I’m continuing the organizational change journey with Robert E. Quinn’s Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within and we are in Chapter 1. So what do you think so far? Have you picked up on the fact that change begins within each one of us as an individual? And it starts by changing our old thought patterns and the way that we think about the world. You know…our biases that cloud our viewpoints when we hear something or we see something. These patterns of thinking may go all the way back to our childhood or they may have developed along the way during our growing up.
Some of you may be thinking that you don’t have biases (because you may be equating the word bias to prejudices). The reality is that we are all biased in our thinking. The natural instinct when we see or hear something is to think about what we know that is related to that topic. Once we connect what we experience, with our previous knowledge, we immediately begin to develop opinions about the current object in front of us. Deep change is not necessarily changing your opinion about what you see; deep change is about recognizing your opinions and appreciating the realization that other people may have different opinions than you do.
Let me demonstrate this exercise… using a picture of contemporary art. Scroll down and take a look at this photo of a piece of art….
What are your immediate thoughts when you see this picture? Does it appeal to you? Do you think it is vulgar or in bad taste for me to post it? Or maybe this is a statue that you have in your home and so it immediately looks familiar to you. Based on your historical context about human beings, the human body and art, this picture may spark positive, negative or neutral feelings for you.
So what does this have to do with deep change? It has everything to do with deep change! You are looking at this picture in the same way that you look at many things that are going on around you in your workplace! You have opinions and biases that you may not even realize that you have. Deep change is about becoming aware of those biases, having the courage to challenge those biases by asking yourself questions and then opening up this dialogue to other people to see how they think and gathering their ideas. Remember this process of deep change is not about forcing yourself to change your opinion. It’s about recognizing the opinions that you have, understanding where those opinions come from and acknowledging the opinions of others that may be different from your own.
So now go back to the picture above and start asking yourself some of these questions…
- What are my opinions?
- Am I willing to challenge those opinions and am I willing to permit others to challenge those opinions?
- Why do I have those opinions?
- What in my past or present has shaped those opinions?
- What are the possible other opinions that are out there?
I recommend not taking this exercise lightly because this exercise is planting the seeds for growth to happen. Skipping over this step in the process could prevent you from achieving your full potential in your organizational change efforts.
So now, let’s try something else. Read each one of these statements below and see how you feel about each of the statements. Then go back and ask yourself the same questions that are listed above.
- “My skin color never had any impact on me while I was growing up.”
- “My gender does not impact my ability to progress in this company.”
- “My sexual orientation is a non-issue. I don’t even think about it.”
- “My religion has no impact on my professional life.”
After you have asked yourself some deep questions about these statements, bring these statements to someone else in your workplace…someone who is a different color, opposite gender, different sexual orientation or different religion. Are their answers the same as yours? Now dig deeper with them to hear the stories that they share about why they feel the way they do. Where do their perceptions come from? What has happened to them in their lifetime that creates their biases?
So now tell me- does color matter? How about gender, sexual orientation or religion? Does it matter?
Now it’s time to start looking at your business and recognizing the statements that are made around your company and apply these questions to those statements. Here are some examples of statements that I have heard from some clients in the last few days.
- Our new computer system is awesome. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
- Our mission statement is critical to the success of our business.
- Our customers love us. They wouldn’t even think of using someone else for this service.
Make your own list. What are you hearing and seeing? Then ask yourself…Am I willing to challenge those opinions? What has shaped those opinions? What other opinions or viewpoints exist? Where do those other viewpoints come from?
“‘Traveling naked into the land of uncertainty’ allows for another kind of learning, a learning that helps us forget what we know and discover what we need. It leads to the discovery that helps create the future. The few people who feel this way do so because of multiple past experiences in making the terrifying journey. After a while, terror turns to faith. These people ‘know how to get lost with confidence'” (Quinn, 1996, p. 12).
Have you experienced traveling naked into the land of uncertainty? Maybe it’s time that we shed some clothes.
What did you find out when you started sharing your perceptions and hearing other people’s stories? I would love for you to share your insights about this exercise. Looking forward to hearing from you!