17 February 2011 ~ 2 Comments

“Desire is the fire that sets action aflame”

Egypt on my mind

The idea of movements and transformational change are on my radar lately, partly as a result of events in Egypt and the Middle East. The very successful first stage of a grass roots revolution in Egypt is stunning. After watching these events unfold, I ask, why are we not more effective at creating movements that enable transformational change in businesses?

Who are you inviting to the conversation?

Recently, I was speaking with a C.E.O. who said, “we have lots of ideas, we are in the idea business,and went on saying that the execution of the change process was her key concern. I agreed with her, implementation is a big challenge. But what strikes me as an even greater challenge, is still in the strategic ideation phase. Meaning, when the leaders — who are sponsoring the change — are considering “what to do,” are they inviting their stakeholders into the conversation?

Stakeholders include, the shareholders, board, senior management, all the way down the vertical to front-line management, staff, vendors, customers…the ecosystem of the company — all of the people responsible for executing on the new strategy — those who have a interest in how the change will impact their lives. Do they own the idea or are they subject to it?

I said to the CEO, the bottom line for me is, this is a dialog between the leadership and everyone else who has a stake in “changing“; if your people are not passionate about the change you are proposing — you are seriously handicapping your ability to produce great results.

Enter Conventional Thinking

Conventional thinking leads us to imagine that we can somehow find an implementation solution for business transformation that works better than what we are currently doing, which is largely based on planning. Somehow, there will be a project manager with a better process to drive the implementation phase, and that they will somehow get better results than we currently see. Think again.

McKinsey Quarterly published results from a 2008 global survey indicating that the success rate for large scale business transformations is 30 percent — which is the same result that John Kotter published (1996) in his visionary book, Leading Change. It should be apparent to the reader that if we are expecting to improve our results through “better project management” or a “better how-to processes,” we might want to consult with a mental health care professional. Forget conventional thinking; start doing something different.

Forget Conventional Thinking

We have time tested “how-to processes” for change, very well trained project management people and unlimited resources to create new stuff. But a crucial ingredient that most change efforts lack, is a strategy to access and cultivate a deep emotional commitment from the people involved in business transformations, which social/political/cultural movements clearly have.

Movements are fueled by a passion for something better, a deeply and commonly held emotional commitment to a desired outcome. People who participate in movements have a deep connection to the ideas behind them and the possibility the movement represents. But when you look at how the typical company does change, do you see passion, a deeply held desire for something better and the resolve to see the vision come to life?

If I have learned anything from politics and business, it is when leaders tap into our passions, our desire for something better — people are invited to own an idea — great things happen.  When we have a deep emotional commitment to an idea or an outcome, we have the resolve to not let go of it! Unfortunately, here is how conventional thinking in business often views passion: “passion is soft, how do we measure it, leave that messy stuff at home!”

Getting it and Being Insanely Great

Luckily, some companies totally get this. I will not mention the insanely great company named after a fruit, but they absolutely get it. So do others, like Mahindra (think of Mahindra as the G.E. of India), with their new corporate vision, “Rise.” http://www.mahindra.com/ Mahindra gets it in a big way. Their vision:

Our motivation to give our best every day comes from our core purpose: to challenge conventional thinking and innovatively use all our resources to drive positive change in the lives of our stakeholders and communities across the world—to enable them to Rise.

After reading the Mahindra vision, a voice inside me said, “I want to work there, I would do business with them.” But, these are my emotions talking, not my “rational profit maximizing” mind. But when you factor in choice, then your emotions often trump logic. This is why movements are critical. We have free will to decide what we do. We are human, illogical and emotional beings whose feelings are great deciders in who we choose and what we choose.

Today, firms like Strawberryfrog  http://strawberryfrog.com/ (who co-developed “Rise” with Mahindra) are focused on creating cultural movements, realizing that purpose and passion are key drivers of how we decide to participate in change, do business with someone or which products to buy. Strawberryfrog and Mahindra are clearly on to something.

The Meta-Movement

One of my favorite examples of a movement that exploited a shared and deeply held desire for something better, which led to a great and enduring transformational change, is the American Revolution. Still going strong, 235 years and counting. I would argue that the American Revolution was a Meta-Movement, a movement that is a platform for producing new movements.

The America Founding Fathers were able to tap into a shared and deeply held desire for autonomy. The result is a timeless and compelling movement for freedom. Even if that meant that they (leaders and participants) had to make great if not the ultimate sacrifice — all based on an idea, freedom. I heard those same emotions and beliefs resonating from the Egyptian Revolution.

Ibrahim Haridy, 33, said he cried the moment Mr. Mubarak’s resignation was broadcast. He was among the hardcore anti-regime protesters who picked up rocks to defend Tahrir Square from pro-Mubarak demonstrators who tried to force their way in more than a week ago.

The battle lasted more than 12 hours. Hundreds were injured. “I felt that if I died, so be it,” said Mr. Haridy, a 33-year-old accountant from Nasr City. “But I was determined to see this system fall, to see this president leave. And now look. We have our moment in history.”

Mr. Haridy said Egypt would not squander this opportunity. “I will do everything I can to make sure that every Egyptian who was living life at half speed will live their lives at full speed,” he said. “It is easy to throw stones at the aggressor but it is not easy to chart a new course. Our hard work begins tomorrow. Tonight, I am just going to live in the moment.” http://on.wsj.com/g2enHc – Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Haridy clearly articulates the passion and resolve that movements possess. Egypt, thank you for reminding us how amazing it can be to watch fellow humans self-organize, work together and do something truly heroic, breathtaking. I sincerely hope that you will be living your Egyptian dream soon.

The American Experiment

America is an insanely great experiment in human self-governance, that to date has enabled increasing freedoms (generation over generation), economic prosperity and some of the greatest innovations humans have seen in their collective history. While far from being perfect, it can be continuously improved and reinvented.

Suffrage, civil rights and civil unions are by-products of this platform for change and freedom. There are endless opportunities for self-actualization (which every human should have) in America. If you want to talk about seizing the white space, indeed the Founding Fathers nailed it. So when thinking about transformational change, we must ask ourselves: What can we learn from them?

2 Responses to ““Desire is the fire that sets action aflame””

  1. Michele 21 February 2011 at 3:14 am Permalink

    Jonathan – Great piece!

    America has been a great platform for human innovation in governance and entrepreneurial endeavor. Hopefully we can keep that!

  2. Ginger Jenks 11 May 2011 at 12:14 am Permalink

    Love this! I think the companies that DO get it realize that all the stakeholders, including the front line workers, have something to contribute and are not just “cogs in the machine.” Successful movements transcend position and class and engage a broad swath of folks.

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