When an organization faces a difficult problem, its leaders face two challenges. First, they must devise a solution, and then they must communicate it to the people they lead. Sometimes, leaders focus too narrowly on the original problem, and view the communication as a secondary annoyance. Too bad for them, because a solution is a solution only if you can communicate it to the people you lead. I learned this one day from a German Shepherd named Harry.
It's a prematurely cool late August morning, and I'm doing my daily circuit around Fresh Pond. The pond is warmer than the air, and its mirrored surface steams. I come around a turn in the path and spy a lone German Shepherd — probably a mix — on the path up ahead. He's looking across the meadow anxiously, listening.
I hear a female voice from across the meadow calling, "Harry…..Harry…" Harry freezes, ears up. He takes a step toward the voice, but the meadow is fenced here, and he's stumped. It's a vinyl fence, not very high, but insurmountable for Harry. I call to him because the fence ends about 20 feet behind me, and if he sees that, he'll be able to cross the meadow to reach his master.
Harry runs the other way. I don't take it personally — he's almost panicked.
After about three bounds, he changes his mind, and runs back past me. I figure, well, he'll be OK, and I continue on my way.
Even when an elegant
solution would almost
certainly work, a
simpler fix can
be more effectiveBut then I realize that the meadow is fenced on the other side, and worse, there's a stretch of high weeds, poison ivy, marsh, and brambles that he'll have to get through. Oh well, I think, not my problem. I continue on my way.
Soon Harry appears about ten feet in front of me, in the meadow, on the other side of the fence. Now he's trying to get out, and he's even more panicked than before. I call to him, and lift the bottom of the fence for him to scoot under. He considers it.
If he accepts, he'll be able to run around the meadow and reach his master. But he doesn't understand that. To Harry, I seem to be leading in the wrong direction.
In the midst of his internal debate, his master calls again. Harry makes a decision. He turns and runs across the meadow toward his master — and the bramble patch. He halts at its edge, unsure. His master calls again. He dives into the brambles, and as he reaches the far fence, his master raises it as I did, and Harry scoots through, tail wagging furiously. His master waves to me, I wave back, and all is well again in our little universe.
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- Change How You Change
- In the past two years, your life has probably changed. Do you commute over the same route you did two
years ago? Same transportation? Same job? Same company? Same industry? Change is all around, and you're
probably pretty skilled at it. You can become even more skilled if you change how you change.
- Letting Go of the Status Quo: the Debate
- Before we can change, we must want to change, or at least accept that we must change. And somewhere
in there, we must let go of some part of what is now in place — the status quo. In organizations,
the decision to let go involves debate.
- Kinds of Organizational Authority: the Informal
- Understanding Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority found
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- Good Change, Bad Change: II
- When we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong: we favor things that would harm us,
and shun things that would help. When we do get it wrong, we're sometimes misled by social factors.
- Motivation and the Reification Error
- We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as
if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.