Confessions Of A Failed Disruptor…

And why we are looking in the wrong places to create change

I’ve always been in the business of disruption and change. And it seems a lifetime ago now but I coined a phrase to explain my basic approach to it.

It helped me explain the philosophy behind what I do. It did it simply — it became my by-line — it goes like this:

“Let’s avoid solving the wrong problem really well…”

It’s been a great success. I’ve never met anyone (or any business) who disagrees with it or wants the alternative.

But here’s the catch — to some extent I’ve carried on doing precisely what I warned against.

I failed my own test. Without realising it I’ve contributed to solving the wrong problem really well.

What was I thinking?

I have no excuse. I’m owning up. I’m a part of the problem and that doesn’t feel good. I’m not defending how change typically works but see if this is familiar.

The Typical Scenario:

A small team is given the challenge that a new plan needs building. The context has changed and opportunities exist that we need to take advantage of. The small team works with whoever is available and possibly some external help (consultants perhaps) and a plan is built, approved by the leaders and then that plan is taken out to the people — to be implemented. With luck a few of those in the organisation have been asked for input but that’s scarily often not the case.

I’m not happy

For years, in a well intentioned attempt to deliver on my premise of not solving the wrong problem , we’ve been exhaustive:

We identify the business challenge. We define the crazy world within which the business operates. We will argue that it’s daft to emerge from such critical thinking without a change blueprint. We will build a ‘Framework’ for the future business to work within. We will alter and upgrade the operating model and challenge all the business models. We will push for metrics and principles, values and standards. We will make it immersive, visual – 100 feet wide and 10 feet tall. We make it a team sport.

We’ve always known how bloody hard it is to actually make it happen. And if we really want to create the path to the future you have to work hard at it.

But I had swerved tackling the biggest problem of all — really well:


Change doesn’t make sense. Sense makes change

I am sure I’m slow to this party.

For years now we’ve been told about the soft stuff. We’ve been told how our mindset and mentality (mindfulness) — consciousness and ‘enlightened leadership’ makes all the difference. I’ve always believed that to be true.

But it’s not enough to shift the needle. I’ve met many leaders who’ve read all the books and been on all the courses. They’ve done everything they possibly could and they still fail to create change.

The ideas around consciousness and mentality are without question critically important but they often fail to make a jot of difference in the context of an actual business wishing to change.

This was the question that baffled me.

“Why, with all the books, methods, techniques, courses, dedicated departments and stories about us and our mindsets — why, with all this fresh enlightenment — is it still so apparent that nothing much is changing…?”

Hard wired to fail?

I went to a talk about neuroscience recently.

It was specifically designed for those of us helping leaders to realise the fundamentals. It focused on why they and their employees resist change.

I know this sounds a little intellectual and academic but not a bit of it — it literally blew my head apart. Bear with me here.

Yadda yadda yadda

The cliches around this topic are everywhere.

There’s an epidemic of them. They are right there in our conversations every day — hiding in plain sight. So common are they that we no longer pause to think what they even mean. They are the killer phrases — the excuses we give ourselves as to why we will never change:

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Don’t make it too complex as they won’t get their heads around it. I’m set in my ways. We’ve always done it this way in the past and it’s always worked before — why change? You will have to guarantee me a reason why I should change my mind. I’m hard wired to resist change so it will never happen.”

Ready to change

Everyone of these statements is proven to be biologically and scientifically wrong.

In 1990 Seiji Ogawa, working in conjunction with MRI investigators at the University of Minnesota invented the fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine.

As a result we can now understand how our brains work.

These machines literally show us how we learn, how we create memories, how (in turn) these memories become our new habits and how our habits then create us and our behaviours. We become them.

Every time we see, hear, smell, taste and touch — we sense in incredible ways. It means our synapses fire and the associated chemistry causes spectacular interconnected patterns. These form the new wiring we need as we work to literally change our minds.

We can rewire our brains.

We can form new mindsets, habits and behaviours but to do so we need to understand how this mechanism works. We can then turn it to our advantage.

It is at the very root of being able to change and currently (by ignoring it) the reason why we don’t.

It’s basic stupid

The brain operates on two fundamental principles — survival and reward.

They’re inside us — they’re the most basic of all human drivers.

This knowledge is profound when it comes to ‘actually’ changing.

  1. Stimulus – evidence and increasing proof – will create new ‘firings’ of the synapses.

  2. These ‘firings’ build the new pathways – because they create the new patterns that our minds then start to recall and rely on to make our ‘new’ choices and decisions.

  3. This new proof (of that greater chance of survival) is sent as reward (for the brain).

  4. In turn that develops new habits as they eventually harden into the fresh wires – they form through repeated experience of the new experiences.

Luckily for me ‘visual stimulus’ is dramatically more powerful at doing this than other methods because the information a visual thing gives off goes in to our brains far faster and at higher rates than stimuli via our other senses.

Infinity & beyond — coming to our senses

To kick off what this all means – we have to stop thinking that traditional methods of change stand any chance of working. We have to stop using the traditional brainwashing techniques of powerpoint, stale ‘round the table’ meetings and presentations. We have to find alternatives to the 100 page documents that nobody reads. We have to find ways where those suffering through change can be taught to open and then alter their minds and become inspired.

Visuals are very portable in ways that conversation and listening aren’t — but if you combine them both (through collaborative engagement) then you are really going to win.

Teaching our minds to listen and see differently in order to create the new wiring we need to embrace change is a profound insight. Simply accepting it as science, and nodding at the findings of science isn’t enough. We have to start practicing it.

Our brains are incredible systems for comparison and rapid decision making but that only works if there’s the correct stimulus to the senses. Finding ways to stimulate new thinking requires getting the evidence and facts in place and portraying them graphically.

Then it means being able to repeat the experience. The ‘story’ of survival and reward that emerges through these techniques are the new superpowers. They are what we need to develop if we want to bring about meaningful change.

Change begins and ends with us. If we forget about the mind and just develop beautiful plans and well presented strategies then we are indeed solving the wrong problem — really well.

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