Perhaps I am a man with a hammer who sees nails everywhere, but I find inspiration for The Thursday Thought in many places. This week was while listening to my background music reading playlist. It includes James Blake’s “Forest Fire”. For those who don’t know it, I have embedded it below. It includes the lyrics, “I hope you’ll stop me before I’ll build a world around me. We need a forest fire.” I interpret the lyrics to relate to a couple, who need a forest fire to burn away dead wood and release new potential. The line, “before I’ll build a wall around me” is of particular interest for this week’s Thursday Thought. First, let’s unlock why a forest fire is necessary.
Forest Fires: We Need a Forest Fire
While wildfires cause horrifying destruction, they are essential for the renewal of natural ecosystems. Without wildfires, some plants mature, deteriorate, or die without ever realising their potential. Trees, fauna and foliage in regions prone to fires have adapted in fascinating ways. For example, some trees produce resin-coated cones containing mature seeds. When fire breaks out, the resulting heat melts the resin around the cones and releases the seeds. Other forest plants contain seeds that have a thick outer coating, these seeds need the fire to burn off their outer husk to release the inner seed.
In a similar way, what seems to be a crisis can unlock new potential. Many of us have experienced this in our lives. What seems like a disaster can often redirect us to a better place.
Fire Walls: Stop Me Before I’ll Build a Wall Around Me
Next, let’s explore the lyric “I hope you’ll stop me before I’ll build a wall around me.” In forest fire prevention, the term firebreak refers to a purposeful gap in vegetation or other combustible material that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a wildfire. Natural firebreaks include rivers and canyons. I believe that is what James Blake is referring to and in the case of his relationship, he means he will build a wall around himself, so he can no longer be hurt by others. But here is the major point I want to make, there is a limited window to have the forest fire after that window is closed, and the opportunity is missed. This is why I lead this week with an image of Indiana Jones grabbing his hat just in time.
When it comes to change management, transformation efforts and innovation initiatives, leaders have a limited window before they can initiate a necessary forest fire.
Our guest on this week’s Innovation Show, Helena Boschi tells us, that changing behaviour involves complex neural coordination among multiple brain areas, but if we do not do it quickly it is often too late. The longer we linger over a decision, the harder it is to make a change. Think about it, if we procrastinate over a decision (without publicly making a commitment to change), we often end up doing nothing at all. As we grow older, the communication between the prefrontal cortex and the frontal eye field of our brains slows down and it becomes even more difficult to change our minds. Our mindsets crystallize. Just as our brains have a time window for change, so do leaders when they take charge or when they announce a major restructure of their organisations.
Limited Time Frames
When an organisation experiences an unexpected change in the business environment, it must act fast. Once the tectonic plates of disruption reshuffle the landscape, things never return to the state they once were. Denying this reality and ignoring weak or strong signals in the environment is a sure path to disruption. When leaders initiate change efforts but fail to communicate that effort to the wider organisation, the status quo immune response activates. The fastest way to undermine a change effort is to allow this resistance to gain momentum. It catches leaders off guard how resistance can grow to unmanageable proportions and establish a solid foothold in very short timeframes.
Organisations, like individuals, need a forest fire every so often, otherwise the deadwood piles up and latent potential remains trapped. When we burn off the deadwood in the form of legacy products, dying business (and mental) models and employee turnover, we create space for new growth and the saplings of change. In today’s business world of rapid change, we need to be in charge of the forest fire and control the burn before it runs amok.
THANKS FOR READING
2 Episodes with Helena Boschi are live on all our channels. They focus on her book, “Why We Do What We Do: Understanding our brain to get the best out of ourselves and others”