Seeking Passage—A Chapter in the Odyssey
We really have something here! I mean, as a profession, we play a critical role in the story. Our role in the story is to seek ways to make the right information more quickly accessible to people who do income-generating work. This role is important because the power of information makes a difference in customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction and has far-reaching impact on eliminating waste that eats up profit.
Customer = Central Character
Employees = Heroes
Waste = Enemies
Profit = Treasure
To boldly say, “we have innovative ways to do it even better,” elicits vastly different responses depending on the background and perceptions of each person who hears it. The cultures and personalities of the organization and the political climate can also positively or negatively influence how a message about innovation is heard.
The Quest: Influence an environment so a profitable idea can gain passage as a viable reason to change and be celebrated as a story worthy to be retold.
Influence the Characters with Experiences, Participation, and Imagination
At times, just talking about innovative change may itself seem to be a waste of energy, particularly in environments where energy is already drained by worry, too much change, poor relationships, poor communication, or by negative perceptions caused covertly or overtly. In these situations, or when there is a large-scale change that will take a long time, the characters and potential heroes need to see something tangible if you want their behavior and perceptions to shift toward the adventure. In John Kotter’s The Heart of Change, they refer to this as “short-term wins”. Short-term wins get people focused and
- provide feedback about the validity of a vision and strategy (TRUTH)
- give encouragement to those working hard to achieve the vision (COURAGE)
- build faith in and energy for the effort and attract those who are not yet actively helping (INSPIRATION)
- take power away from cynics (FREEDOM)
The story of over-priced coffee is proof that people are hungry to experience a legend personally. Why are we paying big bucks for a beverage from Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, and others like them? Is the coffee itself really that much better? Are their locations that much more convenient? Is the protective sleeve that much safer? Not really-OK maybe somewhat. Their marketing strategy banks on the psychology that we want to participate in the story, be connected as part of the community, and have an identity within that story. We want to be part of the discussion and dialogue so much that we are OK with the risk and cost. We are willing to transform our budget and even our route to work. The experience can be real or imagined.
Constructing experiences and images is a way to create context before, during, and after a change is embraced. Images and visual context hook into the emotional part of the brain, particularly when those images and visual examples create feelings that the relationships in the story are moving from dysfunctional to more functional. In The Heart of Change, Kotter points out that engaging the human imagination and emotion makes ideas go deeper than engaging the conscious analytical part of our brain. Feelings change behavior.
Furthermore, images and symbols help connect our feelings and emotions to our conscious mind. Psychiatrists use a method in which they get a patient to connect to a symbol before dealing with a negative memory or trauma. This imaging lets the patient objectify the feelings in order to deal with them less painfully.
Interestingly, images and symbols are not useful when negative feelings are buried deeply because the unconscious mind banks emotions and does not forget unpaid bills. It is important to realize this when employees have had negative experiences with organizational change and their feelings were never addressed. But, negative feelings can be reversed when people are put in an environment where they are encouraged to hang on to their creative spark after encountering dysfunction. A new context can be written.
Bind the Enemy
Context influencers can take several forms, ranging from good to “evil”:
- decisive, risk-taking, guiding, listening-results in creativity, autonomy, consensus, trust, mutual respect, and productivity
- passive, naive, cynical-avails nothing or causes a slow, insipid decline or decay
- manipulative, controlling, critical, self-reliance-results in energy wasted on reacting, lack of trust, suspicion, blaming, mask wearing, and self-redemption
An “enemy” can always be thwarted in the right context, regardless of whether the environment is predictable or unpredictable, malevolent or benevolent. Heroes can prevail when a risk-taking context is created where people are guided into the unknown and toward their potential. This type of influence is not related to hierarchy. It is often unsung heroes who see the truth and have the courage to do the work that inspires us.
Conflict is considered a constant element of a good story. Do you have a story of an innovation that was fully researched, accepted, and empowered, perfectly scheduled, with no stumbling and no surprises, where everyone turned out to be a hero, and everyone kept his or her dignity? That would be a nice, boring story. We would at least like to hear that there were bad guys who tried to block passage of the innovation, but the perfect project execution caused the bad guys to self-destruct.
Claim the Treasure
Energy wasted in a negative context has a way of holding hostage a company’s treasures, keeping the reward or victory just out of reach. Similarly, information managed immaturely affects communication at all levels, compromising accurate data flow, squandering human potential, and ultimately affecting profit margins.
About the Author
Manager of Information and Training Services
Gay Patton is part of the management team for global information and training services organization of KONE, an elevator/escalator company. This Finnish-U.S. team has been setting the stage for their next generation of XML-based content creation. The project includes upgrading the content management system and authoring tools, as well as defining a collaborative and consistent process to maximize reuse of modular content. The desired outcome is to support employee job performance better and faster by quickly delivering up-to-date reference and learning tools to the right people, on paper and on-line.