a wider influence in the organization. Lessons learned must become new truths which will take a sense-making role for leaders in the wider organization and mean leaders must champion new ways of working when they arise, whatever the personal costs.
  • Conflict: The biggest reason that organisational transformations fail is an unwillingness of the leadership of the organization to allow uncertainty and conflict. Conflict will happen. The uncertainty associated with conflict is inevitable. Efforts to suppress this will either undermine transparency, the rationale for change, engagement or learning. Failure to embrace conflict takes many names: politeness, bureaucracy, politics, corporate speak, history, culture, etc. Failure to embrace conflict is an unwillingness to learn and improve. There will always be resistance when change comes and it must be addressed. Leaders need to create and sustain the right kinds of constructive conflict – driven by purpose, based in facts from an external orientation & experimentation, mediated through an engaged community.

Change is Coming. Lead.

I have seen the potential of purpose, external orientation, engagement, trust experimentation and conflict to drive change. Supported by leadership these are the elements of each organisation’s transformation. These elements are critical to a Responsive Organization.

Throughout this post I have referred to leaders and leadership. This need not be hierarchical leadership. Change takes change agents. Clearly it helps if leadership and power are aligned in an organization in reinforcing the need for change. However, the changes described above are not capable of being implemented by top-down edicts. These changes must come as individuals and groups discover their power and are influenced as a result, This kind of leadership relies on influence and can begin bottom up or even from the middle management so often scorned in organizations.

Change is possible. Change is coming. Smart people can learn. Your people and your organisation can better realise their potential and their purpose. A Responsive Organization transformation will occur if you are prepared to lead the change.

Lead.

This post was first posted on simonterry.tumblr.com

 

What Does it Mean to be a Change Agent?

Over the summer, our network went through some rocky reverberations.  Conversations cropped up that forced us to think carefully about what we’re attempting to do here at Change Agents Worldwide.  The process, although difficult, was healthy, sobering… cleansing.

We divided into three international regional teams and set about to examine who we are and what we’re interested in achieving.  Key to that introspection was a focused exploration into our values.  Individually, every professional executes against personal goals and ambitions, but collectively – within the network – we needed to capture the essence of what it means to be a change agent in our network.  Scripting our values became the pedestal upon which we’d build a new business model that served our greater purpose.  As a startup, we’d been experimenting with a new model for management consulting.  The disruptive nature of what we were attempting to do, combined with competing ideas of how to go to market, resulted in difficulty convincing potential clients and network members to embrace the new model.  It was obvious we were headed for that dreaded startup pivot, yet we resolutely agreed we would not pivot on our values or what we wanted to achieve.  We, in the purist sense, meant everyone in the network.  Not just the founders, everyone.  At Change Agents Worldwide, every individual has an equal voice and the ability to course correct, question, or object to any aspect of our business.

From the very beginning,  we’ve been focused on a single goal: to Change the World of Work. It occurred to us that although there are many thought leaders in and around the social web who believe the same things we do, and who teach, write, and speak brilliantly about these same concepts, they may not self-identify as a change agent.  Going forward, we agreed we needed to create a manifesto, a credo that would define uniquely what we believe and who we are as participants in the network.  We crowdsourced this credo over a period of weeks.  From here, we’ve crafted a refreshed understanding of who we serve, how we will serve them, and who rightfully belongs as a member of our network.  Every existing member of our network signed the credo.  And going forward, signing the credo is part of our on-ramping process.

If you see yourself in the description above, consider joining us.  We have an incredible team working on leading-edge projects and breakthrough ideas in some of the largest institutions in the world. We are, in fact, changing the world of work every day.   In subsequent posts, I’ll be writing about some of those advancements and achievements.  There’s never been a better time to be a Change Agent in our network.

 

Facelift Marks the Next Chapter for our Progressive Ideals

w2

Change Agents Worldwide has a unique business model that is in perpetual beta, as our friend and fellow Change Agent, Harold Jarche, likes to say.  Everything we do, we do ourselves including all our branding and our web site.  Funny thing is, we don’t have a web designer or UI/UX professional in the network.  We’ve spent a tiny amount of funds on a couple freelancers, but for the most part, we are boot-strapped and we don’t have a marketing budget.  We love that about us.  We only answer to ourselves, and we only do things we can afford.

Last February, we spent a little money on a photographer to immortalize our first annual dinner.  My partner, Joachim Stroh, says hiring that photographer was the best idea I have had so far.  (Should I be worried?) Lol.

lWhen we launched our web site, we wanted to establish an image of being bold, being different, being courageous enough to tell our story with imagery that would establish our brand.   The company is maturing, and today we are well over 50-strong in our network.  We are now replacing our edgy images of lobster girls, turkeys on the beach, and space travelers  that were designed to attract the kind of people who’d be willing to be bold with us.  That worked, and we now proudly feature actual photos of our Change Agents with some select quotes. See for yourself.

Change Agents Worldwide is not about technology. It’s not about organizational redesign.  It’s not about KM practices or e-Learning or Innovation or Change Management.  Change Agents Worldwide is about people. People who share what they know about all these things and more with their colleagues to be the change they want to see in this world.  The bright people in our network are not ego-less, but our hearts are bigger than our egos.

If you want to hang with brilliant, caring people who also want to change the world, join us.  Better, if you want to fix what’s broken in the depths of the soul of your company, hire us.  If you’re just a little “transformation-curious,” try us.  We’re right here on the Web, and we’re always open for changing the world of work.

 

 

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New e-Book from Change Agents Worldwide

We’re pleased to release this collection of essays from a variety of our Change Agents who are changing the world of work. Whether they’re independent (Solo Change Agents) or working as part of a large organization (Enterprise Change Agents), 21 of our network members have provided their unique wisdom on what organizations can do to increase productivity, engagement, and provide richer workforce experiences in order to foster greater innovation and growth.

You can now download the e-Book for free.  Simply request a free copy and it will be immediately available to you.  


If you’d like to read the book on your Amazon Kindle, you can order it here for $1.99.

This is our first published piece.  We learned a lot in the process, and we have plans to write more books.  Stay tuned for announcements on future works and events from our Change Agents.  An easy way to do that is to sign up to receive our newsletter which will be coming out regularly starting this Friday.

 

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Passion is No Ordinary Word

[This is a bit of an insider post.  New blog readers, please bear with me.]

Here’s a question:  When did you first fall in love with Luis Suarez?  For me, it was sometime in 2006 or 2007.  I first wrote about him on my blog in 2007 after he unpacked a 7-part analysis of the famed Andy McAfee and Tom Davenport debate that I arranged in Boston at the inaugural Enterprise 2.0 Conference.

I tell a funny story about how the social web has changed the nature of business relationships that has to do with how I first met Luis in person for the very first time.  We were literally sitting in two tables next to each other, separated only by a lobby ficus tree.  Luis was tweeting that he was in the lobby hoping to connect.  I saw the tweet, turned my head, and literally JUMPED up to hug him with the fiercest, most caring hug that was appropriate for a hotel lobby.  It occurred to me in that moment how the social web has changed the fabric of business relationships.  In an earlier era, I would have quietly walked over to Luis, held out my hand for a firm shake and introduced myself. That world ended in 2007 for me.

I had a conversation today with a senior executive of a billion dollar company who expressed frustration about how he knows the world is heading toward the way we are working today in Change Agents Worldwide, but he must “deal” with the reality on the ground that is very far from our vision. He’s the voice and the will behind that change; he’s making it happen one tough day at a time.  I celebrate him.

Today, I’m delighted to fill in a piece of our Change Agents Worldwide puzzle.

puzzle 1 puzzle 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Luis’ words from way back in ’07:

That is why, to me, Enterprise 2.0 is not only revolutionalising the Enterprise, but also our own ways of life, because, after all, social computing is a philosophy, a way of life you breathe and learn to nurture, that inspires constant change that you rather embrace … or not. And at the end of the day, whether we like it or not, it would be a matter of choice to adopt it or not. And that choice is yours. And yours alone. So it would be up to you (And not higher up in the management chain), whether you would want to change your organisation or not, whether you would want to change your life or not. And if I were you, I would not wait for others to tell you about it…Make it happen!

Make it happen now!

It takes courage to quit your job.  It takes courage to stay in a job where so much is broken.  It takes courage to fight for the world we all want to work and live in.  But it takes heart and passion to make it happen.  I celebrate passion and will place high stake bets on it every time.

Welcome Luis.  The world is waiting for your kind of change.