How to Embrace and Sustain Organizational Change—A Life Affirming Path!

Many of us have felt, at one time or another in our working lives, the (unbearable) desire to shape shift into a bird and fly out (immediately) of the office window to leave behind (for ever) the cubicle, the lifeless routine, the deadlock of internal dynamics. Still, leaving a work dynamic is never easy. Anika Savage’s evocative description in the preface of the book rings true: “I felt as though I was jumping off a high, craggy cliff into a frigid, tumultuous ocean when I resigned [from a corporate job]. I threw myself into the arms of the universe…”

As it turns out, the universe has generously supported Anika Ellison Savage and her partner, Michael Sales, to create a wonderful book that equally imparts beauty and knowledge. “Life Sustaining Organizations–A Design Guide” offers detailed research into what makes an organization come `alive’ and gives reasons and inspiration to believe that modern organizations care to embrace their employees’ uniqueness. By designing an aesthetic environment that appeals to the mind and to the heart, by purposefully engaging in deep listening and in cross- functional dialogue, organizations can improve human dynamics and can stimulate the best in their people: their curiosity (“humble, yet joyous”), creativity, fierce loyalty, innovation, and not least, their joy for life (that, so often, is the twin sister is self expression).

Part 1 of the book walks the reader through each step of the strategic leadership process of Structural Dynamics methodology and explains the role of the leader (the initiator of the process) in each sequence of the action. Part 2 illustrates the Structural Dynamics process at work in the GoGo company case. The second part reads like a thriller. We have access to the participants’ initial perspectives, and later, to the shift in these perspectives as they go through all the phases of the Structural Dynamics process. As we follow them for almost a year, GoGo employees work together as a group, explore forces that have shaped GoGo, discover new options for their company as they engage in strategic scenario planning, and finally, they embody the new learning and sustain the results throughout the organization. This is a well designed process that stimulates many types of intelligences to come together, peacefully, to design a thriving (and esthetically pleasing) environment for all GoGo employees going into the future.

The emphasis on beauty (also defined as flow and harmony) is prevalent throughout the book and this is an extra bonus.  “Life Sustaining Organizations” is a ‘guide’ in the sense of being very pragmatic, and so, of immediate use to leaders at all levels in an organization. But more than just a guide, Michael Sales’ and Anika Savage’ s is a lovely book that encourages us to bring the best part of ourselves to work everyday– that creative, divine spark – that part of the Self that requires a supportive environment to stay alive.

Parents and Kids–Let’s Play a Game!

Parents—I am inviting you to play The Explorer, a “business idea generation” game with your kids. When you do, a few things can happen:

  • You learn how to support your kids’ explorations of life and business opportunities
  • You get inspired and excited (we all love games) and may dust off an idea or old dream of your own
  • You learn from your kids new market insights, and creative ways of being into the world
  • If you need it, you may get your groove back!

In a very recent example, parents (Rick and Lauren) supported their young daughter (Hannah, 10 years old) to create what they call “cool stuff for really cool kids.” The family creates zipper pulls (see Pogy the Penguin zipper Pull), and many other fun stuff for kids at affordable prices. Dad, Rick, is now working for the company, CoolZips.com, and Hannah fills the “Marketing Genius” position. And, hmm, did I mention that the company brings half a million dollars in annual revenue?

I WONDER: would you have thought that selling charms, zipper pulls, fun figurines and pencil sharpeners would make such a great business idea?

THE EXPLORER GAME:

The purpose of this game is for a group of parents and kids to come up with ONE IDEA for a product/service that they are very excited about, and for which they:

  • Know at least 5 people who need their product/ service
  • Know at least 2 people who would pay money to get their product/ service

Wishful thinking is considered cheating in this game!

TOTAL PLAY time: 1 hour (for a group of 4)

PARTICIPANTS: It plays best with 4 people or more, but 2 is a beginning. Kids can play starting at 8 years old.

TOYS: papers and pencils, pens of all colors, focus, concentration, willingness to play, excitement about adventure

DON’T DO: Phone, email, TV or any other multitasking interruptions

GAME RULES:

  • Kids and adults get equal time to speak and share! No one gets more time just because they are younger (and smarter) or older (and more fun)
  • No one dominates the conversation and there is no screaming for attention
  • Irrespective of age, everyone listens respectfully
  • Appoint one person to keep the time, and to move the game along
  • Ideas can be shared verbally or in colorful pictures that people draw on the spot
  • Limit everyone to the generation of 1 idea
  • The purpose of this game is for the group to eliminate what is not working and to  end up with ONE IDEA to share

I. IDEA GENERATION:  (15 minutes for 4 players)

Consider the following as you generate ideas:

  • MY TALENT: What do I think is my greatest gift or talent?
  • BEING GOOD AT SOMETHING: What do people always say to me? (Wow, John, you are so good with… you Jane,  I am amazed how well you do …)
  • LIKING TO DO SOMETHING: What do I like? What do I do often, and would even pay to be allowed to do?
  • NEED: What did I notice in my school, at work, food store, other stores, in my neighborhood? Did anyone complain about something? Did anyone ask for help? What did I hear, read lately, or saw on TV that made me think possibilities?
  • INVESTIGATING: you may want to keep these questions in mind and then ask a few people what item/ service would improve their lives

Ultimately, when you decide on ideas, consider your talents, skills, and what you enjoy doing!

ACTIONS:

  • One idea per person
  • Every idea is recorded swiftly (words, or pictures)
  • Every idea is welcomed with enthusiasm (applauses are great)!
  • No judgment of any sort (verbal or non-verbal during this phase)
  • Keep track of time, and move fast. Don’t dwell on ideas, or get paralyzed by thinking too much.

II. FRAMEWORK — how to think about ideas: (45 minutes for 4 players)

When all ideas are written (or painted) on paper, put all the papers in the middle of the circle and pick one at random.

ACTIONS:  For each idea have everyone in the group answer the following questions:

  • IS THERE A NEED? is there a real need? Is there a need you foresee and keep noticing? Keep it simple. Don’t think about functionality or features, or how cool your product is. Think of people who might need what you offer.
  • WHAT IS THE MARKET?  Describe the people who might need what you offer. Do you know at least one person in that ‘market’ in need of your service/product?
  • WHAT RESOURCES do I need? How easy or difficult is it to create a first prototype? How easy or difficult is to create a first service or product?  What resources do you need to start? How do your talents fit with your idea?
  • WAS IT DONE BEFORE? Do you know anyone who does who you want to do? Can you do it better (better service) or in a different market?

Allow for questions to flow freely. If you want to offer feedback, start with “If it were my idea, I would do this…”  Avoid cutting remarks, even if you believe you are right and/or helping each other.

After you allow 5-8 minutes per idea, at the end of this phase, each idea gets votes from the audience. Better even, rate each idea on a scale from 1-10.  See how many points each idea scores. I hope you end up with ONE idea!

THE WINNING IDEA

In the next week, have everyone do research for the winning idea. How many companies do that already? Do these “competitors” focus on the market that is of relevance to you? Go out and ask people if they were interested in having the product or service you want to create.

FOLLOW UP:

Regroup a week later:  Discuss the idea again from the perspective of new learning and research. See how you all engage with this idea.

Something magical happens when you do the WORK: you generate ideas, you hustle, you do research, you hold that idea in mind, you keep asking questions, you do more research, and you share that idea with others. A body (of insights and knowledge) starts to come to life.

And there is particular magic that happens when you play this game with your kids, spouse and family. Everyone in the family knows how talented and smart everyone is, and there is (shared) excitement about creating something together than is equal to no other joy!

Let me know how much fun it was for you!