There was a long silence, as everyone considered what Dave had just said. Matt spoke first. "Dave, that has to be wrong. If you're right," he said, "we've just wasted three months. And I wouldn't want to be in the room when you tell Tolman."
Carl was probably the most upset of all of them. "Actually, I'd like to see that myself. You're nothing but negative, Dave, and personally I'm sick of it." Then he stood up and left the conference room.
Matt and Carl are demonstrating two different responses to the bad news they've just received. Acknowledging difficulty can be so uncomfortable or frightening that we sometimes prefer the comfort of ignorance. Our discomfort can be so compelling that, like Matt or Carl, we become willing to adopt or cling to false beliefs that conform better to our wishes than does reality. And we'll stick with those illusions until we're forced to recognize our folly.
Teams and organizations have real advantages if they excel at detecting and eliminating myths and confusion. Here are some of the milestones on the path to Clarity.
- Whether we're clinging to myth or just confused, all progress depends on recognizing that there's something wrong with what we believe. Usually recognition comes to us through Messengers — a few courageous souls who are willing to withstand our objections and our sometimes-personal attacks.
- Sometimes Fear and discomfort
can be so compelling
that we cling to illusionsacknowledging our error can take the form of accepting the word of the Messengers. More often, we acknowledge our error while finding some minor flaw in the assertions of the Messengers. That way we can change our views without ceding status to the Messengers.
- To make further progress, we have to realize that we ourselves will have to create the change we need. This step can sometimes be the scariest, because we have to accept that no mysterious force will do our work for us.
- By telling others that we understand that things must change and that we'll be changing them, we express commitment to finding a new path forward that departs from the one we traveled to get here.
- Finally, we take some concrete action that we hope will move us toward a resolution. It might not actually work at first, but as long as we keep at it, each attempt gives us new insights about the reality of the problem.
The members of groups move along this path at different paces, sometimes backtracking, and that can lead to frustration within the group. But we can manage that frustration if everyone knows about this path, and how natural it is. Then, giving each other time gets easier, and maybe fewer of us will have to get up and leave the room. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Organizational Change:
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- Deciding to Change: Choosing
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most the people who make decisions. What can we do about this?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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