Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shifting from "having more to being more"

In a call to action, Tim Brown, CEO of the Global Design and Innovation Consultancy IDEO, asks if we could shift our thinking from having more to being more*.
A curious question don't you think?

He further asks if this question only has relevance to those who "already have lots?"

We don’t have to look far to see possible applications of this thinking all around us. Rather than look for more resources, what if we could get more productivity out of the resources we already have? This is very much aligned with Lean thinking and supports engagement in process redesign. The principle of accomplishing more with the same amount of resources or inputs (simpler still, be of more value with less), or thinking leaner, has been well accepted. Yet if it's such an easy concept, why is change so slow and so difficult? Why do we have experts - whole departments in some cases - dedicated to leading change? The answer may be a bit more personal than we like. What if we are part of the problem? Could this be why W. Edwards Deming and Taiichi Ohno (大野 耐) stressed that in order to make real change we must first change ourselves? They said - and they are well supported by many others - that all change begins with the individual. More explicitly, all change starts with me/you.

Recently, I gave a talk with my esteemed colleagues Dr Jason Leitch and Dr Peter Lachman on transformation. We presented a common theory, The Model for Improvement. We then provided three distinct examples of the application of our theory in transformation efforts taking place on very different scales: a hospital, a county, and a country. The take-home message was that all change, no matter how big or small, occurs at the point of the individual experience. In short, no matter how many policies or change events you engage in, if it doesn't result in a change at the point of the actual experience you are trying to alter (in this case at the point of care), it isn't change, it's simply activity. In order to determine if the change you are making is in fact an improvement, you must have a measurement method (measurement is a topic for another post altogether.) My point is that the examples we presented support the idea that all change, whether on a single unit or spanning a nation, begins with changing me/you.

Let's think about the idea that we as individuals are the target of change. In your setting, who is it that is most likely to NOT let go of what they have? Looking at it another way, who is deriving power or authority in your environment/context from institutional inertia - commonly known as the status quo? Whose identity is coupled with mastery of the current state? Are they likely to give it up? I'm not targeting any particular person or group. I'm simply asking. Who do you think is open to change and who is least likely to really change (the haves or have-nots)? This can get particularly stinky if one can siphon off the new and exciting parts of an innovation/new thing AND keep what they already have. Where do I/you fall?

Marshall Ganz...
First let me say I just saw him speak at the IHI National Forum (my favorite event of the year) and he was inspirational, frankly he was downright moving. I found his plenary address so much more than a speech. Were you there? Did you hear it? He refers to movements and feeling a calling. He speaks not of having more but of being more.

You can find Marshall Ganz's web module on Organizing here.

On the uncertainty of change and the pull of the status quo - the safety and comfort of what we know - he writes the following:
"When we face uncertainty, we often feel conflicting emotions. On the one hand, we may be fearful - things will go wrong, we will fail, others will see. We then retract, metaphorically at least, to protect ourselves from danger. On the other hand, we may be curious - the unexpected can be exciting, bring new opportunities and new growth. So faced with the challenge of learning to act in new ways, we may retreat into the security what we know, or, at least, what will reduce our anxiety; or we may risk leaning into the uncertain. We may learn best when we can do both: secure ourselves in enough certainty that we have the courage to risk exploration. Learning to balance security and risk is not only key to our own learning, but to the learning of those with whom we work, for whom security may be more elusive and the risks greater."

I understand and believe that change is scary. Many will retreat. Our perception of ourselves, whom we believe others approve of and depend on, is often that which we spend most of our time being. But what about our dreams? I know this sounds like a bit of starry-eyed psycho-babble, but what if we try and see ourselves as what or who we really want to be? Better yet, what if we could be that which we are capable of? Do we even know what that is? What if everything we think we are supposed to be were washed away? Dr. Robert Schuller asks, "What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?" What would I do? I'll admit I don't have the answer. I have many questions. Is what I do based on being something or having something? Do I seek knowledge or mastery of the current state in order to understand how to change it fundamentally for the better? Or do I seek understanding of the current state in order to better know how I can achieve rewards from it? Aren't these awful questions? Is it possible I choose superficial success, such as having more because it's too scary to try and be more? Is it possible that the barriers I impose on myself serve a very important purpose: protection from the risk of failing or experiencing pain?

For today that's enough of what Tim Brown describes as "head-hurting thinking." If the answer/convergence of ideas is to come, it will only be through synthesis of all those divergent ideas and belief systems surrounding what it means to move beyond "having more" to actually "being more." Who knows, maybe having a little fun is part of it? I already confessed I had no answers. I only have starry eyes filled with hope.

More very soon.


  1. Congratulations on one year. Comparing the two shows both consistency and tremendous growth.

  2. Thank you for your comment. However, I'm not sure I understand what you are referring to.