“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”Pablo Picasso
In my workshops with senior leaders, when we have those aha moments, those breakthroughs when we overcome the cognitive biases that give us an illusion of progress. When the team sees past quick fixes, easy answers, and familiar, easily achievable goals. When the team sees through last year’s strategy documents that are decorated with jargon and buzzwords that made the final strategy seem robust and relevant. Yes, those rare moments when the leadership team realizes if they keep doing what they have always done they are simply managing decline, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. These moments are rarely moments of celebration. The mood in the room (virtual or otherwise) is often a somber one. If we are on a virtual platform, I might suggest we break for a coffee as I give everyone a moment for everyone to digest that a difficult road lies ahead, if they are to pursue it. Not everyone wants to do so.
When we are making true progress there is always a breakdown before a breakthrough. This happens at an individual level when a relationship ends when we leave an old career to embark on a new one when we decide to start a business and meet the inevitable fear monkeys that invade your head. Our guest on the Innovation Show this week is the founder of Big Think, Victoria Montgomery Brown. I loved this line from her warts-and-all account of building a business. “Sometimes, you gotta go against the grain to grow. To put yourself in a different scenario than you have experienced before. In business or in personal matters, it’s a good thing. Working new angles provides new scenarios. And those are sometimes what it takes to help you (personally) and the business morph to something spectacular. Change drives growth. Hard change may drive it more.”
Every year, when the strategy document needs an update, many organizations dust it off and make some incremental, minor changes, achievable changes. That is because hard change is difficult, but, it is meaningful. This Thursday Thought is a brief one and one I cover in my book, “Undisruptable, a Mindset of Personal Reinvention”. I want to highlight that this process of fear before victory, loss before gain, or death before rebirth is perfectly natural in nature, chemistry, and business.
Change of State, Not Death
“Death is nature’s way of making things continually interesting. Death is the possibility of change. Every individual gets its allotted lifespan, its chance to try something new on the world. But time is called and the molecules which make up leaf and limb, heart and eye are disassembled and redistributed to other tenants.” ― Peter Steinhart
The great psychologist Abraham Maslow is best known for his hierarchy of needs pyramid. His theory of psychological health is predicated on fulfilling innate human needs culminating in the very top of the pyramid: a need for self-actualization. Maslow noted a characteristic of self-actualizing people, that they get over death very quickly. That is not to say that they are not impacted by death, but rather that they have an understanding that everything that materializes changes form. This reminded me of the law of conservation of energy.
In physics and chemistry, the law of conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another. I think this is a useful way to consider organizational and personal transformation. Rather than transformation meaning the death of an organization as it once was, it is useful to think of change initiatives as a recalibration of energy.
Another mental model I use to understand meaningful change is muscle growth and in particular catabolic and anabolic processes.
Anabolism and catabolism are the two sides of metabolism: the building up and breaking down components to maintain the function of the body and the balance of energy stores.
Catabolism, in brief, is the breakdown of large molecules into smaller ones. These molecules are broken into smaller units that are either oxidized to release energy or used in other anabolic reactions.
Anabolism is about growth and building. With anabolism, small, simple molecules are built up into larger, more complex ones.
Energy needs to break down so that our body can use it effectively.
When we work out, we essentially break down our muscles, then we feed them and the muscle recalibrates to adapt to the new stimulus (weight training for example). If we do not work hard enough, we do not get muscle breakdown. If we don’t get muscle breakdown, the muscle does not grow. If we continue to do the same exercises for a long period of time, we adapt to that new stimulus, and we plateau and no longer experience muscular growth.
Now, back to transformational strategy workshops or personal transformation.
When we work out cognitively, we break down our mental models, then feed our minds with new information. The new information influences new thinking. The new thinking encourages a new strategy. If we continue with the same strategy for a long period of time, the business environment changes; customer expectations shift, and we plateau and no longer experience organizational growth.
In a fitting way to finish this week’s Thursday Thought, it brings me full circle to end as I began. Pablo Picasso said, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction”, a muscle must break down in order to grow. An organization must experience chaos to rediscover order. An individual must encounter resistance to experience growth.
THANKS FOR READING
To open up the thinking of your team in a fun and engaging way, your team may enjoy our corporate workshops, designed to create Aha moments for you and your team to break the mental barriers we often encounter.
If you like this article, you might also like my book “Undisruptable: A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention for Individuals, Organisations, and Life” It is available anywhere you find books and is also available on audiobook.