Through Their Eyes: Two Hopes

This weeks guest blogger is my younger brother Thom. When I asked him to guest blog I left the topic very wide and he wrote a great piece. Want to hear more of what he has to say? You can find his thomrockother works at his own blog http://www.poetguru.com

For most of us we are taught our first lesson as soon as we come into this world. The great majority of us come through the traumatic experience of birth and are greeted immediately by a least one person, our mother, and often by many more who are there to wrap us in a blanket, keep us safe, provide us food, make sure we can breathe, and coo gently in our new ears.

From this first experience we learn the lesson of a naïve hope; that out of pain comes life into a better world, and that after trauma someone will always be there to pick us up, and for a time provide us with what we need, blanket, a hug, or something to eat. We believe this without doubt until it is proven wrong. For some of us that is merely a few moments, or hours, or days. For some it is a single-digit number of years. For some, it is our first broken heart in high school. For some it is a dark and endless night in college.

On the other end of the spectrum there is a brand of hope that is not naïve, that is built with your own hands by hardship and failure, a hope that comes from heat and pressure, and knowing, also without a doubt that, to quote Lucille Clifton, “everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.” This is an earned hope that knows that whatever comes today it can be handled and overcome and passed through.

For a small few of us the transition from naivety to unflappable faith is little more than a handoff. Those few grow up safe, loved, trusting. They fall in love and are not betrayed. They do good work and are aptly rewarded. The results of their trials is roughly equal to the intensity of their work ethic. Their strength is earned, but from birth to death, never needs be questioned. These rare, rare few.

For most of us there is a chasm between the world of innocent hope and the hope of acquired armor. This gorge can not be jumped across, no bridge can be built, no catapult can reach. We must, in our own way climb down one jaded rocky canyon wall, where surely we will fall to our death. And when we do not die, we must climb up the razor sharp cliffs of the other side. No one, not even the ones who love us, sees what goes on inside the canyon. It is our own trial. And for it’s duration, we are simply hopeless.

There are still yet many of us for whom this chasm is impassible. Either because we were betrayed too early in life, or too often, or because we never received the tools to identify or overcome what exists between these two peak, or because the gap where we live is simply too wide. There are people in this world without hope. They know only struggle. They know only blood and hardship and pain. They live in this canyon, trapped with the other lost souls. Tell them stories of loving mothers, or of the success that can be achieved by climbing, or by how great it is on the other side. They cannot hear your stories. They have too much evidence to the contrary. They will not climb.

And should the world come visit these folks, should it ask with its cameras to show us what life is like in the space between unknowing and knowing, those without hope will happily oblige. Their world is scrub brush, worthless, without reason, violent. At any moment something could catch fire. At any moment someone could die.

Don’t talk to me about picking yourself up by your bootstraps. Anyone who could have done that has. Don’t tell me about building better housing inside the canyon. Who honestly wants to live there? And while I applaud those who climb down with the lost, who preach of a better life, and who carry folks out one at a time, it doesn’t scale.

I don’t have an answer. We can’t let our kin stay down here. Nobody is going to build a factory in death valley to employ the lost. Those of us on either cliff do little more than point and take pictures. All I know is that we need to find a way, for the naïve, to let them keep their hope as long as possible. And for the war-wise, we need to find a way to lift them to the other side.

We, up here, are safe. We can see the horizons and dream our wide dreams. But we must find a way to lift more people up from this despair. There must be a way. I know you can think of a way.

And I know you will. I have hope.

 

Thom Ingram is a poet, essayist, contemplative, and teacher living in Boulder, Colorado. He has an MFA in creative writing from Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina. His poems have been published by Elysian Fields Quarterly, The Good Men Project, Random House, and several local and regional journals. His essays and other poems can be seen online at www.poetguru.com.

So They Say: Our Iceberg is Melting

Summary

Where Who Moved My Cheese addresses individual response to change, Our Iceberg is Melting looks at how groups react and respond to unplanned change. In this narrative John Kotter centersiceberg2 a story about penguins and finding a new home around his “Eight Step Process for Successful Change”. Through the animated story he exemplifies how successful change comes from:

  • Creating a sense of urgency
  • Developing a guiding team
  • Developing the change vision and strategy
  • Communicating the vision buy in
  • Empowering others to act
  • Producing short term wins
  • Not letting up
  • Creating a culture of change

 

My Thoughts

I love this book. I assign this book to all my new clients on day one. I think every new employee should be given this book the day they are hired and that it should be mandatory reading for every promotion into management. Of all the books geared towards culture and change management I have read, this is the book that I find the easiest for people to instantly apply to their everyday lives.

John Kotter gets directly to the heart of most groups issues without becoming technical. He guides readers through the issues of getting the attention of management and others who may not yet recognize the problem, freeing up time to address the problem, messaging the problem and solution to the larger audience and most importantly how to work with your “no-no penguins”. This book can be translated easily into a clear roadmap for any change you or your organization are undertaking.

For those who read Iceberg and are looking for more detailed information on any of the 8 steps or how to apply them, John Kotter also has corresponding “adult books” which I also highly recommend. They provide a deep dive into each of his principles and strategies for addressing them.

Random Ramblings: Readiness

TReady-Set-Go-2he blog post this week has taken a couple of odd twists based on current events. My topic for the week was and is “readiness” and being ready to change when the opportunities present themselves. I wrote this post a couple weeks ago but as world events have played out this week I felt like I wanted to rewrite it, especially after a long conversation today with my brother about Baltimore, but that didn’t feel right either. Where I ended up is this week is going to be a two piece blog post. First I will give you what I originally wrote, then I will add some of my current thoughts on readiness as they apply to current events.

My original post

Random Ramblings: The Choice vs The Chosen

Too often my opening conversation with a new client is about the different personalities in their firm. I am not sure if this is because they are trying to warn me what I am getting myself into or if they think their problems are really unique. By the way, they’re not, I joke often my job is a lot like the movie Groundhog Day, the same personalities with different faces. Sadly most organizations face the same challenges. Not only do they want to tell me how difficult certain people are, but they also want to make sure I know how they handle change.

Talking solely about how anyone always handles change is really unfair. Yes, like I discussed in my post about Who Moved My Cheese, there are definite personality types and related behaviors. But one variable that is often overlooked when we relegate someone to just their personality is whether it is a change the person decided to embrace or one they were handed without a voice in the matter.

Immediately when I bring this topic up I start hearing comments about “Bob is a total control freak” or “Sally doesn’t like when you rock her boat”. And yes control plays a part in this too, but to pin it all on the lack or amount of control oversimplifies the issue. If it was only about control or choice no one would ever be happy to find out they won an award they didn’t know they were nominated for, no parents would ever be thrilled at an unplanned pregnancy and we would never be happy when we find money in our pocket we didn’t know was there. These all change our life and we didn’t control them happening. On the reverse side, if it was all about control the person who loses a job they have hated would never feel a sense of relief to finally have to make the move, the individual who felt stuck in a relationship but didn’t know how to get out would never feel liberated when their partner asked for a divorce and no parent whose adult child announces they were unexpectedly moving out would smile at the thought of finally having that workout room.

None of these changes being viewed as a positive were about control or choice, they were about readiness. I perceive readiness as a key factor in both personal and organizational change. So much so that when I do my primary analysis on a new potential client I base my decision to move forward with them or not on this one factor. We may talk about a million things in the meeting but I walk out asking myself one question “Are they ready?”.

Without being ready all the good intentions in the world won’t get anyone to their end goal. Lack of readiness results in multiple missed starts, incomplete projects and a general sense of spinning one’s wheels.

Readiness includes factors like how willing the key players are to let go of the past (emotionally and procedurally), how willing they are to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers or they already would have made the change, how willing they are to invest the resources needed (time, money, man power) to the effort, how large a burden they see the change as being and how open they are to accepting help from others to reach their goal. If they aren’t ready it is a waste of their time, money and the one true chance they get to sell the idea in their firm.

Knowing if you are ready for a change is a hard measurement to take honestly of yourself or your organization, especially if you aren’t ready. That is where folks like me come in. Those of us who have managed many changes and have seen success and failure. Who can see the pitfalls that a newbie might not realize are lurking. Most importantly someone who can be objective without emotional involvement and see things as they are not as they want them to be.

Believe me there is no bigger red flag than when I tell a firm or a friend they aren’t ready and they want to argue the point. I smile to myself because I know they are trying to talk themselves into it as much as me. My most successful clients are those who are willing to hear this advice, agree to work on items that are standing in their way of readiness and then re-approach their primary goal. Typically I am sending them away to work on their leadership skills, to address problems in their culture that until addressed will derail any significant change or to add additional resources that can smooth the path.

There is an often used cliché in change management that you are ready for change when the pain of staying the same becomes worse than the pain of making a change. There is validity in this. If you look back at my examples above, this is clearly the case of the employee relieved to be let go from a job they hated or the partner who is freed from a bad relationship. They can see that although this change is really not their choice, it is the lessor of two evils and so they are ready. Even the surprised parents can see that while it will be hard to let go it will be worth it. They are ready.

New thoughts since writing/applied thoughts

Random Ramblings: Getting Society Talking Readiness

This had been a tough week in America. We have had to stop and face some truths about ourselves and about society that aren’t always easy. It started with an arrest and then death of an individual and has now turned to rioting and nationwide protests. The media is in our faces about it constantly and there are very few people around me who don’t have a strong opinion on it. Some say it is all a result of decimation and racism, others say it is a moral issue and poor values, still others say it is the fault of our government and not having enough social programs.

I will not get into my stance on it here, this blog is not a place for politics and ethics debate, but as I was having a very interesting conversation with my brother about it all I found myself talking about change and readiness with him. We were discussing why is it that some people can be faced with many challenges in life and yet still find their way out and move forward and yet others can be handed tons of help and support and never move on. The answer I arrived at as we talked was readiness for change.

The analogy that came up in our conversation seems a lot safer to talk about than race, battered women. Why is it that two women in equal circumstances, with equal resourses will make two different choices. Why will one choose to stay despite offered help and support and the other will take the help and support and move on? Readiness! One is willing to face the fears that come with change while the other will accept the pain of their current situation over the unknown of something else.

The situation is not a lot different when it comes to our cities in America and the people who live in them. Some cities have faced the changes that the post-factory world brings, they have reinvented themselves and found new life blood. Syracuse NY where I lived for many years is one of these cities. They saw a need, they were ready for the change and they went for it. Others have held on to mourning the loss of factories, they have stalled in the suffering that the loss of those industries brought and they have not moved forward. I was very surprised to learn that Baltimore is the biggest city with not one Fortune 500 company based there.

The cities’ reactions are really the reflection of it’s citizens. I have read over and over this week how the flaws with Baltimore are that people with money moved on to other opportunities and those left behind are stuck in poor conditions. I find it interesting to blame those who saw the situation and “followed the cheese”, and could write in-depth on that, but what I find more interesting is that people want to base this difference on money.

The rich left, the poor stayed. I see it differently. The ready left, the unready stayed. And by ready I again mean emotionally. It is hard to leave what you know, where you grew up, where your parents grew up, but many people stay too long and pay the price. The thing holding them back is not their finances, they are already in terrible shape where they are, somewhere else couldn’t be that much worse, but their ability to adapt and change.

In my mind, our readiness to change, to reinvent ourselves, is why one person can be placed into a given social program and use it as a stepping stone to pull themselves up and start a new life and someone in the same program to go no where and revert back to where they were.

Our ability to change is not rooted in our race, our gender, our socio-economic status, our genetics (thank god) or all the other ratings grabbing topics the media wants us to focus on. I think it is time that we stopped having so much conversation in this country about the haves and have-nots and started reshaping the conversation to the readys and not-readys. We need to discuss not how do we add another welfare program or social service program, but how we get people ready to embrace what the programs have to offer. Because until we address ready we are going to continue to leave many segments of our society, the most vulnerable segments, right where they are, no matter how much assistance we throw at the problems.