Change Whisperer – Gail Severini's Blog


A strange conversation with a stranger. Post 1 “Stretch”

All change is personal. We can only help others change if we can change ourselves.

This is a true story. I was in line at HomeSense late yesterday afternoon and I could tell that the man in front of me wanted to start a conversation. I was savoring my comfort zone, thinking about the hazelnut coffee I would pick up from my favorite coffee shop on the way home, and the meal we were making for dinner. He was persistent.

It was a long line. After a couple of minutes, I accidently made eye contact with him. He looked like many of the CFOs I have worked with. It occurred to me to wonder why he was at HomeSense on a Sunday afternoon. I sighed inside—this was going to feel like work.

“The last thing I need right now is more stuff,” he said. “Mmhmm,” I said, being polite, thinking about the “stuff” I was carrying that I really didn’t “need.” “When I move out I can buy all the crazy stuff I want,” he said. (There is nothing like a little personal information to drive up the intimacy/discomfort bar.) I was getting curious, even while inertia was hard at work. “They have lots of crazy stuff here,” I said, meeting him part-way, half-heartedly hoping the line would move.

But here’s the problem: I am a pretty empathetic person. I know lots of people who could have, would have, just tuned him out. Instead, I said, “You know, I looked at the art today and they have some pretty creative stuff—copies probably—but not bad.” His head did the Scooby-Doo (you know—head-tilt to the side). I thought I knew what his response was going to be but he completely surprised me.

“You could re-paint those canvases,” he said. “You know, parts of them, and make them your own, and sign your own name.” He looked into the distance clearly thinking about painting over the art, changing it, making it his own, signing his name. After the surprise wore in, he got me thinking. “I suppose so. I did see one that was almost what I was looking for.” It was sky over a beach, but the beach in the forefront was just too orange. The sky was great—good fluffy clouds with many rich blues graduated into waves rolling onto an orange beach. Sure, if the beach was whiter, maybe taupe, that would be so much better. I have some taupe paint at home. Wait. What was I thinking? “Painting is not my thing,” I said.

My husband disagrees (yes, I admit—he’s a big fan). When we met, 30 years ago, I painted water colors. I still have them, (carried them through three countries). I painted for fun, of course—mostly illustrations that were more expressive than creative. I painted often then, but not so much since. Strangely, my mum, at seventy-five, has started painting.

The man in line had been looking at me the whole time I worked through this in my head. The line moved. He looked back over his shoulder. “Everybody’s got to stretch sometimes,” he said (and the pun on “stretch” canvas wasn’t lost on me either). The line moved on and it was over.

On the way home, I stopped at drive-thru coffee shop. The power was out. As the manager unboarded the drive-through window I realized I was not going to get my favorite coffee. “No power,” he smiled and shrugged. “Darn,” I said, “I was looking forward to that coffee.” “I’ll give you a coffee for free. It’s still hot.” he said. “I can’t open my cash register.” “Great!” Without thinking, I said. “Hazelnut please.” “Sorry, we only have German coffee cake flavor.” I laughed, and he did the Scooby Doo. “That will be great. I have never tried German Coffee Cake coffee.”

Okay, I got the message: stretch more.

Postscript:

One of the things that makes this epiphany weird is that for weeks I have been writing, and re-writing, a blog series to be entitled “Stolen: Change Management. Reward offered.” It is about people taking thought leadership in change management, re-painting parts of it and signing their own names.

This is happening in the change management space at record levels. How often to you see direct or indirect allusions to “8 steps” (John Kotter) or a “commitment curve” (Daryl Conner) or other key words and phrases without citation?

At some point, re-painting is stealing. It might look like “standing on the shoulders of someone who came before,” but when the identity of the original artist (or thought leader) is painted over, it is theft―plain and simple.

We are all a bit de-sensitized to plagiarism in spite of the risk to our profession. It’s not that I am a snob about original art, or thought leadership. Rather, I am selfish.

The problem is this: Why should thought leaders share new work when the commercial value is stolen within six months of being published?

There are many other problems with stealing thought leadership. More on this coming.


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