SHIFT ATTITUDES TOWARDS RECEPTIVENESS TO CHANGE


George Bernard Shaw said, “You see things and say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were and I say ‘Why not?’”

It is important to cultivate receptiveness to the new: “Let’s try and understand this better.” The new disturbs existing comfort zones and positions and as a consequence is often dismissed or challenged–it just does not fit with the established order. It is important to recognize this behavior and to educate the organization on its potential consequences, and to give specific ideas for better ways to deal with the new and surprising. In an organization this requires some investment in thinking. If the organization is in a hurry to get results, encourage it to invest twice as much–this is the wisest investment it can make.

Key steps

Executives who have grown up in one kind of organization or in one industry are often firmly invested in their opinions. Eventually many of their views become hard-wired into the organization as conventional wisdom. The more firmly invested in these views an organization is, the harder it is for the analyst to help it let go and explore new ideas.

A simple starting point and approach is to gain agreement that it is important to the organization to improve its receptivity to the new. Model the causes and consequences of behavioral differences towards new information and ideas.

Next, research and understand the key areas where the organization is concerned with the new. These might be about industry growth or decline, as an example of areas where blinders are the most expensive to the organization.

Armed with this knowledge, create a few workshops specifically about highlighting the meaning of the program and the methods to get to some change–focusing on the behavior and the selected content elements. If possible, connect this goal into a leadership development program or other similar programs. Push participants to “lead by example,” and model it yourself.

Be sure to connect the behavior-oriented push to a programmatic approach to foresight. Make a concerted effort to show the value. Measure the impacts of these programs through employee interviews, such as a 360-degree assessment specifically on how the key areas of the business are being improved by this.

Benefits

Encouraging receptiveness to the new is a good practice in general, but will likely “stick” better in an organization when change is imminent or taking place. Many organizations recognize the value of strategic programs, which aim to sensitize their people and approaches to the shifts in markets and industries and to better understand the meaning of those shifts. In periods of growth, organizations may try to build innovation programs, strategic foresight programs, or ideation programs, or at minimum try scenario planning. Often the early attempts are sub-optimal in that they lack a programmatic follow-through activity, and thus fall short of the broad impact they could have.

Also, many organizations have established some means to track trends in their environment. If these rely on classical market-research methods alone, the foresight generated tends to be a linear extrapolation of today’s impacts–and hence will most likely miss the opportunities and risks that a strategic foresight program would be able to identify.

Example

Adam Kahane (2002) tells a remarkable story of transformation in Guatemala. The country has the dubious distinction of having had one of the longest-running and most brutal civil wars in Latin America, from 1992 – 1996. More than 200,000 people were killed or “disappeared.” After a truce, the Vision Guatemala project was formed to help vision a new future for the country. A team of forty-four–including political leaders, academics, business and community leaders, former guerillas and military officers, government officials, human rights activists, journalists, indigenous people, national and local politicians, clergy, trade unionists, and young people–were led through a scenario process by Kahane. The key attraction of the exercise was the process of deep dialogue among people who had previously never spoken with each other. It led to the team enrolling sixty “multipliers,” or grassroots leaders, who worked not to disseminate the scenarios but to replicate the dialogue process in local initiatives. This process of dialogue was instrumental in producing the visioning effort’s successful results.

Further reading

De Geus, A. (1997). The Living Company: Habits for Survival in a Turbulent Business Environment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Kahane, A. (2002). Changing the World by How We Talk and Listen. Unpublished manuscript. Beverly, MA: Generon Consulting.
Kleiner, A. (1996). The Age of Heretics. New York: Currency Doubleday.
Marsh, N., McAllum, M., and Purcell, D. (2002). Strategic Foresight: The Power of Standing in the Future. Melbourne: Crown Content.
Ohmae, K. (1982). The Mind of the Strategist: The Art of Japanese Business. New York: McGraw-Hill.

This vignette first appeared in “Thinking About the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight”, edited by Andy Hines and Peter Bishop, published in 2006

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