Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.


You can’t get there from here

Sometimes when we start we don’t really even know where “there” is (or sometimes, frankly, where “here” is).  Such statements are made light heartedly, but not lightly.

We may have a directional sense but perhaps not a definitive sense. 

In planning, the very first hypothesis has to be that “here” is either no longer the right place, soon will not be the right place, or maybe that there could be a better place.  Deciding, or even validating direction is something that must be evaluated, i.e. we cannot get “there” until we move to interim place – a place where we can clearly see “there”.

If we were pioneering new territory we would find a hill, or better yet a mountain, and begin to survey the landscape. Once we had that view, we would consult with others to evaluate our options on getting there – and there are usually as many opinions as there are people. We would decide, one way or another, and set out with excitement and optimism.

Inevitably some terrain is pleasant and easy and some is challenging, fatiguing and depressing.  We are tested – our will, our vision, our teamwork.  Perseverance becomes paramount.

When we do reach our destination we are exhausted but elated and energized.

The journey requires many synchronized efforts: leadership, vision, planning, logistics, etc.  It requires the management of people, processes and stuff – a symphony [Symphini] of activities. 

There is a beautiful saying, most often attributed as an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”   More on this in my next post.



The “beginner’s mind” – blue sky
May 10, 2009, 8:00 am
Filed under: - Personal Reflections, - Professional Development

A Google search suggests that the most common reference to the “beginner’s mind” originates from the title of Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki’s book: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  It is said to reflect a saying of his regarding the way to approach Zen practice: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few”.

This is one of those seductive, philosophical sayings that roll off the tongue elegantly and sound oh so clever.  But is it?  Wikipedia elaborates with “It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.”

What I like is the justification that in learning one can be naive, even wrong and it’s okay.  In fact, if one is self aware and open to correction, it is intentional – desirable even.  What a forgiving environment in which to learn.  Doesn’t it reduce, if not eliminate, the counter productive pressure to project expertise?  It is a very humble, and liberating, recognition that however much one knows today, whomever one is, one cannot know all. 

In taking the stance of the “beginner’s mind” (“even when studying at an advanced level”!)  we can all be open to learning and collaborating ― teachers can teach students and students can teach teachers.  It fosters mutual respect for the value of different perspectives.

For anyone who loves to learn, this is like freedom, wide open blue sky. 

If this resonates with you, you might also appreciate “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment” (1).  It is an old (1991) but a short classic that speaks of the process for becoming a master, of anything. 

Against Malcolm Gladwell’s articulation of research that “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness” (2)  ― i.e. that to master anything one must exert 10,000 hours of concentrated, structured, intentional learning against it ― we can all benefit from a measured pace.  “Mastery” provides a guide for undertaking the journey of mastery.

(okay, 2nd confession: I read, a lot)

(1) “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment”, George Leonard, Penguin Books, USA Inc, NY, USA.

(2) “Outliers: The Story of Success”, Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown and Company, NY, USA, 2008, p 41.



Thinking “intelligently”
May 9, 2009, 3:09 pm
Filed under: - Professional Development | Tags: ,

I used to have a colleague who would say, and often, “We need to think intelligently about this” (you know who your are 🙂 ).  Yes, it bothered me – which is why I still think about it.  It sounded like an insult  – as if “thinking intelligently” about this would be different than how we usually think (hah !). 

And yet, there was always a kernal of truth, a resonance of implication that I could not escape from (hmmm).

If I “think intelligently” about this … I have come to beleive that she meant something much smarter than I could process at the time.  I beleive she meant we should be more critical, think more expansively, open our minds, challenge our assumptions, etc.  Perhaps think “better”.   This is difficult to articulate.

Do we know it when we see it?  I am currently reading “The Black Swan” (1) and, yes, I see it.  In fact, having read “The Opposable Mind” (2) last year I am more aware of the distinctions.  As an example, Roger Martin speaks of the ability to hold “two conflicting ideas in creative tension” in one’s mind.  He goes on to give us structures for how to think about thinking.

Is it something that we can learn, and share, and build into our team capabilities? Perhaps but most of us still have a ways to go to learn to “think intelligently” let alone communicate what it means and how to do it. 

I am taking the “beginner’s mind” approach.  More on that tomorrow. 

 (1) “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Random House Inc., New York, 2007, p 157. 

(2) “The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking”, Roger Martin, Harvard Business School Press,  Mass USA, 2007, p 7.



What is the ‘sneakiest’ of words?
May 8, 2009, 11:25 am
Filed under: - Personal Reflections

“It just takes guts” – I love this statement for so many reasons. 

It is from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “The Black Swan”(1) and speaks of the challenges of planning – specifically of planning while “bearing in mind such limitations” as black swans and how difficult it is to predict and understand them.  Now, you have to understand NNT writes beautifully with a great degree of expression and, without the benefits of intonation, it is not always easy to pick out sarcasm and cynicism.  But this statement I’d like to believe is made with hope:  “It just takes guts.”

But think of each time you have used the word “just” in that context.  The most relevant meaning available from Dictionary.com is “only” or “merely”.   I have used this word for this purpose many times, for example “I just have to lose 10 lbs”, “I just have to get up an hour earlier every day”, “I will just finish one more chapter” …

When I think about it, what I probably really meant was “if only” …. 

 (1) “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Random House Inc., New York, 2007, p 157.



“That was easy” – reflections on haiku
May 5, 2009, 3:05 pm
Filed under: - Personal Reflections

Magical words – rewarding and rare.

Who gravitates to “easy”? Sure on a Saturday afternoon. But the challenges of complexity are much more rewarding.

In fact, making complexity seem clear, and easy, is a bit like haiku – disciplined and elegant.

What does it take to bring clarity to complexity?  Much research (broad context and deep detail), analysis and an open mind?  The ability to communicate – not as easy as it sounds given the powerfully, different nuances of words in different cultures (organizational and ethnic blended).

One challenge is not to over simplify.  Communicating complexity requires story telling – knowing the audience well enough to bring them along, at their pace, to an answer that seems self-evident by the time they arrive. So it seems like “that was easy”.



The Experiment
May 4, 2009, 11:18 pm
Filed under: - Personal Reflections

Okay – first confession. This is an experiment.  Basically to see what is the big deal. 

Great to write but does anyone else care a hoot?  Grass grows even when nobody is watching.  Who cares? Only the lawn mower.

We’ll see.