I report a conversation with a colleague who was complaining that he had the same damn stuff in his lunch sack day after day.
"So who makes your lunch?" I asked.
"I do," says he.
When I heard his response, I thought, "This is about the smallest, least difficult, safest, change I can imagine. As such, it makes a perfect test for beginning change artists, a way of "measuring" how difficult it will be for them to change anything.
So, your next challenge will be to undertake a change project of your own, but to seek support in making this change. The purpose is to launch your career as a change artist by experiencing some of the theoretical learnings in the "real world," but in as small and safe a way as possible.
Choose one small thing about yourself you want to change. Novice Change Artists tend to be too eager for their own good. If you want to eat a whole elephant, start with single bite. If you finish one change, you are free to do another, and another—so don't worry that it's too small.
Find an interested change artist, or associate, or some willing person, meet with them and explain the change you want to make, and contract with that person for the kind of support you think you need to accomplish your change. Check with your supporter periodically to update him/her on your progress.
Let's examine a few instructive experiences of other change artists accepting this challenge to make one small change.
1. When I have a hot idea in a meeting, instead of blurting it out, I write a little note to myself and wait a couple of minutes. I noticed that about 60% of the time, somebody else comes up with essentially the same idea. Then, when I support the innovator, the idea has a very great chance of being adopted.
I've increased the number of my ideas that get adopted, but I'm not getting credit for them. At least not directly. But several people have told me that I've really become a leader in meetings. This was a surprise, because I thought they would consider me a leader when I had the most ideas—and they didn't. My supporter explained that I seemed more "statesmanlike," more calm and more respectful of others.
2. I take a break every hour when I'm alone, or when I'm in meetings. This was really hard to do. I didn't want to interrupt anyone, but my supporter gave me some good suggestions about how to "test the waters" before doing it in a meeting.
To my surprise, most people welcomed the breaks, most of the time. I learned that people (including me) often don't say what they want, and this has transferred to the practice of polling groups more often to find out how they feel about what's going on in meetings.
3. I posted hours when I would be uninterruptible, and hours when I would always be available for interruptions. At first, people didn't respect these hours, as they didn't believe I would really do it. I couldn't say no to anyone, so my supporter actually came into my office from 4 to 5 one day (the busiest time) and coached me on how to dispatch people to the posted schedule. This worked pretty well for me, but it was a strain for some of them. I then realized that 4 to 5 would be a good time for drop-in time, so I changed the schedule.
After two more schedule adjustments, the thing seems to be working. I've learned that it's impossible to plan anything perfectly if it involves other people—you have to try it out, then be prepared to adjust a couple of times.
4. I keep my wallet in a different pocket. The first time I reached for my wallet, I was in an absolute panic—I was sure I lost it.
My supporter pointed out to me that this may be the way people feel when I change things in the system and don't tell them—even if I do tell them, because they have the habit of finding things in certain places.
5. I made a healthier lunch for myself. I learned that I don't like "healthy" food. My supporter told me that I'm too healthy anyway, and the kind of lunch I made was rather fanatic. I guess she's right.
It made me aware that I'm a perfectionist, but that it's not in the nature of human beings to be perfect. If I eat a pickle now and then, or a cookie, the world won't come to an end. Also, of course, if my teammates make a mistake in their code from time to time, or don't design something perfectly, we'll survive.
Here's a challenge about the challenge:
When you accept this challenge, I'd love to read about what happened and what you learned. Hundreds of readers would like this, too. Besides, it will probably do you much good to sit down for a few minutes and recall your experience. Good writing practice, too.
For more about Becoming a Change Artist, you can read the book and try the entire sequence of exercises.
“The Last Hero” by Nathaniel Danes
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