“In this environment, we have to be able to change on a dime.” If you haven’t said it yourself, you’ve probably heard others saying it.
Whether in our personal lives or our work lives, it is clear that the volume, speed, and complexity of change continues to accelerate. Having the ability to “change on a dime” would clearly put you ahead of the competition in the marketplace, and keep you out “in front of the Joneses” in the neighborhood.
But is “changing on a dime” what you really want to strive for?
In order to answer this question, it’s necessary to look at the constraints that keep us from having–or exercising–this ability now. First and foremost are those things that stabilize our lives day-to-day. At work, we might refer to the organizational culture or the operating paradigm. At home, it is the family routines, lifestyle, or traditions.
I’ve written about these things extensively in past posts, most notably in Anchors, Aweigh. Much of the time, these anchors–whatever form they may take–are operating in the background. They provide us with the stability we need in order to focus on other things. We know which decisions to make on our own, which ones require consultation with others, and which ones are to be made by someone else. We know what behaviors are acceptable, and what behaviors are not. We know how to do what is expected of us, whether as the accountant, the CEO, the spouse, or the parent.
Our anchors, whatever they are, wherever they are, keep us in relative stasis. They keep us, our families, our organizations, and our communities (even our society) generally heading in what has been determined to be “the right direction.” The stronger the connection to any specific anchor, the more tightly it holds us in place.
Changing on a dime–if the change is significant–means changing our relationship to one or more of those tightly bound anchors. It means letting go of who we have been, what we have been doing, how we have been thinking, and becoming a different person or organization “in an instant.”
From this perspective, the best way to “change on a dime” is to be adrift, without anchors. Much like a leaf floating downstream, we can “go with the flow,” bobbing quickly through the rapids, and swirling slowly in the eddies.
Once you put even one anchor down, your ability to change instantly is at risk. It is not as easy to move across the country if you have a family, or own a house (or factory). But, having no anchors leaves us–quite literally–adrift.
Given that we as individuals, as well as our institutions, tend to be strongly anchored, changing intentionally requires us to reflect on our anchors. Which ones do we let go of; which ones do we realign our relationship to; which ones do we sustain? This reflection will slow us down–both as individuals and as organizations–at the same time as it helps us change wisely. And, this reflection, when done well, doesn’t happen “on a dime.”
So if changing on a dime is not, in fact, something to aspire to, how do we better position ourselves to be able to change more rapidly?
I have recently experienced a book that has proven to be a great tool for me in this regard. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeon is a book that is intended to be experienced, not just read. While the author focuses his writing at the individual level, the lessons he shares can apply to our organizations as well.
Future blogs will, no doubt, contain references to McKeown’s work. For now, let me highlight a few elements that address how we and our institutions can become more quickly adaptable to change.
According to McKeown, the nonessentialist seeks to be all things to all people, engages in the undisciplined pursuit of more, and lives a life that does not satisfy. The essentialist thinks less is better, engages in the disciplined pursuit of less, and lives a life that really matters.
What really matters to you as an individual? What really matters to your organization? What can you not say “No” to without damaging the core of who you are and what you do? Once you know what that is, it is time to begin saying “No” to all those other things whose weight you are carrying. And, it’s time to begin saying “No” to the change opportunities that come your way, but do not move you forward on your essential path.
McKeown’s message is, in some ways, a familiar one. “You can’t be all things to all people” is the popular saying. Jim Collins addressed it with his hedgehog model in Good to Great. Writers, programmers, project managers, designers, and many others learn, “It’s not complete when you can’t put anything else in, it’s complete when you can’t take anything else out.”
Taking this essentialist approach will not enable you to “change on a dime.” But it will free you of many of the anchors that are slowing you down now. And, fewer of the changes that appear on your horizon will warrant a second thought. Those factors alone–knowing what is essential, letting go of unnecessary anchors, and letting nonessential changes pass by–will significantly increase the speed by which you can change when the essential opportunities present themselves.
What are your thoughts?