change

The Chemistry In Digital Transformation

Back in school, the chemistry lab with its test tubes, beakers and such stuff was a pure joy. It was magical to see new substances emerge out of old ones in beakers. And it was created right there! On a few occasions, my experiments went completely awry, in a deeply invigorating way. The lab was special. Because the lab was the first place for me to witness transformation before my eyes. That is where I learnt about mixtures and compounds as well. The days in the labs help me make better sense of the chemistry in transformation. The chemistry in digital transformation as well!

The distinction between mixtures and compounds was simple to understand. A compound was a new substance. You couldn’t separate its constituents even if you wanted to. Unlike a mixture. In essence, a compound represented a transformation. A compound meant the original constituents gave up their properties for a new set of properties. Oftentimes it was physical and magical too. An irrevocable change.

What about chemistry in digital transformation?

There isn’t any shortage of Digital Transformation projects that are announced. The question really is, do end results from these projects resemble ‘mixtures’ or do they resemble ‘compounds’?

When digital technology is slapped on top of existing work/ways of work, where it runs as a parallel stream, it is analogous to a mixture. It is a mixture when leadership thinks ‘transformation’ is for “those others”. That it is done to other teams! With sanctions of resources and leadership bandwidth.

The output of real change and transformation is more like compounds. That is when work is reimagined for digital! Digital is not a layer atop work. Digital technology gets enmeshed into work so much so, that work looks different. Such transformation is lasting because the old way of working has ceded space to a new way of working.

I will go so far as to argue, that complete transformation takes places when the change alters the way organisations think and approach their dilemmas. It may take a while and it is difficult. But there are no shortcuts in the long road to transformation.

As much as the allure of a transformed future is inviting, any organisation that seeks to go through digital transformation journeys needs to be prepared to endure pain. The change will cause enough and more disruption to current ways of working and leadership teams must be ready to face these.

There is no dearth of the technology that is available for change. The problems rest in us and our incapability to imagine work differently.

One of a kind

Facilitation. Now, that’s a much abused word. There was a time when anybody with a PowerPoint deck, platform and a set of participants came to think of themselves as great trainers. Gradually, as ‘training’ in itself became less ‘cool’ and perhaps as a need to distinguish themselves from others who had gotten on to the ‘training’ bandwagon, it became fashionable to call oneself as a ‘Facilitator’. So much so, in several circles, ‘training’ and ‘facilitation’ are interchangeably, and without the slightest of pauses!

That topic for another day.

 

meaning

 

It was in 2011 that I got to experience deeper insights into what facilitation is. Or can be. I recall, very vividly, how a bunch of committed people from Japan demonstrated their response in mobilising public support and action, after the Fukashima nuclear disaster. It was mind blowing, to say the least. At one level, it was facilitation skills at play. But at another level, it helped me see a coming together of people with passion, with a singular objective of wanting to make a difference to a population. There was no commerce. No forking of brands in the name of CSR. It was just a committed bunch of people wanting to make a difference and do their bit. It was deeply humbling.

Since then, I have listened to stories and understood designs about how Facilitation helped brokered peace between countries or between warring factions of an apartment complex to bringing change within corporate contexts.

‘Facilitation’, I realised, was more dynamic and had potency to affect larger communities and conversations. Far beyond corporate walls and narrow problems. It was action. Inclusion. Participation. Mutuality. And a respect for one another. The feeling that we are all in this together. There was no pedestal to stand on and ‘address’ the group. I was hooked to the International Association of Facilitators. It occurred to me that to be able to stand before a group of people (sometimes in the 100s) and getting them to do their work, helping them work through their dilemmas is as raw as it can get. And more importantly having fun in the process.

After playing with facilitation in different settings since then (here is a post from last year), I am more than convinced that if it is one skill that community leaders, entrepreneurs, development workers, business leaders, leave alone HR practitioners, need to learn really well, it is facilitation. There is a ton of material available about what it is and what more you could do with this.. The International Association of Facilitators is leading the charge worldwide.

This week, I am looking forward to hearing many more stories of facilitation and sharing a few of mine too. The Asia Conference of the IAF is happening in Mumbai on the 21st and 22nd of August. Check out the website. With facilitators from around the world coming in, this will be one heck of a carnival of learning and process design. If you havent registered yet, I am told there are a few seats left. Do come in. Would be an experience to remember. Do follow the hashtag #IAFAsia15

IAF Conferences are quite unlike any other conference. They are intimate participative experiences that draw the best out of people in a fun filled effortless way. Riding on a feeling of togetherness and community. Plus there is a committed bunch of people working relentlessly to help the community move forward.

I am really looking forward to this.

Thorny Issues

Disruption is here. So they say. And as more and more parts of society get disrupted, disruptions themselves are getting disrupted too. Technology has brought alive possibilities that were once farther than Pluto. But those possibilities have brought with them aspects that haven’t been thought of, as much as they should be. And that is proving to be more than just a mere thorny issue!

The delivery boys of Flipkart and Myntra are on strike. Obviously their operations have been disrupted and material that was to have been delivered stay piled up in warehouses. The operations of Flipkart, a poster story of success that disrupted traditional distribution models, with employee friendly policies and such else, suddenly finds itself amidst bad press. Those that are privy to finer details at Myntra and Flipkart will perhaps be able to complete the story, for I know whatever little from the press.

In a poignant piece titled, ‘The Last Mile Boys” the Indian Express walks you through a day a in the life of a delivery boy. One read made me present to how impervious several of us (me included) are, to what it takes to bring some ‘delight’ customers like us. The clamour for better “User Interface” is definitely far higher and gets more hits than the attention the realities at the unglamorous ends the pipe require.

Come to think of it, this isn’t something that the Flipkarts and Myntras of the world have introduced. Contract employment is euphemism for ‘second class employee’ status and ‘filthy class’ treatment, amongst most corporate for decades now. From Apple to Nike, marquee names have dark circles that are ugly in this respect. The collapse in 2013, of the Rana Plaza perhaps marked an important point in history for such practices.  It is indeed true, that this has put food on the table and kept aspirations for a better life ‘someday’ alive for several underprivileged populations that signed up for it. Sometimes knowing fully well, what it takes.

Vivek Patwardhan, someone who I have immense respect for, has been blogging consistently on these topics. In his own irreverent style makes a telling point, in this blogpost on the Flipkart & Myntra issue. In fact, several. He leaves you with a few striking questions about a general mindset that permeates the corridors of several corporates : The seeking of disproportionate benefits for one end of the pipe and bringing alive extreme problems.

Speaking of extremes, serendipity got a stirring piece by NYT columnist Anand Giridharadas on my screen. It is called “The Thriving World, The wilting world and you“. I went over it a few times for the weft and warp of the arguments and more for the fundamental provocative message it holds. Anand Giridharadas, speaks of “Extreme Winners & losers”. We are no longer content with winning. In fact, its become (or is fast becoming) binary. If it isn’t EXTREME winning, it is classified as ‘losing’.

Any form of ‘extreme’ will obviously require responsibility, balance and degree of conscience to thrive for a reasonable time. He says, “Some of us  have the feeling of living in one of the most extraordinary times in human history; many others around the world have yet to see those times benefit them in any tangible way; and still others are watching their lives get worse day by day — sometimes, perhaps, so that ours can get better.”

Its not as though we don’t know or our conscience doesn’t poke around a bit. Corporates and individuals have ways of dealing with this. With projects on Corporate Social Responsibility, personal donations to causes and such else, we aim to deal with the guilt that arises out of knowledge that we are part of the system that perpetuates these wrongs. Anand reminds us that generosity is not a substitute for justice. And that we may not be as virtuous as we imagine ourselves to be. The quest for extreme wins keep our need to preserve the game as it is and soften the blows by doles and donations.

“I have heard too many of us talking of how only after the IPO or the next few million will we feel our kids have security. These inflated notions of what it takes to “make a living” and “support a family” are the beginning of so much neglect of our larger human family.” That to me is the line that points to the core of the issues at hand.

Almost a decade ago, commencement speech by Tom Brokaw at Stanford wrapped all of my attention. At different points in our history, he pointed out, we have felt as though we have stood at the edge of time’s precipice, poised to change the world. And yet, in our quest to do better we have often ended up far worse although it appeared we did make progress. Impairing the human condition, maiming mother Earth and sometimes destroying the very foundations of dreams and aspirations of generations that followed. There is one line from his speech that has stayed with me.

“You live in a world of personal computers and search engines, e-mail and network, capacity and storage, research and retrieval, entertainment and commerce. But it’s also important to remember that it will do us little good to wire the world if we short-circuit our souls“.

And that is precisely what we must remember. For an ecosystem to flourish, every part of the ecosystem must stay healthy. One trampling over another creates an imbalance that will wreck the whole place.

Technology makes new possibilities alive for all of us. Most of the delivery boys of Flipkart and Myntra are adept at using their smartphones for a variety of things. These smartphones provide a window , nay a ringside view, of all that happens in the world.

As it connects more and more glass, panes of transparency are fast replacing concrete black walls. These glass walls get more of us wanting to truly participate and ask new questions. Questions that emerge from this new information and the new opportunity to have free flowing conversation with similar people across the world. There is a new world of aspiration and action that is fast emerging.

It is here that the seams of what was stitched up ages ago will go under strain.  It is at the seams that the thorny issues will hurt most.

Even as this transformation is taking place, we have it in us to give it shape to help it become what can be better off for all of us. After all, human ingenuity, imagination and intelligence will ultimately triumph in areas that it trains its thoughts on. It is a matter of what we keep our focus on. Of course, disruption will keep getting disrupted.

Small problems with big data!

Conversations on Twitter have a unique ability to set off reflection and propel further conversation and thought. This invariably builds and shapes our collective ecosystem of sorts.  Especially so, when the conversation is between people who you watched from a distance, making a difference! 🙂

This post is a thought assortment, after spotting a conversation thread on Twitter.

It went like this.

(more…)

Wheels of Change!

Its a bright, brilliant Sunday. My nephew, who is all of seven years, is up and about. As I slip on the running shoes, he wants to smell the outdoors with me. ‘Lets walk’. He says. It isn’t often that such privileges nudge me. I agree in a flash

His seven year old legs are growing stronger. I notice. His limbs are slim. His hair in one irreverent lock that is bouncy and chirpy. Just like him. ‘How long are we going to walk?’, he asks, a few steps into our walk. As our incessant chatter steals a march over the energy expended on the walk.

Soon, I realise, like all of us he too has several windows to the world. His school. His friends and of course, his dad’s tablet.

Today, he paints a ‘I am a super hero’ picture to me. As you can imagine, I am remarkably pleased. Its been ages since anyone has tried to impress me. I let him know how impressed I was. We walk another fifty meters and I think he is slowing down.

‘Are you tired?’, I ask.

‘No’. He says. With the same singular chirpiness. ‘It is now 99’ he adds. My brain scrambles to assemble some sleepy resources to figure what the ’99’ is all about. After a bit of silence, I ask him, ‘err..but what is this 99?’

There are points in time, when kids lose all their respect in an adult’s prowess. The taller the pedestal they put the adult on, the harder the adult falls. When that moment comes, its not a pleasant feeling. This was that moment, when the push from the pedestal happened. He stopped walking. Put his hands on his hips. An expression that left something like ‘You didn’t know this….?’, largely unnecessary. He merely says, ‘My battery’. (Pronounced BAH-TTERY. With suitable emphasis for effect). “My body battery, when we started out from home it was 100. Now it is 99′.

Of course the ‘battery draining’ and ‘recharging’ have established themselves as common everyday living and lingua that are well woven into modern day language. But this quantified expression from this 7 year old, hands me a knock out punch.

We carry on with our walk. Speaking of other things. He with some of his questions and me with mine. The words he uses reveal the depth of his questions and the rich texture of his worlds . We speak of his sports day and the medals that his track running got him. The super hero in him emerges. Again. ‘I beat them all’. ‘By a lot of distance’. He says.

‘A lot of distance?’ I ask. Sensing an opportunity for a lesson in English grammar.

‘Yes. yes.’ He says. Vehemently. With a flourish, he adds, ‘They haven’t upgraded their bodies’, he says. I smile. Now that is profound, I think. I drop the idea of English grammar. I pursue this ‘upgrade’ line of thought. Having lost all of my respect on the battery front, I can afford to play dumb.

‘What does that mean?’, I ask. ‘Upgraded their bodies’?

In a seamless flow, he begins. “They are not becoming stronger, faster. And they don’t come upto me and say, ‘ I will beat you in the race’ ” That is what is ‘updgrade‘ is” he says. This is getting profound!

Our talk meanders on a straight road. Gradually the topic drifts to ‘what is the one most interesting thing that you can spend hours on end doing?’

‘I like cars’. He says. Almost impatient to allow me to complete my sentence. I too was greatly fascinated by cars in days of carefree boyhood. Perhaps it runs in the family, I think. I tentatively ask him, ‘Which cars?’ thinking that I would hear the the likes of BMW or an Audi!

He takes off.

“There are 183 different types”. He then rattles of a names that to me sound like random assemblages of vowels and consonants. Finally, resting on, “and sometimes, the ‘Dodge Viper.’ “

Dodge Viper

Thats the only car I am familiar with from his list. His dad had gifted a scaled down model to me many years ago. A model that sits on my desk to date. It was my dream car for a long while, until someone educated me on how many arms and legs I would have to give up to turn the wheels of something like that!

Today, I hold onto the Dodge Viper. And ask him, ‘Dodge Viper? But where have you seen the Dodge Viper?’

In ‘Asphalt 8’. He says. With a shrug of his shoulder. With a ‘I hope you know where that is’, look on his face. Hesitatingly adding, ‘I am sure you have seen it there’.

I am lost. I say, ‘Hmm’. Like an amateur boxer who is recuperating in his corner bleeding from three cuts that a friendly jab of a professional boxer caused.

Of course, ‘Asphalt 8’, ‘Need for speed Most Wanted’, are all video games. I am blissfully unaware of an entire ecosystem that is powering the world of my own nephew! He is unstoppable now. ‘There is Henessey Venom GT’ he says. And speaks about how fast it can go, how good looking that is and how expensive it is too. The prices he quotes are the prices of the video games. He seems confident.

Here is a guy who doesn’t like to sit in a real car, yet someone who prefers to play with them via a window. Me and brother were very different. We had to see them. I used to go to friends houses, because their neighbour had bought a new car. Touching the new car, just lying down and checking out the undersides and rushing to scarce books to read up more seemed so worth every passing second.

We have covered significant distance. 3-4 kilometers. I ask him, ‘Are you tired?’ It takes a while before he answers, ‘NOooo’.

The obvious and most common narrative that emerges from the previous generation talking to a younger generation, is often about how glorious the past was! And as a natural extension, how broken the present is. To see the present as a lament would be to view it through the lens of a time that is gone by.

The greater chance of living a fulfilled, productive, joyous life is to embrace the change and start off by speaking a different language. The onus is not on the newer generation to change. It is for the older generation to reach out and embrace the new. To make sense of the what is coming and to help the new flow well, learning from the mistakes of the old!

The world will belong to the new. In a short while! The first change perhaps is in how I think. Maybe language is a good point of synthesis. I ask my nephew, ‘Is the battery about 48?’ I ask.

Hmm. ‘Noooo. Its about 30′ He says. Ah. Thats a lesson learnt well. The next time, I wont ask him ‘Are you tired?’

The wheels of change. They keep spinning. If we need to get somewhere, we need to keep steering! We walk for a bit in silence. He drifting, perhaps, into his world of cars. I drifting into the world of change and how much more I have to! Bringing about substantial change within, is after all no walk in the park!

The Green Room Experience

Many moons ago, I was a stage actor in a theatre group.  Grease paint. Dialogues. Arc lights. And all that! From the plays of Anton Chekov to ‘The Zoo Story’ (my toughest) by Edward Albee) .   The Zoo Story, I recall in particular, was miles and miles of dialogue. A never ending ascent of a tall ask, for it was a two character, one act play, for a duration of what could be called ‘eternity’.

As much as I remember the performances, memories from the Green Room stay fresh! A time of bonding, intense conversation, reassuring glances and a scintillating access to performers and performances.

The Green Room, Wikipedia says,   “is the space in a theatrestudio or similar venue which accommodates performers not yet required on stage. The green room functions as a waiting room and lounge for performers before and after a performance, and during the show when they are not engaged onstage.”

My experiences in the Green Room guides me to think that the definition is perhaps an honest clinical descriptor. Like saying ‘Twitter is a social networking tool’. Or that cars have four wheels and help in getting from place A to place B. Technically right, but far less than what they do.

For the Green Room is a ‘hot and happening place’. In every sense of the word.  My recollections lead me to memories of fervent pace and the anxious eyes of fellow performers before the performance. The director’s calm demeanour that magically soothed frayed nerves. Plus it was an incredibly awesome angle to relish some class acts from! A place where you are closest to the real act. Performers and performances in close quarters before their grand performance on stage. You see mistakes. You see spectacular transformations.

The Green Room is a stepping stone to a real performance. In a literal way too! All of those memories and experiences came rushing back. In just a bit.

For now, switching topics and talking about CAWW! 🙂

For a while now, Change Agents Worldwide has held my attention. In a very unique sort of a way. It started with random exchanges on twitter that stayed long after the exchanges themselves. Leading gradually to more sustained conversations that were not only ‘useful’ but served to whet the appetite for learning and exploration in the ‘change’ domain in a way that can be described as unique, contemporary and also at the bleeding edge of thought!

The people that I had these conversations with, lead me CAWW.  Take a moment. Do go over the website. One particular line from their website that struck a deep chord enough to explore their work “We designed Change Agents Worldwide to function as a cooperative, where value is realized by every node in the network” Every word there, appealed.

So, when I did discover that CAWW had a ‘Green Room’ where I could go and dip my toes in what it is like to be part of the real conversations behind the curtain, I didn’t waste much time asking Susan Scrupski for an opportunity.

What looked like a relatively calm week in June (that later got swamped by a busy calendar) was when I got to get into the Green Room at CAWW! A authentic and thought provoking digital experience.

After sharing my contexts in the ‘stream’, we got down to outlining priorities, problems and challenges.  A superlative change agent is one that asks a heap of questions. Some of them out of a seeking for answers.  At other times, as part of a nudging thought train in a different direction.

The people at CAWW are masters at it. Deep searching questions. Calm quips. Simple yet profound ideas and a curiosity for more. The beauty of the interaction also got multiplied by the geographical spread of where the ideas and interactions came from. S

Simon Terry based out of Australia and me would exchange a few ideas before Europe woke up and the conversations would continue through the evening with friends from the West! If the maxim of ‘ideas rule the world’ were to be proven true again, in a very literal sense, I didn’t have to look any further.

Engaging and hearing from a variety of people.  Richard Martin. Luiz Suarez. Jon Husband. Joachim Stroh. Catherine Shinners Carrie Basham Young. Stuart McIntyre. Thierry de Baillon.  Kevin Jones. Guy Alvarez . Marcia Conners. Patti Ankalam Presenting a dazzling array or presence, opportunity and thoughts.

A clutch of ideas, an array of links to resources and surveys and more importantly thoughts to pursue, stay with me. Long after the one week in the Green Room of CAWW has gone by! A wholesome refreshing time.

Notwithstanding the fact, that this Green Room triggered a flurry of memories of another Green Room from a different era.  More of that story for another time.

For now, people, if you haven’t explored CAWW, you must!

Woking out Loud on ‘Working Out Loud’!

Sunder posted these questions, on Twitter and elicited a barrage of wonderful responses, as only he can. 🙂

The questions he posed were these :

  1. “What does #WorkingOutLoud mean to u in a tweet?”
  2. “How r u building the #WorkingOutLoud culture in ur Org?”

Having dabbled with both the idea and the practice of Working Out Aloud” for a bit and getting mixed results, my thoughts ran beyond containment in a tweet. So here is a blogpost!

(The first time I spoke of “Working Out Loud” and explained the meaning and the benefits of doing so, a very conscientious colleague asked curiously, if it should be rather be “Working out Aloud” and not “Working out loud”! That was the first objection! )

Well, lets get the basics of what it is out of the way, quickly. John Stepper points here  as the origin of the term and I am going with him. He lucidly says, “Working Out Loud = Observable Work + Narrating Your Work”. 

John captures the five elements that make WOL, here.  There are others including Dave Weiner who have written on this, and WOL I have noticed in the last few conferences, getting more than a ‘normal’ share of mention and attention!

At its core, it is documenting your work and sharing it with your network, to make it better, as the network shares its views and ideas on what you shared. This could lead to new insights to you. Or / and to the network! In a sense, your work doesn’t get experienced after you have completed it, but rather, as you work on it. Of course, when the work is completed, it is much better than what it would have been, without the sharing. Digital sharing tools and platforms have made it very easy and accessible to do this on the go!

Thats that.One step at at a time

After working on it for sometime now (present continuous tense), it is only easy to see that  WOL and concepts like WOL are, ‘alien to’ (to put it strongly) and represent a very different rhythm the way organisations are currently structured, performance is monitored and rewards distributed. The biggest hope (and all my successes) have come from the fact that it is people who do the work and people have always been talking about their work! 

Yet, the road to widespread adoption of WOL, in the way its outlined has its challenges in an organisation. It is a function of several things, which I’ll discuss here.  The percolation of ‘social’ in the ‘digital’ way is key. Leaders and leadership teams working on this actively is a big deal.

We need to contend with the fact, that very few organisations and leaders are alive to a reality that they are soon to contend: A very open transparent reality, where the what and the how of leadership is very different from now. Sudhanshu Palsule captures it nicely here .When leadership buy-in and/or walking the talk is absent, very little gets done to scale. 

The Why element :
WOL is not an end. It is a means to something larger. Harold Jarche nails it well (as he usually does) here explaining how WOL could be a good starting point to perhaps creating an organisational transformation. For engineering a change in a ‘way of working’, across a cross section of people and sustaining it requires coordinated effort and a strong ‘why’!

So, going back to Sunder’s question, how does one build a culture of WOL in an organisation? There is no one magic wand answer that applies to all and solves our collective challenges.

Context & Culture : One size fits one. Organisational contexts vary. For example a highly successful organisation’s need to change its established ways of working are abysmally low! If you throw in cultural facets like a highly competitive environment, siloes and an employee demographic that straddles different age peaks, your challenge gets compounded.

Rhythm of work : Within an enterprise, the flow and rhythm of work within it, varies and so does adoption of new ways, over established ways of working. Mandates don’t work and are plain silly in this landscape. Different functions take to it differently. The rhythms of working of say teams in Finance and Marketing are, well, different to put it mildly! Plus different people in these different functions take to it differently. (That is where opportunity lies nestled)

The How: Often times, WOL can get regarded as ‘one more activity’ to be done AFTER work is done and hence, adding to the work that is relentless in its piling up! The moment it is regarded so, the inertia it sets off, is tremendous! To be able to embed WOL onto the job, and help employees to adopt this as a way of working and not an activity to be done after work, is key.

There is a skilling element (however small it may seem), and a space for working on this and a plan to sustain it all.  All of these three ( skills + space + sustenance) are needed in different combinations in different pockets, to create a certain threshold level of adoption to WOL across the spectrum. “WOL” is a change that is being brought to a way of working. Not a one time initiative.

Enterprise wide adoption doesn’t happen by default. Sustained change management work, is required here. This happens by design!

So, its all bad?

Wonder if I have made it sound that its all bad. Sorry if I made it sound so. Having personally experienced the many benefits of WOL, to become a convert happens by default ( after experiencing it) and it is indeed very common to become a cheer leader once you have embraced it!

Having said that, from an enterprise context, It needs to be orchestrated for adoption keeping in mind the current realities of how large enterprises work. Seeding the idea of WOL and nurturing it for widespread adoption is a very different ask. Sunder provides examples of how the L&D team is working on it.

Am going to explore a few ideas and dilemmas in another blogpost and will of course be delighted with your inputs. 🙂

PLAY !

Play

Every passing day produces numerous reams of data, research, insights, conclusions, new processes, benchmarks and such else. Produced with good intent and long hours of tireless work and thought. Usually. (2 million google searches every minute, is indeed something, dont you think ?)

Often times, the arduous effort is clouded as a methodical effort and creative processes underlying learning and discovery stays so much in the background, that its ignored.

It is a no-brainer that development and progress is a creative process that builds on what exists. ‘Connecting the dots’ is perhaps are much used words, but those three words pack in a powerful punch.

The ability to connect seemingly distant ideas and disparate data that are so apart from each other, is a necessary part of any creative process. Products that have caught our fancy, brands that stand out are have threads from very different streams woven into one entity, in a very creative way. It is not uncommon for ad gurus and film makers to go to the market place and sit in a café, watching the world emptily go by and then use some insights to make a film!

The constraints and opportunities that the 21st century presents will need all of our creative weaves and warps to present a rich tapestry of value. A value that will create a sustainable future for our children to inherit.

Speaking of children, creative processes work well in a state of ‘play’. ‘Play’ has extensive reference to ‘children’ and ‘a child like’ state. As adults, we so much strive to ‘not fail’. So much so, that ‘playful at work’ has a thick ring of negativity attached to it. Pregnant with the meaning that you cant be both playful and working at the same time!

In a state of child like play, a sense of exploration and discovery permeates. In an active infant, for instance, reaching a dead end while trying to ‘yank the lid off a bottle’, doesn’t lead to a deadpan face but a renewed energy in trying to do the same thing in some other way!

It is this state of ‘play’ that most of us adults miss out in the quest of getting it ‘right’ / ‘perfect’ / ‘not fail’. In the new year, if there is one thing that I have as a fervent wish for you, me and the world around us, it is this : that we spend more working minutes in a state of ‘play’! A state of play that helps us connect dots and arrive at meaningful solutions to the challenges that face us. And have fun doing so.

Heres to a playful 2013 !

Distance Running and change !

I took to running sometime back. Long distance running. While it has helped keeping the health in check it has had numerous other ‘corollary’ benefits, if you will.

Time to reflect and think would go up ahead in the list for me. Bereft of the mobile phone and any other form of ‘interference’, it offers you time and space to think. To jostle with an idea while the foot pounds the pavement.

While running today, I asked myself if there were any similarities between long distance running and leading change in large organisations. By the time we finished the run, I had enough thoughts that I deemed fit to fit a post !

The Czech runner Emil Zatoptek said it like no one else did, about marathon running.

“We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon”

Marathon running is a different sport altogether. It requires patience, perseverance, persistence, loads of luck. Not to mention pretty hard nosed training and diet !

Well, driving change in organisations is no different. What works for running works for change leaders as well. Here are the top five that I juggled with today as I ran the 26 kilometers!

1. The inherent need for patience

Perhaps a basic ingredient for any long distance course is patience. Long distances don’t get over in a jiffy. It takes a long while. To be able to spot the bends in the road and to see that they are not the ‘end of the road’ makes a huge difference. To stay aligned to the course over long durations of time, despite changes outside requires patience !
No different for change leaders. For change happens, if at all in such small installments that sticking in there for a long period of time is de rigueur.

Long distance running is not about a burst of energy. It is sustained energy. It is three quarters in the mind. The course of the road changes often. The climate changes. And the body reacts to these changes in a positive or negative way.
An established runner quipped on a day when nothing was working out for me for well over half of the race “When everything is going wrong, be patient. When everything is going right, be patient.”

Patience is perhaps the biggest ingredient of change initiatives in organisations. Effective leaders know this and drive change at a pace that will sustain the organisation and yet be patient for changes to take root.

2. Rhythm :

I have seen runners who have the best strides. Some who look majestic. Yet other who run with a purpose. A few who really run at great speed. It has been tempting to align with these people. And think that it would rub off on you. But the real runners who have helped me complete a course are those that share a similar rhythm as mine. Who go ‘toe to toe’, in a way !

Change leaders achieve great results when aligning themselves with the rhythm of the organisation, the requirement and strike a balance.

Change leaders finding the right allies with a rhythm that matches theirs or which is something that they can adapt to, is critical.

3. Different Paces for Different Races

Every race is different. Every course is different. Therefore every race is run differently. The basic preparation may remain the same. The course is Mumbai is quite different from say the course in Amsterdam. One has dry, humid weather and a few inclines with massive crowd support with fantastic . The other has very pleasant weather, flat terrain with little help from people! Pacing, racing and acing these races are as different, as jiggery and energy gel !

Every change initiative is different. Sometimes, even within an organisation, different functions take to leading and understanding change very differently. To be alive to each step makes a huge difference to the running and to driving change. Every race requires a strategy of sorts. So does every change initiative!

4. See as far as your eye can see

The course of a full marathon is 42 kilometers. Or 26 miles. There is no change in that. I once was struggling at the 34th kilometer when a fellow runner, ran past me, asking me not to think of the finish line, but to just think of the distance ‘that the eye can see’. That idea stuck. And worked too.

For once you reach the distance that your saw, the eye is seeing and setting a new target of sorts. While thinking of how it would be to finish the race etc would indeed be good, it sometimes can get daunting.

It cant be very different to a change program for change happens in small installments  To break down large targets into small operational target which keeps getting modified and updated on the go, with the large target in mind is central to a change program.

5. The merit in metrics

Metrics help. It helps to know analyse and change. There are a slew of watches and apps on mobile phones can give you with multi colour graphics the exact spot where you sweated two droplets extra and where your heart beat was one hundredth of half a beat away from your normal beat cycle.

Personally these haven’t held my fancy. There is a merit in the metrics. But the race is to be run and the journey to be enjoyed. You know when you have indeed run a good race is when you run with rhythm, poise and finish strong irrespective of the constraints.

Change metrics in organisations can be fuzzy while being useful. Change metrics are useful. But the metrics are not the target. Real change is!

While having a perspective on the metrics (and reports and all that), good change practitioners know that metrics is just another means to tell them the health of the change process. Not an end in itself.

Change happens. Over time. So does a long run!