Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Change Artist Challenge #10: Learning from History

The liberation of a tree is not the freedom from its roots.- Rabindranath Tagore
The Grand Tour shows you what's going on now, but perhaps more interesting to a change artist is how things got the way they are.

The Challenge

Your challenge is to discover the history of some practice that you consider non-productive.


1. Darn you! This assignment almost got me fired. I started questioning why we chose our LAN software and then it came out that my boss was the one who made the study that led to the decision. We got into a BIG argument over what I considered a dumb choice that was really hurting communication around here. He gave me a copy of his original study (actually, he practically shoved it down my throat) and I grudgingly read it. I was halfway into it when I realized that they really had chosen the best that was available at that time. The system I was favoring didn't even exist then. I don't think the company that makes it even existed then. I didn't know that; I didn't even think of that. Well, I learned a couple of things:

• Don't argue with the boss until you have all your facts straight. (I suppose I knew this, but needed reinforcing.)

• Everybody really is doing the best they can, with what they have, at the time they do it.

• I'm likely to make the same mistake (if it really is a mistake) of not seeing far enough into the future.

• An apology actually works with my boss, and doesn't kill me (though it embarrasses me).


While studying how we used consultants in the past, I learned that we have a pattern of paying them a lot, putting in a lot of work with them, and then putting their reports on the shelf. I don't know what I'm going to do about this, but obviously something has to change. Perhaps we won't hire consultants any more, or we'll hire different ones, or we'll work with them differently. Maybe we're expecting too much from a report.


I found out why we put quarters in the bowl at meetings when somebody interrupts someone else. That started before I came to this group. Now we give that money to charity, but originally it was used for beer after the meeting. I've re-instituted the beer-sharing—we really needed some kind of team-building, or team-repairing like that. Don't worry, though. We still give the quarters to charity, and just take turns buying the beer.


I wanted to find out what really happened to the previous two process groups. I did. I'm going to make a few changes, right away.


Well, I couldn't do this assignment. I wanted to study the history of our weekly status meetings, but I couldn't find anyone who remembered how they got started. I couldn't find anyone who remembered why they got started. I couldn't even find anybody who knew why we were still doing them. So we're not doing them any more. But I didn't do the assignment.


This post is part of the series, adapted from the book, Becoming a Change Artist.


David Smith said...

One of the best lessons I learned from The Secrets of Consulting was Boulding's Backward Basis: "Things are the way they are because they got that way." Taking the time to discover how "they got that way" has helped me avoid following my big mouth into a lot of trouble - on occasion. When I remember.

Ellis Vidler said...

My father always said "because we've always done it this way" was the poorest excuse for doing anything, but knowing why is also important. Good lesson, Jerry.