Chapter 6: Change Velocity, Behaviours and Counterforces

Continuing with this rich seam on flexibility and pace of change in the 21st century, here are the second two areas of Behaviours and Counterforces.

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3. Behaviours

If our businesses are going to move with the cat-like agility described above, what will underpin that? What new behaviours must emerge? Which existing behaviours must change or die?

Collaborating

Firstly, it seems fairly obvious to say, but it will be impossible to move at the requisite new-speed-of-business if the people in our teams and across our departments are unable to collaborate.

When the train crisis happens, if there are now only twenty seconds instead of the 2 hours available ten years ago, then our man at the train company cannot afford any internal friction. On behalf of the company, he simply cannot tolerate politicking, unnecessary bureaucracy, or delay. He needs a network of highly responsive, empowered and helpful colleagues to move at realtime speed.

Silos do not support this kind of collaboration. In fact, they are diametrically opposed to enabling this kind of collaboration. Yet so many people describe the silos and silo behaviour in their organisations.

Where does silo thinking come from and who can change it? Leaders must address these issues, and especially their own personal behaviour that contributes to this. Leaders at all levels must model collaboration, must reward collaboration and unlock the blockers of collaboration.

Failing

Secondly, as we have previously explored in both People and Leadership, shifting organisational perceptions of failure are incredibly important in the organisation of the 21st century.

A lack of understanding failure and celebrating of failure leads to butt-covering, which in turn (without wanting to sound like Yoda) leads to a clogging of the pipes of collaboration. And failure itself may not be the greatest cost in an organisation but instead the fear of failure which actually paralyses decision-making and creates enormous stress for the people in the organisation.

Greater willingness to fail will lead to greater levels of trust between people in the organisation and a higher degree of honesty throughout. Indeed, if we see failing as learning, then the opportunity to fail more can create organisations which genuinely cherish and work towards learning and our companies will truly become real ‘Learning Organisations’ which restlessly adapt and move forwards.

Rewarding

Thirdly, what your organisation fundamentally rewards hugely affects its change velocity. For clarity, when I say ‘what your organisation rewards’, I mean what it really rewards – not just what it says it values. We’ve all been in organisations where there is an espoused value of integrity, only to see behaviour that is quite the opposite, or where thinking differently is internally branded as a core value, yet the people in the organisation actually squash new ideas and prefer to rinse and repeat, sticking with the ‘way things have always been done’.

So to accelerate their change velocity, organisations must truly reward the bundle of behaviours that unlock flexibility and agility: behaviours like personal development, business change, creativity and innovation, risk-taking and failure, and collaboration.

The organisations that do reward these qualities do so with both hard and soft rewards: in pay packets, bonuses, promotions and so on, and in ‘softer’ but perhaps even more impactful ways such as prizes, public visibility internally and externally, in one-on-ones and through coaching. And this will influence literally everyone in the organisation: from a founder or CEO to the receptionist or groundskeeper.

This truly nourishes an organisation striving to operate faster and better. A groundswell of collaboration and energy for change from the people in the whole team, in the whole organisation, pushing for a better organisation that can dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee. What is rewarded is absolutely key.

4. Counterforces

As we hurtle into this realtime world, where a friend uploads a photo of their meal in a fine restaurant to their chosen social network seconds before they devour it and then leaves an online review of the food before they’ve paid their bill, where organisations are monitoring and acting on feedback continuously gathered through forums and review sites, it is worth recognising that there are the beginnings of a counter-revolution or at least obvious counter-forces against this always-on way of life. And rightly so.

For the constant on-ness of a realtime world cannot be healthy. Some researchers talk about the side-affects of ‘Continuous Partial Attention’, the state where we humans are continuously monitoring a variety of information sources but with a thin ‘partial’ slice of our attention. Is it healthy to be plugged in to our mobile phone, our email, news headlines, an internal collaboration tool, one or two or three social networks AND have conversations with loved ones and colleagues? What does is this doing to our relationships, our brains, our blood pressure? What is it like for a child to grow up in a world where its parents are often absorbed by a little black rectangle they hold in their hands, expression frowning in concentration, thumb scrolling away? When do we start talking seriously about internet addiction?

Other researchers celebrate instead the virtues of Flow: that dream-like state where everything comes together without any fuss, where you are ‘in the zone’, uninterrupted, locked in, all of your attention poured onto one single area of focus. And – in the flow state – the report practically writes itself, the spreadsheet starts to add up, the bookshelf gets categorised, the garden looks good again. Where is the flow in a realtime world? How can an organisation achieve greatness when its people are spreading their attention so thinly every day?

Artists and thinkers are also playing with notions of slowness, fighting back against the incessant speed of modern life. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has funded a brilliant project that has built ‘The 10,000 year clock’ in a remote Texan hillside. The clock chimes once a year, is designed to function for 10,000 years, and every single chime will be unique from any before or after. In a disposable, short-term world, this project is designed to strive for a longevity that has become lost in the hurly-burly and speed of the 21st century. And of course there is the Slow Food Movement, celebrating the virtues of patience, time, space, peace.

Lastly, a debate continues about whether change is even accelerating at all. Some people say that of course it is, and point to all of the things we discuss in this book and more. In fact, futurist Ray Kurzweil believes that we are only at the earliest part of an accelerating phase that will get substantially faster over the next fifty years, arguing that as technology develops so it has a  compound affect on each next wave of progress and so further accelerates until we reach ‘The Singularity’ where human and computer intelligence are merged but that’s a whole ‘nother book! The anti-speeding-up lobby resists, and points to the fact that our grandparents generation went from the horse and cart and steam-powered trains to men on the moon, smart phones with inconceivable computing power and kids playing and learning in online virtual worlds. Fair point.

The point is this: the world is changing. And to many people, it feels like change is accelerating. Whatever the case, it is certainly true that the majority of our businesses, organisations and institutions are unable to move quickly enough to keep up any more. They are increasingly out of touch. What we have to do is increase the velocity that they are able to change at, in order that they remain relevant and bring their resources to bear on the problems that need solving.

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Feedback in comments here on the blog, twitter @willmcinnes / #cltrshck or email to wmcinnes@gmail.com.

Ciao.

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