“In saying no to progress, it is not the future which they condemn, but themselves. They give themselves a melancholy disease; they inoculate themselves with the past. There is but one way of refusing tomorrow, that is to die.”Victor Hugo
When I was a child my father bred hybrid rose variations. Dad used the word inoculation when referring to this process, years passed before I would know what that word meant in mainstream English. The term “inoculation” is derived from the Latin “in” + “oculus” (eye) and entered the English language through horticultural usage meaning to graft a bud (also known as an eye) from one plant onto another.
As we certainly know by now (whether we want to or not), medical inoculation refers to a set of methods of artificially inducing immunity against infectious diseases. While our immune systems are extremely adept at fighting viruses, they sometimes need a helping hand. In this Thursday Thought, I draw the analogy of inoculation methodologies and organisational (and even individual) transformation journeys. In particular, I focus on the multi-dose approach, as we are experiencing today with the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
The First Dose Primes the System
The first dose helps to prime your immune system. An mRNA vaccine tricks our bodies into producing part of a virus. This kickstarts our immune response, without allowing us to become overly sick. All that’s needed is a part of the virus’s DNA or RNA. An initial dose affords our bodies time to generate an immune response prior to a second dose. Essentially, the immune system learns how to deal with a foreign invader without becoming overwhelmed. [Please note I am not a medical professional, this is how I understand it and I am using it as an analogy].
The M or the mRNA vaccine stands for messenger. The messenger relays instructions about how to attack the invading spike protein (the spiky part of the virus that we know from those images of Covid-19 as above). Our immune systems learn to create antibodies to destroy the spike of the virus and mark invading spike proteins for destruction if they invade our bodies. The fascinating aspect is that the immune system attacks the spike because the spike is how the invading virus clamps on to healthy cells. So, the mRNA vaccine kills the spike so the virus cannot spread.
Time is needed to allow this process to develop properly before we receive a second dose or a further wave of attack. It is important not to receive a second dose too early, as this may impact the effectiveness of the vaccine.
The other innovative aspect of the mRNA vaccine is that it only introduces part of the virus rather than the whole virus so we don’t get too sick from the vaccine.
So what has this got to do with transformation efforts?
Anyone who works in corporate change will have experienced a corporate immune response. As soon as you introduce change, the corporate DNA attacks, the bigger the change, the bigger the attack.
Here we must display empathy and I know how difficult this is. There is a useful saying, “the pioneers take the arrows”, in a similar vein, the change makers experience the immune response. However, I share the story of inoculation to highlight how the corporate immune system is just doing its job. As far as it is concerned, you are an attacker, you represent risk, change and a usurping of the status quo.
This feels personal, it feels like they are attacking you and they will, it can get ugly, the harder fought and harder fought the position of the status quo, the nastier it can get. Realise that this is an immune response, like any bully, they are masking deep-felt fear and insecurities.
As a maverick, you can’t fight this battle alone. Change makers need leaders to have their backs. We need them to provide air cover for the inevitable attacks we will encounter. Just like a human bod depends on executive functioning of the brain, the change maker requires executive support from the corporate head.
Leaders should view change makers as an mRNA vaccine. They are messengers of a future that has not yet materialised. They come with instructions and blueprints for an organisation of the future. They want to introduce some discomfort now to save the organisation from a greater attack in the future. Just like human inoculation introduces small amounts of a virus to prepare the immune system for future attack, so does the change maker introduce minor changes to develop capabilities that an organisation will need in the future.
As I share in my book, “Undisruptable”, the Spartan Warriors have a very apt mantra, “The more you sweat in times of peace, the less you bleed in war.” We need to develop capabilities and mindsets for the future, before we encounter a crisis. The more deliberate we are about corporate inoculation against stasis, the more control we will have when we inevitable encounter a crisis.
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