Positive Impact Blog

Thought provoking insights for change makers


Mind tricks that limit growth

The pursuit of personal growth and learning plays a central role in my life.  However from time to time I question whether it is worth it.  After all, growth requires change and deep change is hard. Sometimes I ask myself whether I am up to it.  Maybe I am too old, too busy or just too lazy to do the hard work.  Perhaps I’ve grown enough.  After all I have a good life.  Wonderful friends and family surround me and I love my work, which I consider to be meaningful. So why do I need to change?  The answer for me is that I believe to grow is to live. I share this belief with my blogging partner, Katrin Muff who demonstrates her thirst for growth in how she lives every day.

Lost-Mind-Piece-946594190_3159x3159.jpeg

Last month Katrin described the external conditions that tend to stimulate her and push her to try something new.  The previous month, I discussed an incident that led to my own painful growth.  While reflecting on what stimulates our growth inspires me, I believe that we also need to stay aware of the barriers that can stymie us.

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, psychologist and professor Daniel Kahneman describes “a puzzling limitation of our mind: our excessive confidence in what we believe we know and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and uncertainty of the world we live in.”[1] I suspect that most of us consider ourselves to be logical thinkers. Yet, since we are human, we are all subject to thinking biases that can inhibit our ability to learn and access new experiences apart from our own status quo.  Consider the following:

Confirmation Bias

Magicians, who practice sleight of hand, or misdirection as they call it, count on our seeing what we expect rather than what is taking place in front of our eyes. And usually we do not let them down. We are all susceptible to seeing what we expect. Confirmation bias, or the tendency to seek out, notice, interpret and remember information to protect our prior beliefs and expectations is widespread.

False Consensus and Naïve Realism

The “false consensus effect” refers to our tendency to overestimate the degree to which others agree with us. And the “naïve realism bias” is a tendency to believe that we see reality as it is and that others who disagree with us do not. When suffering from this bias, we view anyone who disagrees with us as irrational, uninformed or overly subjective.[2]  The presumption that everyone sees the world the way that we do can stifle our growth and isolate us from diverse thinking.  However even more dangerous is the belief that those whose views of the world differ from our own are wrong. In truth, our views are merely our theories, hidden or not, of how things work. And theories aren’t the same as truth.

Illusionist making trick with magical play cards

I know that I am susceptible to these mind tricks that can prevent me from change.  Yet if I truly value ongoing growth and personal change, I must be vigilant to falling prey to these biases.  While I do not have any clear answers to how to fight them, I do know that my first step in neutralizing the biases is to acknowledge that I am susceptible, as are all of us.   As I interact with others, I can adopt the discipline of taking mental time-outs to reflect on how I am feeling and what I am thinking.  I can entertain the possibility that the biases might be at work.  This level of self-awareness should give me a fighting chance at foiling my own mind tricks.  And yes this level of vigilance is hard work.  Yet I hope that I will never grow too old, too self-satisfied, too arrogant or too lazy to do the work that growth requires.

[1] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition, October 2011.
[2] List of Cognitive Biases, Wikipedia, 2018.


1 Comment

Try something different!

The impact of the change of being in our ability to change

When have you last tried something different? I had to think for a while until I recalled such a moment. For me, trying new foods is the easiest way of trying something different. Travelling to new places and discovering new cultures and places and people is my preferred way of trying something different. Trying a new sport requires courage for me to try and I love the feeling of excitement when I have overcome my resistance. Trying a new behavior is by far the hardest way of trying something new, by a long shot. It is also by far the most exciting way to challenge myself.

try smth new

Image source: https://aminoapps.com/c/books/page/blog/weekly-challenge-try-something-new/7viP_u3dXvQ7BJXVkbzVaBMkqe12Dz

What about you?

I was very touched by what Kathy Miller shared in her last blog and when she shared how this simple advice by a friend “try something different!” changed her approach to looking at change. And I have observed myself in the past month to see how often I might be willing to try something. What I noticed as I observed myself was that there were conditions that favored my ability to try a new behavior. And this led me to consider the impact of the state of being in our ability to change.

Some external conditions favor a state of excitement, of thrill, or of fear or anxiety. These carry the same underlying high energetic vibration and they generate states of being which lead to states of mind that then allow or prevent our ability to try something different. For me, such a high energetic vibration is really good when I want to try a new sport. And it hinders me when I try to adapt myself to a situation trying a new emotional attitude.

courage

Image source: https://www.humansynergistics.com/blog/constructive-culture-blog/details/constructive-culture/2017/07/18/organizational-courage-part-1-of-2-what-it-is

 

On the other hand, my travels to Cuba has exposed me to a country that resonates entirely differently. Its relaxed attitude, laid back music, warm temperatures and kind people grounded me in a very easy and relaxed energetic state. The calmness that comes from appreciation, satisfaction, joy and gratitude expresses itself in a much calmer low energic vibration. Such a vibration has served me well to try new ways of approaching relationship and served as a condition that allowed me to react with more kindness, openness and patience than I had known as my natural patterns. Quite obviously the state of being served as an enabler for change. I must say, however, that this relaxed state of being did not serve me when trying to motivate me to join a local public fitness class. I felt way too relaxed for such a try during vacation.

emotional

Image source: https://eocinstitute.org/meditation/meditation-and-emotions-the-power-of-silence-during-times-of-change/

 

In conclusion, there is not a preferable state of being, each such state simply either promotes or prevents an attempt to try something different and hence to change. High energic vibrations serve to push us beyond our boundaries which is useful in some situation. Low energetic vibrations, on the other hand, will pull us more inward to our source freeing other potentials that are useful in attempts of something different.

hi low energy

Image source: https://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/waves/Lesson-2/Energy-Transport-and-the-Amplitude-of-a-Wave

 

May I invite you to observe yourself for a week or two and to share what you notice about enabling or disabling conditions to try something different? I would love to hear from you!


Personal readiness for change

Have you ever wondered why you feel so open to change yet believe that others resist it?  Most likely, many of us assume that we never resist change.  Yet I believe that we are often blind to our own defenses against it. As the year ends and a new one begins, I find myself in a contemplative mood! I wonder about my own blind spots. Last month Katrin Muff discussed the importance of learning to listen to herself – her body & intuition- in her own personal journey of change. She talked about the need to free herself from the restrictions that held her in place rather than enabling her to grow and change. This month I will discuss my own change challenges and what I am learning from the journey.

Simplicity-SelfReflection

Personal readiness for change is not an either/or proposition – either we are ready, or we are not. Readiness occurs in stages. The first stage is to become aware that we need to change. Many of us may secretly (or perhaps openly in some cases) see ourselves as infallible. We might take pride in our past successes and believe that they resulted from our own impeccable knowledge, skill and perhaps personality. Since what we have done in the past has worked for us, or so we think, we don’t question the path we have taken until we hit a roadblock, or we realize that the path we are on isn’t really taking us where we want to go.

I recall like it was yesterday a conversation that I had with a friend many years ago when I was faced with a difficult personal challenge involving the breakdown of a significant relationship.  I described to my friend how I was trying to understand the other person’s point of view and was doing my best to accommodate to avoid losing the relationship altogether.  My friend looked me in the eye and said, “Why don’t you try something different this time.”  These words were so simple yet very powerful.

Upon more discussion with my friend coupled with a heavy dose of self-reflection, I realized that I had been following a script that had guided my behavior under similar circumstances for a long time. This script included something like the following: my role in life was to preserve the feelings of others by listening to them, understanding them and adapting my behavior to meet their needs to the best of my ability. While I wasn’t completely aware of this script, I believed, with some evidence, that I was very good at maintaining relationships. Up to this point, I had not considered the full impact of my behaviors nor had I contemplated that I might find a better way of handling interpersonal challenges.

When my friend told me to “consider doing things differently this time,” I entertained the possibility that alternate, and perhaps superior paths might be available to me.

I began to question my assumptions about my role in relationships and to take a deeper look at what I had given up and how I had shortchanged others by following this script.  I recalled the resentment that I often experienced as I sublimated my own needs to avoid conflict or to preserve the status quo in my relationships. And interestingly, these relationships often disintegrated over time anyway. Perhaps this was because others sensed my resentment. Or maybe my behavior ensured that my relationships were superficial and thus not very rewarding since I did not share my feelings and needs with the other.  Or possibly the relationships fell by the wayside over time because of my own fatigue and anger from always accommodating.  I began to see that my behaviors could be viewed as a sign of my own self-righteousness and could be experienced as demeaning to others.  I realized that I needed to change.

abstract eye.png

Once we recognize the need for personal change, we can begin to contemplate what it means for us. However, we may still be ambivalent and, therefore not yet prepared to act. We can get stuck in this stage. While we may become aware of our own personal limitations and how our behaviors block change, we may still lack the motivation to act differently. As I thought about “doing something different this time,” I grew anxious and afraid.  I began to ask myself whether changing my accommodating behavior was too risky.  Over time, and with help, I was able to understand better where the anxiety was coming from and how it kept me from changing and growing.  I also began to realize what I was missing in relationships because of my own self-limiting behavior.  Slowly I became more open to change. And I did “do something different this time.” I will always be grateful for this simple advice that led to my growth.

While I understand the need for it, I have found that changing is difficult.  The old scripts are deeply embedded. And I still question whether the risks are worth the rewards.  Nevertheless, I have come to terms with change as a process rather than an event. Personal change requires deep self-awareness, courage, and perseverance.  Change and growth will never be easy.  Yet, I believe that my life can become more purposeful and my relationships more mutually satisfying as I allow my script to change. My own New Year’s resolution is to continue down the path of personal change. I believe that my relationships, and indeed my life, will be richer as a result of my continuing with this journey.

Happy New Year to all.  And may 2019 bring each of us the humility to seek self-awareness and the courage to grow.


Creating a Culture Through Stories

Blog by Kathy Miller Perkins, www.millerconsultants.com

Our personal stories are powerful. When talking about myself with others, I might recount a particularly exciting experience such as the time I served as a foreign exchange student in Thailand when I had never been away from home before and had never flown on an airplane. Or I might describe my life with my family and my three dogs, who never fail to amuse me.   As I tell these stories, I am sharing who I am – both how I see myself and how I want others to see me. Likewise, when I want to get to know someone, I usually start by asking them to tell me about themselves. I might ask about where they live, their families, their professions, their interests among other things. And I am not merely collecting facts. Instead I am listening to their stories because the tales they tell communicate their character.

So too the stories that we tell within our organizations and to the public about our companies communicate identity.  And Identity is the foundation upon which the organization’s culture rests.  In my work as an organizational psychologist, I am often asked to work with the clients to assess their organizational culture.  While I have a variety of method for carrying out this task, I find that listening to the stories they tell is among the best.   And all companies have their own stories or myths which reveal how they view themselves. And, in turn, their perceptions of themselves influence how they show up in the world.

whats-your-story

Not too long ago, I worked with a large organization in New York. To get a feel for their culture, I asked them to tell me stories about themselves when they were at their best.  They became quite animated as they spoke of how they rallied during the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. As I asked them questions about these stories they filled in details about their smooth working relationships under these extreme circumstances.  And they noted that their interactions aren’t nearly as smooth in their day-to-day work world.  We could all agree that this organization had a hero culture that worked well for them under crisis but not so well in more stable times.

Next, I asked them to tell some stories about incidents when they, as an organization, were at their worst. One of the stories I heard was about a cross-departmental project where people in one group hid information from those in another, presumably to maintain a more powerful position, or because they thought the other group would slow down their progress.  This part of the exercise wasn’t nearly so much fun as the first.  Yet the stories were colorful and revealed clearly some of the cracks in their day-to-day culture that made them vulnerable as an organization.

By analyzing how they acted at their best and at their worst they began to identify the conditions that brought out the good and the bad behaviors. They began to seek new ways of viewing themselves and their work.  They sought to switch from “we are at our best only when in crisis,” to “we can create conditions in our day-to-day world that will bring out the best in all of us.”  They were changing their story.

About this time, a new leader entered the organization. He brought the employees together in a “Town Hall” and told his own stories. He began by telling anecdotes about his  life and his work, followed by his vision for the organization. He claimed that he considered his work to be a calling – not just a job. And he challenged the employees to reconsider how they viewed their own work. He told them that “values count,” and described how his values influence his life every day. He ended by making the following commitment:

“I will give my time, energy and commitment to helping us become a world-class organization. I honestly believe that we can become a best in class standard against which other similar organizations can measure themselves.”

I cannot relay the conclusion of this story because my assignment ended shortly after the Town Hall.  However, when I left, I felt certain that this company could change.  To do so required them to tell a new story about who they are and who they want to be.  And I took away some powerful lessons: Just as we must change our own narratives when we seek to change ourselves, organizations can begin to change their cultures by creating their own new stories.


4 Comments

Falling on my feet after leaving BSL

Exploring communication in times of uncertainty

It has been two months now, since I was told that my time at BSL is up and that my contribution to the school was no longer desired by the majority shareholder of the group to which the school belongs.

It has been a strange time, with good and bad moments. On one hand it, it has been painful and stressful. A journey that took me from shock that immobilized me, to agitation and concern for what might now happen with the school and the many people there I care so much about – my colleagues, the students, the faculty. On the other hand, it has also been wonderfully liberating. The glimpse at a new phase in my life for which I feel so ready. Possibly so because I had thought of leaving BSL before but have never dared to. I thought I would harm BSL too much by leaving. Now that the owner decided on a new strategic direction, discontinuing what I have invested in and developed – I am suddenly free!

How do you communicate in such a time authentically yet without creating confusion? This is my challenge right now and this is my first attempt at it. I sense that this ability to communicate in uncertain or changing times might be a useful skill for not just me. There are two areas of thoughts I would like to share: a) insights gained and b) emerging questions:

A) These are the insights where I have gained clarity in:

  • I would like to find a way to live more authentically what I “preach”. If I want to suggest changes to make the world a better place, this starts with me. For me, now, this means to slow down and to stop racing from project to project, becoming more careful and mindful in selecting and prioritizing, and connecting to a deeper sensing of how I can truly make the difference I seek.
  • I would like to review my research questions and my teaching and to adapt them based on what I have learned these past years. This includes our experience of self-organization at BSL and the challenge of finding new, better organizational and governance structures to operate in today’s world. Also, I want to revisit my (PhD) question about the connection of the inner and outer world and how transformation occurs at a personal, organizational and societal level. How do we change?
  • I would like to operate in a new structure, rather than seeking a next employment. I want to serve my purpose, to be of service, to add value with my reflections and research, to create tools and methods, courses and programs, more powerfully than before. And I will do that creatively, together with others and in a structure that suits this purpose.

B) These are emerging questions I would like to explore further:

  • What does the BSL incident mean for my work in helping organizations to transform so that longer-term “sustainability” concerns weigh more than a short-term profit focus. What is there to be learned for such change processes? How can this apparent organizational setback instruct my inquiry about the transformation of business?
  • How do I interact with those who looked at the transformation of BSL as an important sign of hope in the landscape of business education, who had chosen it as their place of study, or who had dedicated dear time and energy to support our emergence as a promising prototype for a new type of business education? What can I offer, now?
  • What are my personal lessons from this change? What has prevented me from finding a more constructive solution? What are my shadows, blind spots and shortcomings? What does this mean in my life as I have just turned 7 x 7 (or 49), and what is the deeper message for my journey?

Each of these questions will deserve a separate blog and shall serve as a further attempt to authentically share in times of uncertainty. I am attentive to the interconnection among these and I am curious what I will be learning in my exploration. I am grateful for those who accompany me in this journey. It reminds me of what Bob Quinn calls “Building the bridge as we walk on it”.

Katrin


1 Comment

Walking the path of change: from the invisible hand to the invisible heart!

Kate Raworth left me with a question I could not answer: “How do we transform the ‘value-extraction’ mentality of the 20th century with the ‘designed-in benefits’ mindset needed in the 21st century?”. I walked home after a lovely dinner with her and pondered about why arguments that make total sense to some of us can be dismantled so easily by those who follow the profit-maximization drumbeat that has brought havoc to the world and economics in my lifetime. Kate had shared a story of well-regarded expert who proposed a cleverly designed building able to extract CO2 from its environment to a CFO. The CFO killed the genius idea with as little as: “But why should I do such thing? It doesn’t serve me!”

Kate was in Lausanne to inspire our graduating students along with Peter Bakker, President of the WBCSD, both recipients of BSL Dr. Honoris Causa awards. And they did! Peter shared a story of when he was CEO at TNT and his purchase of two long-haul planes doubled the CO2 footprint of his company in one year. The planes served to fly mobile phone from China to Europe – customers like their orders fulfilled overnight irrespective of the cost to nature. He reminded the graduates that the origin of leadership is “path finder” and that they were more than ever required to serve exactly that; as pathfinders to bring organizations to be the positive force our future needs.

Kigen Moi, the BSL Valedictorian, talked about Ubuntu, a word well known where he grew up “Humanity”. Or, as his story illustrated, the idea that no one can be happy, if the others around him are not. Such a profound thought which stands in such stark contrast to Kate’s struggles we had debated the night before.

I am struck by an oldish HuffPost blog entitled “There is no trade-off between profit and purpose” and that Paul Polman had recently retweeted with the words “To reach the land of profit, follow the road of purpose”. I have been a long advocate of using the right language to talk to various audiences. And that it is necessary to talk to those who see profit maximization as the holy grain by pointing out the immediate opportunity and risks of embracing business ideas that go beyond serving the interest of shareholders but at the same time also serve other stakeholders, society and the world at large.

To hell with it! Why should we adjust a values-based argument to a value-disconnected audience. Why cannot we not shake the CFO in Kate’s story to senses by responding with utter disbelief and exclaiming with wide-open eyes: “But how can you be happy if around you so many are unhappy? And let him reconnect with the humanity that undoubtedly sits inside of him, maybe underneath much dust and fast asleep, but most certainly alive and ticking. Why argue that purpose leads to profit, as if following purpose needed any excuse? Why having to point out there is no tradeoff between making money and doing good?

Why not shake the hearts and minds of those stuck in the 20th century logic of the misinterpretation of Adam Smith’s invisible hand? Take a look at the state of the world, the state of any single country of your choice and you can clearly and without a single doubt see that the profit-maximization argument has gotten it wrong. We have spent the last decade trying to twist purpose and values-based arguments into the ill-fatted logic of the past century and we have gotten nowhere. If we want to change the mindset that Kathy Miller and I are trying to figure out how to change, maybe the time is now ripe to start talking the truth. Kathy ended her last blog with a deep insight of Mahatma Gandhi: “You must not lose faith in humanity.  Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

Why not point out the amazing power and the beauty of the invisible heart that is beating in every single living thing and that connects all of us into a humanity across all living beings. Why not question empty values and fake arguments, and why not replace them with the wisdom of Ubuntu and insist that we can only rest if all of us are happy that that we will no longer take part in a race against each other but in a journey towards a place where all of us can be well on that gorgeous planet we are living on. Why not?!


10 steps toward organizational sustainability

What does it take to get an engineering company to embrace their care for a better world? Is it possible to provide access to the deeper meaning of sustainability to those who define it as either one-dimensional economic long-term survival, or as a predominantly ecological issue?

These were my questions as I prepared for my consulting day with a medium-sized traditional Swiss engineering company. The sustainability-fluent CEO had invited me to lead a workshop with his senior team, including the board, in a first conversation towards formulating a vision 2030 for a company that, in his view, had embrace sustainability. I am sharing here the step-by-step process of that very positive one-day workshop.

The design of the day involved some pre-work for the participants to enable me to ascertain the baseline from which we were working. At the same time I provided an accessible definition and framework of business sustainability to set the foundation on which they could build a common new language. The True Business Sustainability Typology developed by Thomas Dyllick and myself and produced into a convenient six-minute film came in handy (https://youtu.be/AEFqUh4PMmI). I asked them to complete a survey, which consisted of the following questions:

Question 1: What does sustainability mean for you? How would you have defined it before watching the video? What changed after the video? For you, what is sustainability and what is it not? (open ended response)

Question 2: How clear is it for you how your company might live true business sustainability? (multiple answers, including: crystal clear; I see possibilities; I have mostly questions; I have some concerns; I see a contradiction; I am open and look forward)

Question 3: Which sustainability problems touch you most / are a priority in your life? (multiple choice from a selection of 24 sustainability issues picked from the Gap Frame tool that translates the SDGs into a country-by-country measure)

Question 4: What do you expect from a whole day sustainability workshop at your company and what is important for you to say upfront? (open ended question)

In my preparation, I analyzed their responses to understand where they stood and what concerns, issues and hopes they brought along and I developed brief personal profiles containing my impressions (and a photo). Since I had never met the team, I grouped them into categories that would allow me to frame their anticipated worldviews and perspectives, in the hope to anticipate their attitude and responses during the day. Most importantly, it allowed me to be lightheartedly prepared for those from whom I might have to expect resistance.

The workshop was designed to be varied, encouraging listening, thinking and talking, and shifting between plenum, individual and small-group work; it included standing sessions with circle meetings, peer walks, silent personal reflection, presentations, group work and, of course, a bit of physical activity to keep the body, mind and heart active and involved. The CEO’s opening words, which I had asked him to hold standing around a lunch table, were to the point and honest; he finished by saying: “Katrin, you need to understand that everybody is a bit afraid of you right now. We never stood together like this to start a day and when we look to the room where we work, we see a circle of chairs with some funny decoration in the middle”. I smiled it off and immediately switched to everybody doing some straightforward physical activities to re-connect their brains, awaken the body and overcome the awkward feeling by doing awkward things! From there on, the day began to bloom.

Let us look at the journey we took together and how this may be helpful to you too, whether you are a business leader or a strategic consultant.

The personal passion of everyone (circle seating): each participant brought a personal item in response to the question: “If I had a magic wand, what is the one thing I would change in the world?” This round of sharing and story-telling set the tone of the day and the level of depth and engagement in the conversation. It allowed clarification of the term ‘sustainability’, including its less obvious facets, and brought everybody on board by revealing their deep personal connection with one or more sustainability issues.

How ready is your organization for change (open circle seating): each participant was asked to assess where they placed their organization on a scale where 1 was ‘incremental change’ and 2 was ‘quantum leap’. The discussion revealed that the change readiness of individuals was higher than the change readiness of the organization. By introducing my inner-outer world model that shows the interconnection between personal development towards responsible leadership and organizational development towards sustainable business, we had a way to frame the discussion; we highlighted the danger that can arise when organizational stability and comfort slows of extinguishes individual initiative. I used Cameron & Quinn’s Competing Values Framework to direct the thought process into a simple question for assessment: is the organization more internally or externally focused, and is the organization more focused on stability or on flexibility? Together, in an open discussion, we assessed the company’s journey and identified future areas of focus if, indeed, the organization were to embrace a quantum leap.

What are the biggest sustainability issues in Switzerland (lecture): In 30 minutes I explained sustainability, starting with the WEF Global Risks Report on which sustainability issues keeps CEOs awake at night, and outlining Rockström’s planetary boundaries and Oxfam’s social foundation, which Raworth used to develop the safe operating space for humanity. I then introduced the N. Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) and the Gap Frame (a project led by Business School Lausanne), which is a translation of the SDGs into a relevant normative framework applicable not only to the Global South but to every single country. We looked at Switzerland and highlighted five or six of the most burning issues in the domains of environment, society, economy and governance. I ended by sharing their own answers to my pre-workshop survey (see question 3 above), allowing them to connect their personal passion and cares to wider issues of concern within Switzerland (the country their business operates in).

What does sustainability mean for your company (world café): we used four relevant topics from the balanced scorecard the company uses and spent an hour investigating how an outside-in approach, borrowed from the True Business Sustainability Typology (Dyllick & Muff) might inspire entirely new strategic business opportunities for them. This process allows for capturing current product and service improvements, as well as more creative reflection upon which of the company’s core competencies might contribute to solving sustainability issues in their geographic region. This was a good moment to integrate social aspects into the ‘employee’ dimension and magic new ideas arose regarding, for example, integration across generations and cultural groups. Each group reported back and the follow-on discussion provided an incredibly rich tapestry for future strategic options.

Dyllick-Muff (2016): True Business Sustainability

What does this mean for me? What opportunities open up? What is new? (partner walk): participants met in pairs and went for a digestive after lunch walk investigating the questions, allowing them to select among more personal dimensions or discussing concrete business insights. They were equipped with the instruction to focus on listening and were requested not to interrupt or comment on what their partner said. They came back to the room with great energy and a good connection both within and among themselves. The condensation process had started.

What insights have I gained? (silent individual reflection space): without any sharing, each partner was invited to find a comfortable space with his journal and to reflect quietly on what he had learned so far during the day and the insights gained, either personally or for the company. The palpable energy in the room was one of high concentration and creative depth. We had prepared a large wall with paper where partners wrote down their company insights for others to read and share. Rather than debriefing in the plenum, I invited all participants simply to read the comments of their colleagues.

What might be a sustainability vision for our company? (fishbowl set-up): the three ‘elders’ present (board members and CEO) were invited to have a conversation among themselves in an inner circle of chairs with the rest of the management team seated in a circle around them. For half an hour, the participants held the space for a deepening and soul-searching conversation among the most senior partners. The level of attention and listening was most intense in the best of ways. In a follow-on 30 minutes, the outside circle – consisting of the slightly younger management team – were invited to reflect on what they heard and what questions and answers emerged for them. The profound, open and honest, critical and daring discussion showed how the existing company culture had already prepared the team to engage in such conversations. Entirely new ideas arose, including the need for playfulness and prototyping, some conversations also queried many of the initial unquestioned assumptions. We were suddenly at a point where we had more questions than answers. The potential was raw; we were further from where we wanted to be and not quite where the CEO had hoped. This was a critical point to assess how to embrace this potential and capture its value while it was so ripe.

What does sustainability mean for your company? (assigned small teams): the break allowed me to reflect on what was next needed and to amend my agenda. I replaced an exercise that I had pre-agreed with the CEO, with an exercise that would allow everybody to walk away with clarity, while also capturing the value that had been generated thus far. This would enable discussions within small teams to arrive at a concrete outcome that could be shared. To add a notion of playfulness, I suggested that the team that defined sustainability for the company using the least amount of words would win. That turned creativity on! On another wall of paper, the teams designed their ideas, and subsequently pitched their slogans – some of which were pure magic. In the process, they redefined not only the company but also themselves, both individually and collectively. I had to entirely redesign the closing hour of the day.

What more is needed to make this day complete? (standing bar talk): rather than coming up with a plan for the next hour, I decided to ask participants what they each needed to leave with a feeling of accomplishment. The answers varied from a) immediate next steps for action, b) practical application of these great slogans (step 8), c) how does this translate to our plan for the next year, or three years, and d) I want you to give us a lecture on the True Business Sustainability Typology (the exercise I had pre-agreed with the CEO, which I couldn’t ignore!). While I asked each of them to note what they would do a) the next day at work and b) the next week at work, I prepared a short guide as to how to translate the session’s outcomes into the next one and three years, as well as a suggested path on including the rest of the company. The condensation process was achieved when each participant committed their next actions to the rest of the team. My short and medium-term suggestions focused on attending to where energy flows with ease rather than pursuing paths of high resistance (the philosophy of water) and to attend to the opportunities they would attract as a result of this new level of shared. And, of course, I gave my short 10-minute lecture on true business sustainability, using it to further anchor what we had worked on all day.

How do you feel as we leave this workshop? (circle seating): every participant closed the day with some words on how he had begun the day and how he was leaving it. I have never experienced a more energized, inspired and motivated group of engineers in my life! What a humbling moment to be a part of.

These 10 steps are by no means the only way for a company to begin its shared journey of anchoring strategy and vision in the face of global challenges, but they show one way that worked. I am keen to see many companies succeed in this deep change. Kathy Miller in her last blog examined the different mental models that change agents can have and explained that, depending on which model they hold, their approaches will differ significantly. In many ways the above workshop was a means to get a change process going, only. An initial step in a much longer journey.

If you are interested in learning more about these processes, methodologies, and tools, please get in touch via katrin.muff@bsl-lausanne.ch.

The images used in this blog are copyright of Katrin Muff.