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Artisans and "Change".
It's all about sensitivity
Have you ever had a moment when writing that you find yourself looking at a familiar word and asking yourself, “Is it really spelt like that?” Just a brief moment of hesitation, perhaps a quick check, and then (feeling slightly foolish) moving on.
I’ve had one of those moments this week, not so much with the spelling of the word but with the nature of “change” and “management” as I’ve reflected on what I noticed in London last week.
“Change management” seems in many ways to be an excuse, not that far removed from “the dog ate my homework”. The reality is we become so absorbed in our drive for efficiency, performance and addiction to data that we don’t notice that what we are measuring has moved on even as we enter the data. We end up having to “manage” change because we haven’t noticed it until it becomes a problem.
Change is not the problem; our leadership and organisation are.
A comment made by Dan Lawrence triggered the thought when we met last week. We were talking about the “mobility of play” and of the lessons to be learned by watching young children engage with something that interests them. There’s a famous experiment ‘The marshmallow challenge” that involves building a tower out of spaghetti, and securing a marshmallow on top. The tallest tower wins. The punch line, of course, is that in competing teams of young children and executive teams, the children almost always win. Why? Because they just experiment and build whilst the executives strategise, design and plan, enclosed as they are by the rules they have learned, and a desire to win, even in a game as trivial as this.
Artisans, old and new, have always had the child in them near the surface. A healthy scepticism when it comes to rules devised by others, particularly those whose rules are based on theory and intellect rather than practical experience.
“Change” is not the problem, our mobility is. Our love of process and our obsession with prediction leave us hanging onto the wreckage of sinking models because we are unwilling, or fearful, of challenging orthodoxy.
From the moment of their inception, organisations are destined to fail. Modern organisation life spans are declining rapidly as complexity overtakes capability.
A recent study by McKinsey found that the average life-span of companies listed in Standard & Poor’s 500 was 61 years in 1958. Today, it is less than 18 years. McKinsey believes that, in 2027, 75% of the companies currently quoted on the S&P 500 will have disappeared. IMD, 2016
Under pressure, large organisations double down on what they know, especially “change management”. They know, though, as we do, that in reality, it is a fight for the biggest piece of wreckage.
Artisans react to and improvise what they are working with as it appears. They do not strategise or plan to any great degree; they rely on their sensitivity to their environment and the materials, people, and tools they work with. They have what they want to create in mind, not in a plan, and they have the “mobility of play” rather than the dead hand of dogma.
Which, for artisans, means in practical terms looking after our own growth and development, with others doing the same, outside of the organisations we may be working for at the moment.
It’s all about the company we keep, the conversations we have and the attention we pay to our environment.