Lingchi (traditional Chinese: 凌遲), translates as the slow process, the lingering death, or slow slicing. It is also known as death by a thousand cuts. Lingchi was a form of torture and execution used in China from roughly 900 until it was banned in 1905. It was also used in Vietnam and Korea. In this form of execution, a knife was used to methodically remove portions of the body over an extended period of time, eventually resulting in death. Lingchi was reserved for crimes viewed as especially heinous, such as treason.
When I read about Lingchi, it struck me that we can suffer the same fate in change and transformation roles. Those people who are invested in the status quo will use death by a thousand no’s to kill off change and slowly torture the catalyst who is attempting to initiate change. In time, the change-maker either abandons the idea of change and resigns themselves to the status quo or they leave their organization and go elsewhere in the pursuit of meaningful work.
The Fractal No
A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals show self-similarity, or comparable structure regardless of scale. Fractals are created by repeating a simple pattern over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. Nature is full of fractals: trees, rivers, mountains, clouds, seashells, ferns, snowflakes, and if you have some around your fridge, broccoli.
Broccoli displays fractal-esque characteristics. If you break off a small piece of broccoli and view it up close, it looks like a miniature version of the larger chunk. While broccoli isn’t a true fractal, (because at a certain magnification it loses its self-similar shape), it is a useful example of a regular fractal. (Unless you have a Koch Snowflake in your environment)
And now to the “Fractal No” and my thought on this fine Thursday.
For innovators, transformation workers, catalysts, and change agents, no matter where you look and no matter how much you zoom in, it can feel like you are stuck in a never-ending fractal loop: the pattern always ends in the same way.
My point in sharing this is to inform you of the “fractal no” or the “long no” so that you recognize when you are stuck in a fractal no loop. You can waste a lot of personal energy in such a loop.
When you pitch a new concept you can be sent into a fractal spiral. Someone in your organization (sometimes in a Machiavellian way) suggests you meet Mr X or Ms Y in Sector 7G.
Soon enough, you find yourself attending meeting after meeting until you eventually smell the stench of the fractal no. You may never receive a definitive No, but every meeting is fractal-like, it has the self-same pattern, an ill-defined next step, a suggestion to meet someone else, and a cul-de-sac.
Only you can end the spiral, but first, you have to recognize it.