Posts Tagged ‘change’

Channel Yourself

Coping and Communicating, Musings | Posted by Doc
May 12 2012

For a time, I was a coach. A personal / life / business coach. I loved the work. Well, it didn’t feel like work. It was joyful and amazing.

It was not uncommon for a client to tell me that they felt that they were not yet what / who they wanted to be. When this came up, we’d discuss the question of who or what they wanted to be. We’d create an image of that future self, including the way they’d talk, the way they’d walk, how they’d hold themselves, their posture, their gestures, the presence they’d create when they entered a room, and so on. A rich, full vision of the future self.


“Wow! That’s who I want to be. How do I get there?”

Sounds tricky, right? I mean, if it were easy, wouldn’t we all be powerful or leaders or loved or in the job we want or…

Here’s the technique I shared with my clients.

I get that you’re not yet that person. You have a clear picture of that version of you, who seems like a different person right now. You have a clear picture of how that person would speak, what they’d say, how they’d stand, how they’d move, and the gestures they’d use, right?

Channel that person. Don’t try to be that person. Act like that person.

What would that person say in this situation? Say that.

What would that person do in this situation? Do that.

It has been successfully demonstrated repeatedly that we can change our feelings by changing our words. We can change our behavior by choice, repeating the changes until they become our real selves.

So rather than wondering what I need to do to become the person I am visualizing, I choose to act like that person until I become that person.

Take it on like a persona, until it “takes”.

As it settles in, my feelings will change to reflect the confidence I begin to feel. The behavior will become natural and mine.

One day, I will wake up and discover that I have become the person I was visualizing.

The Other Hand

Musings | Posted by Doc
Oct 09 2011

I’m right handed. Very much so, especially since I broke my left arm in 5th grade, and was even more focused on my right hand.

These days, I sometimes shave with a manual razor, sometimes with an electric. At times, I find myself having to turn my head way to the side, and reach far around with my right hand, in order to get spots on the left side of my jaw and my neck.

This got me to thinking, and I decided to try shaving the left side of my face with my left hand. Only with my electric razor, of course, since I don’t entirely trust my coordination enough to take a chance at slicing myself open with a manual razor.

Thinking differentlyOn reflection, I realized that this was also a mental pattern. There are so many things I do in a certain way, because I’ve always done them that way. And there are many ways I think that I have always thought, because that’s the way I’ve always thought.

We all fall into patterns, and then lose awareness of those patterns and just do things that way. While at times I think this is enabling – read about my shower principle in I&I over P&T – at other times it causes me to ignore other possibilities because I just think happily along in the same old rut. Stopping to question why I think or do things a certain way is good.

Doing them – or thinking them – differently is healthy.

Shave with the other hand. See what happens.

Reflections on “Talent is Overrated”

Career, Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 09 2011

I’m in the midst of reading Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin. I’m finding much that resonates for me, especially in light of recent experience.

“When asked to explain why a few people are so excellent at what they do, most of us have two answers, and the first one is hard work. People get extremely good at something because they work hard at it. We tell our kids that if they just work hard, they’ll be fine. It turns out that this is exactly right. They’ll be fine, just like all those other people who work at something for most of their lives and get along perfectly acceptably but never become particularly good at it. The research confirms that merely putting in the years isn’t much help to someone who wants to be a great performer.” [emphasis mine]

Too many organizations believe that all they have to do is give employees a place to work, specific roles to play, and an opportunity to do their work over and over and over again, and those employees should get better at what they do. After all, we’re all motivated and driven and have the capability to figure out what we need to know and do to get better/more skilled, right?


“It could be put very simply: What the authors called ‘deliberate practice’ makes all the difference. Or as they stated it with stark clarity in their scholarly paper, ‘the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.'”

As he explains further, “deliberate practice” is not just doing it over and over again.

“Deliberate practice is characterized by several elements, each worth examining. It is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual, such as chess or business-related activities, or heavily physical, such as sports; and it isn’t much fun.”

If I find myself in a situation where someone – someone who is supposedly helping me progress toward mastery – just says “again! again! again!”, then I know we’re not making progress. I was trying out a new gym, for instance. It was a kettlebell gym. During one activity we were swinging a kettlebell up and down, from between our legs up to around shoulder level. The instructor said “Snap Doc! Snap!” Needless to say, I had no idea what she was talking about. She didn’t help me to understand the body mechanics, or even what she meant by “snap”. She just kept snapping “Snap!” at me. Not helpful.

On the other hand, a different instructor said “Use your legs, not your arms and shoulders. Your arms and shoulders are just there to support the bell. Use your upward momentum with your legs to move the bell, and snap into position with your body upright and your butt tight at the top.” That was far more helpful. When this person said “That’s better. Now try for more snap.” I knew what was meant and how to move into deliberate practice.

In a work environment, if you are not being challenged and offered ways to learn, then you might have reason to question the situation. It’s all too easy for employers to discriminate based on talent, where Colvin would argue that talent is real, but is a relatively small influence on how skilled or capable someone is at a particular endeavor. The shift from “let’s find talented people” to “let’s find people who understand the importance of deliberate practice” is as important – and difficult – as the shift that Dan Pink talks about in Drive (intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation). Colvin says:

“…it’s one thing to say that a manager is ‘good with people.’ It’s another to ask whether a manager notices when a direct report seems no longer challenged by his or her job. If so, is that seen as a problem or an opportunity? What responses are proposed? Of these, how effective or ineffective do they seem, and which, if any, are applied?”

Management, along with its close friend Leadership, is a set of skills and a mindset. Sadly, too many organizations treat it as a job that someone can pick up on their own if they just do it day after day. Good management, effective management, requires deliberate practice. It requires mentoring and guidance and – worth saying again – deliberate practice. It really makes me sad to see people who have the potential to be strong, effective managers and/or leaders being led by people who are not strong, effective managers and are therefore being taught the wrong stuff. Sometimes the teaching is in the form of abstention: their “leaders” let them do foolish things, or ineffective things, and don’t help them to learn better, wiser, more effective ways. And this becomes generational, as each “generation” of organizational leaders “raises” the next generation.

If you’re in a situation like this, you have three choices, two of which require you to take action:

  1. Do something about it – change your organization
  2. Shut up and take it – but do it with awareness, not ignorance
  3. Leave – change your circumstances

If you have stories about situations like this, I’d love to hear about them.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” ~Mohandas Gandhi

Look forward

Career, Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 08 2011

Having been laid off from my job at ThoughtWorks this past Tuesday, it’s been an interesting few days.

My wife of 35 years* is not a big fan of change, and has said that being laid off would feel to her as if she were being judged, and had been judged to fail.

I, on the other hand, know that whatever reasons they gave or actually had, the people who made the decision to lay me off had their own reasons. Those reasons were mostly about them, and only a little bit about me.  Their decision does not change who I am, what I’m capable of, nor my value to an employer or to the world I live in.

The fact that it was done the way it was** is annoying, and speaks more about them than about me. Having worked at a number of startups in my career, and having been laid off more than once, I can tell you that there are good ways and less good ways. This was a less good way. It makes me wonder why.

However, the main point of this is this: looking backward makes you stumble, so look forward.

It’s possible this may happen to you at some time in your career. After all, businesses suffer setbacks, some fail, and sometimes they just feel the need to shuffle things around. You may be the beneficiary or the victim in these circumstances. If so, I hope you’ll remember this lesson.

Let me say it again: Their decision does not change who I am, what I’m capable of, nor my value to an employer or to the world I live in.

Of course, if you find yourself without income or employment, and the market is not healthy, it may be harder to see it as an exciting opportunity. Try anyway.

I know – I’ve written about change and how frightening and threatening it is. Nonetheless, I find my adrenaline pumping. I’m exploring the world. I’m meeting new people. I’m facing the challenge head on, and reflecting on who I am and what I want to do. That’s a good thing.

If you give in to the fear of change, you lose. If you let “them” lead you to feeling less good about yourself, you lose. If you forget how important and valuable you are, you lose.

For me, predictability is both essential (I am TRULY borderline OCD) and boring. As I say when I’m talking about “Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools”, processes and tools (and predictability) should be enablers not the focus of my attention.

I have an opportunity. So do you.

Look forward.

* yes, I’m bragging 🙂

** no, I’m not going to fill in any more details

Where is the greatest friction?

Agile & Lean, Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 03 2011

Between coaching and training, I’ve dealt with a number of organizations that are trying – in one way or another – to adopt Agile principles, practices, and methodologies.

I’m frequently asked “What is the hardest part? Is it the engineering practices? The predictability (or lack thereof)? Staffing?”

None of the above (you probably guessed that).

Boundary friction. Yup, that’s it. Boundary friction.

Train TracksImagine two trains. They’re running on tracks that sometimes run parallel, and sometimes diverge and come back together. When they get close enough, they actually touch.

Got it? Got the image of two trains racing or plodding along, coming closer and moving farther away, and sometimes coming into contact? Can you hear the train whistles and the sound of the wind and the wheels?  Feel the vibration?

If they’re both moving at the same speed, what happens when they come together?

Nothing. Smooth, easy, no friction.

What if they’re moving at different speeds? Faster versus slower is not better or worse, just different. So what happens?

Friction. Things heat up, maybe metal gets bent or crunched or marred. It is not smooth and easy, is it?

When organizations are implementing agile (or any systemic change, really), without considering the whole organization, friction is inevitable. Let’s say that Business Operations is used to doing things one way, and isn’t ready to change (yet). Along comes this project team that’s doing Agile. Again, I’m not arguing that “agile is faster/better”, I’m just saying that it’s like they’re moving at different speeds. Where they come together, there will be more or less friction depending on how close to parallel and how close to the same speed they are.

In this case, it means that if both organizations are not embracing the change in similar ways, there will be more friction.

You can’t impose a change on part of the organization without affecting the rest of the organization. That’s ostrich behavior.

The trick, the secret (it’s actually neither a trick nor a secret, though) is to figure out how to get them to truly come together.

That doesn’t mean telling Business Operations (or Sales or Product Management or…) “For this to work, you have to adopt Agile principles and practices and methodologies. Now. Today.”

No, it means figuring out how to evolve together, taking smaller or larger steps when they’re appropriate. Like embracing the Last Responsible Moment principle. Like the Simple Design principle.

Implement as much change as you can readily absorb, in order to get you a bit further along. Then inspect and adapt. Don’t rush.

Organizations are organisms, and the organs and skeletal structure are all part of the same organism.

Or trains. Yeah, they’re trains. 😉

Change is hard, still

Agile & Lean | Posted by Doc
Apr 17 2011

I had a chat with a new friend yesterday. We walked down the road from the hotel into Wolvercote, and chatted about life and work.

This fellow manages a development team. He’s concerned that they’re not as effective as he thinks they could be, that they have a low “bus factor” (my term), and that testing in particular is not what it could be. They have legacy code, and it sounded like they have quite a bit of specialization, in spite of having only four developers.

I latched onto that last point first. “Have you tried pairing?” I asked.

“No, I hadn’t really thought of it yet.”

Lots of intermediate discussion…

“What do you do when you have an odd number of people?”

I knew he was listening carefully, and yet I was getting a feeling of resistance. I tried to offer ways in which he could get buy in from the team, make some changes that would encourage them to think and examine the way they’ve been working, and make it a team thing, not something imposed from above.

“Well, I’m really concerned about the testers.”

I suggested co-location, or some version of it. He explained that they have separate two-person offices, and he can’t change that.

All of this got me to wondering whether he really wants to facilitate change, or he just wants to talk about it. He said some of the right things, but when it got down to actually doing it, he repeatedly explained to me how hard it would be, and what the obstacles are.

Change is hard. Embrace change only if you really believe that it has the potential to deliver benefit. And then embrace it wholeheartedly.

Driven by Desire

Agile & Lean, Coping and Communicating, Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Oct 07 2010

one_angry_man_facing right-flippedChange. It’s what I spend my time thinking and talking about. Whether it’s coaching or training or organizational or individual, change.

And change is hard.

Thinking back to the Plow, there will be varying amounts and degrees of resistance whenever change is occurring. It doesn’t matter whether the change is initiated internally or externally.

The challenge when you’re an agent of change, therefore, is to reduce the amount and degree of resistance. Of course, if you know my IAAM philosophy, then you know that I believe that you can’t cause change or change resistance. Rather you can offer others the information and perspective that you bring to the table, perhaps couched in such a way as to be most influential or persuasive. But when you get right down to it, change must come from within: within the individual and within the organization.

There’s an implication here for those of us who are, in fact, agents of change. The implication is this: our job is not to change people or organizations.

Our job, then, is to help individuals and organizations desire change.

Whoa. That’s a challenge. How do you guide/help/lead one person, much less an organization, to want change, when change is threatening, frightening, intimidating?

Start by understanding the pain points that they live with today. I know this seems simple and obvious, and to a certain extent it is.

Sadly, too often we go in with the attitude “change is coming, so toughen up, and let’s go!”

That doesn’t work.

Think about yourself. When have you been successful in making a change in yourself? For me, I know it’s only when I want to, not when I think I should. Even when I need to, I still have to want to or the change will fail.

Just look at my waistline. 😉 I’m working on it. Ignoring traveling, I’m actually achieving change.  Change in my eating habits and exercise habits and attitude toward food.  Not because someone told me I should.  Not because someone else cares (although they might). It’s because *I* want to change.

So the next time you are sitting in the change agent’s seat, stop and ask the first question: “Why should they care?”

The Plow

Agile & Lean, Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 28 2010

The other day, in a meeting, someone made reference to the change process as a plow. At that moment, I admit that I stopped listening. Not because it wasn’t interesting or valuable, but because the image of the plow took over my attention.

First, the question of pulling, pushing, resistance, and steering. This intrigued me. When we focus on organizational transformation (or whatever term you like), all four things come into play.ox-plow-nepal.jpg


The pull comes from the organization’s desire to change. The power of the pull, then, is dependent on their desire and willingness and commitment. Imagine the image at the right – strong desire, willingness, and commitment. Now imagine a chihuahua pulling the plow. Would you achieve the same success in the same time? Probably not.

How about the idea of a plow that is pulled, but not pushed or steered. How would it be if the oxen were left to their own devices here? The plow would fall over, and either they’d keep going until they got bored, or they’d get stuck because the plow got stuck on something.

The importance of pull is that it’s nearly impossible to achieve change without some amount of pull, while at the same time, pull is not enough by itself.



Then let’s consider push. Many of us approach our consulting/coaching roles as if our job is to provide a giant push. This just doesn’t work. If there’s no pull, then no matter how hard we try to push, we’re not going to achieve success quickly. Imagine a cruise ship or one of those massive oil tankers. Yes, their default mode of propulsion and steering is from the rear – push. It takes a long time to change the direction of a ship like that, because of the inertia of the ship and the resistance of the water.

Now imagine adding a tugboat at the front of the ship. While neither push nor pull is enough by itself to make a significant change quickly, working together they can effect the change more quickly than otherwise.

So we have the idea of synergy between the organization’s pull, and the change agent’s push. Together, they produce more change more effectively.

Of course, with pull and push working together, you get a linear motion, right?


No matter how willing individual people might be, there will be resistance. Sometimes it’s passive resistance: people just keep doing what they’ve always done, not to thwart the change, but because it’s what they know. Sometimes it’s active resistance: people hold fast to their kingdoms or their safety, and change is threatening. Regardless of the reason, there will always be some resistance. In plowing for planting, it’s the earth itself. In the example of our ship, it’s the water. Neither earth nor water is actively resisting, nor is it malicious. Rather, just like organizational processes, water moves in its own way and earth is static in its own way, and you have to work with it rather than against it in order to succeed in effecting change.


Finally, let’s look at the part that brings them together: steering. Pull without steering is inflexible. The ship will keep moving in one direction. Push without steering is unpredictable. Whether the vagaries of the waves (change) or running into some resistance, pushing can lead to disaster. Consider the Titanic. While they had push and steering, they didn’t apply the steering until it was too late.

And, of course, there are currents in the water that change, and rocks in the ground that resist progress. It takes some attention and thought to recognize and adapt to those currents and obstacles.

We have to consider, therefore, that change is best effected by a combination of pull – the desire to change, push – the drive and incentive and energy, and steering – the intelligence and experience and attention to make decisions on a moment-by-moment basis.

When we find ourselves in coaching/consulting roles, it is a significant challenge to find the balance, and to find the right people/groups to effect that balance.

  • Oxen pulling plow:
  • Train plow:

“Influencer”, a must-read book

Coping and Communicating, Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
May 01 2009

I’m not finished with it yet, and yet I can tell you unreservedly that you must read Influencer by the authors of Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations.

While the first two books deal with holding conversations and dealing with issues, this third book addresses the challenges that are near and dear to my heart: how you get people to change their behavior. Thanks to my colleague Jason Yip, I started on this book, and haven’t been able to put it down (well, I do stop for things like work 😉 ).

I wanted to share some of this with you, because it relates so nicely to what I’ve been thinking and writing about for a while now.

It turns out the all influence geniuses focus on behaviors. They’re inflexible on this point. They don’t develop an influence strategy until they’ve carefully identified the specific behaviors they want to change. They start by asking: In order to improve our existing situation, what must people actually do?

I love this. It’s not about how they feel or about their motivation. First and foremost, it’s about how they behave.

This is true whether I’m dealing with my family, my co-workers, or a client. Whether I want them to change their behavior, or I just want to understand the situation, I start with their behavior.

One of the vital behaviors consists of the use of praise versus the use of punishment. Top performers reward positive performance far more frequently than their counterparts. Bottom performers quickly become discouraged and mutter things such as, “Didn’t I just teach you that two minutes ago?” The best consistently reinforce even moderately good performance,…

This goes as far back, for me, as Ken Blanchard’s original One-Minute Manager series of books. It ties into how we relate to and teach our children. Every little accomplishment, every move in the right direction, and they get tremendous reinforcement. Then, as the authors say, we start to grow up and everyone gets stingy with their praise as if it’s only to be delivered when we do something exceptional.

If you know anything about training dogs (no, I’m not equating co-workers and family to dogs, just learning where I can), you know that you do the same thing – reward them if they make a move in the right direction, and keep encouraging them until they get it.

It’s so easy to say “well done” or “good job” or even just “thanks”. These things provide reward way out of proportion to their cost.

And it’s so easy to do these things as a facilitator, which many folks don’t get. It’s not about being insincere or ingenuous. It’s about rewarding and encouraging the behaviors we want to develop, and finding ways to reduce or eliminate the behaviors we don’t want.

Read this book. If you are a parent, manager, facilitator, professional, consultant, teacher,… okay, if you’re a human being, read this book.

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You can’t change me

Coping and Communicating, Musings | Posted by Doc
Apr 13 2009

Change is a powerful and frightening thing.

What’s just as frightening, is that many of us think we can change others. Not initiate change, not encourage change, but effect change in others.

We can’t.

Oh, sure – people in my life may change because of things I say or do.

But they don’t change because of me. They change because they choose to change.

The most I can do is offer my thoughts, through my spoken or written words, and demonstrate through my behavior, and at the same time offer them the opportunity to change.

Think about some of the books you’ve read that led you to make changes in your life. Did the author change you? Or did you embrace and internalize what the author wrote and make changes in yourself?

Now think about this in the context of work. If I can’t change someone, or make them change, then how do I effect the change that I believe is important? And, especially, how do I effect that change in someone who is not emotionally attached to me nor a student or apprentice of mine?

I don’t! I speak and share and show. If I do it well, then maybe they’ll choose to change. And maybe they won’t.

If this doesn’t make sense to you, read the Serenity Prayer, and think about it.

…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

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