If you dropped an egg on the floor while making breakfast what would you do? Most people would mutter their favorite expletive and clean it up tossing the runny yoke and fragmented shell into the garbage. It would be pretty darn impossible to make an omelet with the broken egg therefore a new egg would be required.
Sadly, when it comes to fixing vexing public and private challenges most leaders go back to what has “worked” in the past and we get what we probably got the first time around a “false fix”. What I mean by this is that a short term solution may have appeared to have worked for a period of time only to remerge and usually in a more complex way. The false fix has actually made the problem harder to find a solution now as its mutated even deeper into the system it inhabits. False fixes are characterized by top down decision making, short term thinking and linear thinking.
After twenty years of work across the country in governance, democracy and change management, I’ve learned something that should have been obvious. You cannot fix a broken egg (sorry Humpty Dumpty…). Yet, that is exactly what I and many other leaders try to do relying on case studies and best practices that usually have only a very partial context to the issue being examined.
Indeed, we do need to take a look at things that have worked in the past but for complex issues that reemerge time and time again, we need to think and especially speak differently if we are going to create a radically new response to a complex and re-emergent issue.
In reality, best practices and case studies are usually best used as studies of “near misses”. I have worked with well-known leaders who wanted to mimic ideas as if you could clone a fix by simply copying the protocol even when many of the elements were quite different. Complex transformation and change is impossible merely recycling and re-arranging old ideas.
And so, henceforth, I am going to do three things when I talk and teach about transformational change.
- I am going to say at the outset that I will be using new words and phrases (and create new words as I go along)
- I am going to provide the necessary context and best practices as starting points instead of for framing projects.
- Lastly…I am going to stop apologizing for using new words and phrases.
The language we use is critical. Communicating complex ideas and exploring possibilities that have not have been seen before necessitates the creation of new words that open new models of thoughts and patterns in our minds. New words like Healthspital instead of hospital conjures up images of institutions proactively keeping people healthy beyond just treating disease and injury or neonaradigm that combines parts of the word narrative and paradigm to create a concept of an emergent story that is not framed by the defining rules of paradigm.
Integral thinkers and practitioners working in change management understand the differences between reform and transformative change. For those of us who consult with clients who hesitate doing something radically new and prefer to using recycled ideas “that looks a little different” we need to do better describing the opportunity and need for original approaches. Old ways focus on strategic prediction; new methods focus on interpreting weak signals and adaptive visioning and response. Futures Generative Dialog is a tool that puts issues in an integral and futures perspective tapping into the imagination of groups of people leading to more effective solutions.
If we are to make progress addressing environmental issues, racial challenges, income inequality, crime and justice issues we need to approach these challenges quit differently than the methods we’ve used in the past.
Urge the people and organizations you work with to come up with a new word describing the visionary work they want to accomplish. Begin with the word and we just might create a world that leaves abundance to future generations instead of scarcity.