A friend once said that “paint was the coolest invention.” That thought always stuck with me because when you think about it, it really is an amazing tool. Paint has the ability to transform a space – and with relative ease and reasonable cost.
Paint is that elusive item that can create a big impact but requires little effort to implement. Think about what the equivalent of paint is for your organization. What can you do to realize results in the short term without a significant investment? Perhaps it is allowing employees a day to work from home. Maybe it is rearranging your reception area. Or maybe it’s making that call to a partner and finally agreeing to work together on a project. Or it could be literally painting a wall – in your home or office – to make a statement with color.
Another benefit of paint is that it’s not permanent. It can last a long time if you want it to, or you can repaint tomorrow. And so it goes with change. Try something. Experiment. Start. And if it doesn’t work out, you can always apply another coat and try again.
To set a 1910 context for the movie Seabiscuit, the film starts out by describing the newly-invented Model T. When Ford began producing the car, it required 13 hours to assemble. Within five years, a vehicle rolled out every 90 seconds. “The real invention wasn’t the car,” the movie narrator claimed, “It was the assembly line that built it.” The process of building a car was replicated by other businesses and let to the industrial era of automation.
There have been other inventions that became a linchpin for others to use in new ways: the touch screen ushered in kiosks, smartphones, and tablets. The chimney allowed for skyscrapers and multi-level buildings which resulted in urban centers. ATM machines created a culture of self-service in industries far beyond banking.
But all transformative changes don’t need to occur through technology. Think of smaller enhancements you can create that have a ripple effect throughout your organization or beyond. Your onboarding process becomes a model for others in your profession. A new way of pricing is replicated by others (think subscription services). A whistleblower documents a complaint and inspires others to have the courage to do the same – changing the trajectory of leadership in the organization. You take the time to document a process and it enables others to build on your learning and achieve results that would have initially seemed impossible.
We often focus on the end results and only with time can we come to appreciate the true impact of our work. Keep building your equivalent of the Model T, realizing that your assembly line could turn out to be the real gem.
Clif Bar believes so strongly in the value of going organic that they offered to share their expertise to help their largest competitor (Mars’ brand Kind Bars) transition to using more organic materials. In the New York Times, Clif challenged Kind to “make an investment in the future of the planet and our children’s children by going organic.” Clif offered to give away not just their knowledge about how to go organic but added in 10 tons of organic ingredients as an incentive. Talk about living your values!
Clif made this offer because they see their purpose as bigger than making energy bars. Their aim is higher than making any one product; their goal is to impact the food system and increase the use of organic throughout the country. As part of this effort, they are not only challenging Kind but also serve as the largest private funder of organic research in the country.
For Clif, the goal of organic is bigger than sales, and they have recognized that they need to inspire partners to work with them to achieve it. It reminded me of that old adage about the bricklayer not just laying bricks or even building a wall, but as someone who saw his job as helping to build a cathedral.
How high is your organization’s vision? Have you inspired people to work for a cause or are you mired down in making products? You may know the answer to that if you’re willing to share your knowledge with a competitor in order to achieve it.
If you need an example of the difference one person can make, look no further than the story of J. Irwin Miller. Mr. Miller was a businessman, philanthropist and lover of architecture and he dedicated his passion toward transforming his hometown of Columbus, Indiana. Through his vision and with support of his foundation, Columbus has become a “global mecca of architectural achievement.” The town of 45,000 has 7 national historic landmarks and over 90 buildings and works of public art by America’s most celebrated architects including I. M. Pei and Eero Saarinen.
Miller was a businessman who knew that his community needed to recruit and retain workers, and he believed that architecture helped make a town more desirable as a place to live. “I would like to see this community come to be the very best community of its size in the country,” he said. Backing up his words, the Cummins Foundation that he ran would pay the fees of the notable architects on its list for any community building project. Thus, over 60 buildings — the post office, churches, library, schools, shopping mall and more — came to be designed by some of the industry’s greats. In turn, Columbus has become a tourist destination, attracting thousands of visitors each year to tour the collection of modern architecture throughout the town.
It was said of Mr. Miller that “he could, and he did.” He led by example in striving for excellence and became a role model for others who saw his vision and invested in the community. Take a lesson from him and think big about the role you can play in your small world.
Learn more about Columbus here.
Organizations often have a paradoxical challenge when trying to implement change: their aspirations are too small and their implementation plans are too big. Through work I’m doing with the Alia Innovation Cohort, I was introduced to a model that addresses both ends of the spectrum.
The Change Framework, developed by School Retool, starts with the identification of a big Aspiration – an inspiring, clear vision of why you are doing the work of change. Next, a short list of Behaviors are identified –if you achieved the aspiration what behaviors would you see. It is easy to have a lofty aspiration, but making it concrete by specifying what it would look like in action helps to design a few Big Ideas toward achieving the desired behaviors. Big Ideas are evidence-informed ideas that could be game-changers – if accomplished they would lead to the behaviors that would achieve the aspiration. Finally, implementation occurs through Hacks – small pilot projects or experiments to learn what achieves movement toward the Big Idea and what doesn’t.
Examples from School Retool help to illustrate the framework in action. The project adopted an aspiration to create “Deeper Learning”. Behaviors that illustrate Deeper Learning included seeing more students engaged in projects and an increase in student voice. Some of the Big Ideas include peer-to-peer learning programs, making learning relevant and making student work public. From there, you can imagine the hundreds of hacks that could move a school closer to achieving its Big Idea. For Alia’s work in reimagining the child welfare system, the aspiration is “Family connections are always preserved and strengthened” with behaviors of fewer children in out-of-home placements, increased community involvement and a shift in the mindset of staff.
If you are engaged in transformation efforts – and who isn’t these days – give the Change Framework a try. Articulating the model’s components in a concise manner will go a long way toward helping you actually achieve the change you desire. [More on hacks and levers of change tomorrow.]
For a copy of the framework, click here.
I recently was at a restaurant and saw several college students wearing team apparel from my former school. While I was at that university, I played a significant role to get their team approved as a new sport and I doubt it would have been established this year without those efforts. I thought about how those students did not even notice me, let alone know me, but through the work I was involved in, it changed the course of their lives. Not having that sport would have likely meant them not going to that college — which would equate to a different (not necessarily better or worse) trajectory for their future.
Maybe this situation struck me because it had such a clear connection to actions with which I was involved: I chaired the committee and now players are here. But I think of the thousands of actions we have all taken that have impacted lives without us having a clue.
Perhaps the party you held resulted in a marriage and children for two attendees, and their grandchild becomes the one to cure cancer. Maybe a phone call that you made delayed a departure and averted an accident. Whether it was the side business that you started, the independent contractor you hired, the volunteer position you held, the friendships you cultivated or the creative works you put out into the world – all of these actions have impacted others in ways that we will never know.
What is certain is that all of your behaviors are having an impact whether it is clear to you or not. Don’t rely on the tangible or visible to measure your worth. Just by being you you’re altering the course of history.
Most organizations track some data points and behaviors but often these are measures of actions that have already occurred. The lagging indicators are like autopsy reports: they tell an important story but do little to change the present circumstances.
One way to overcome this is to reimagine the types of things that you track. The School Retool project monitors “uncommon measures” that allow then to forecast outcomes before they happen through paying attention to connected behaviors. My favorite example: to assess the level of trust in a school they looked at whether ketchup was freely available in the cafeteria or whether it had to be requested. Schools that trusted their students to properly use condiments also had high levels of trust in other areas like student voice. Ketchup is, of course, not the only indicator they considered, but it did provide clues to other key behaviors they were monitoring.
Rutgers University wanted to assess student conduct so looked at the logs of students who had been transported to the hospital because of excessive alcohol use. They merged multiple data sets to find that football games with lopsided scores resulted in a greater number of transports, allowing them to proactively anticipate and try to head off conduct violations.
Zappos founder Tony Hsieh monitors collisions – which he defines as “serendipitous personal encounters” – as a way gauge not only the culture of his company but the to assess the community feel of the Downtown Project, an urban renewal project he is spearheading in Las Vegas. There he monitors the number of “collisionable hours per acre” as his measure of success.
Personally, I use an uncommon measure for a puppy’s future obedience and companionship by its tolerance for being held upside down and having its belly rubbed. I watch for blog follows from people I do not know as greater predictors of success than likes from pre-existing friends or fans.
It is easy to monitor the same things that everyone else does, but what does your intuition tell you about the small behaviors that forecast the larger actions you desire? Measure those and you may find uncommon success in your goal achievement.
Sources: www.schoolretool.org: watch the great 4-minute “Uncommon Measures” video with several more examples
A University Took an Uncommonly Close Look at Its Student-Conduct Data. Here’s What it Found. By Dan Bauman in The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 24, 2018
Tony Hsieh example in The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, 2018, p. 66.