If you have ever seen a Dale Chihuly sculpture, you know that they are a montage of intertwined glass in vibrant colors, with different shapes and colors assembled in unique and visually captivating forms.
Chihuly’s work reminds me of yesterday’s dot, about how the Smithsonian curated a collection of John F. Kennedy photographs purchased from eBay. The exhibit exclusively utilized ordinary artifacts and made them special by their compilation. In a similar way, Chihuly utilizes individual pieces of glass that are not spectacular by themselves, but create stunning works of arts through their arrangement.
I think that too often we believe that greatness or creativity must be ONE.BIG.THING. — a monumental discovery, an epic piece of art or a product that is truly magnificent. What Chihuly and the Smithsonian demonstrate is that little things can add up to create something with synergy greater than the individual pieces. Dots that are connected can result in something amazing and new, even though the components are not so special if considered alone.
Don’t let your fear of the mountain prevent you from taking that first step. Start from where you are, with what you have, and see if you don’t end up with something noteworthy by putting together the ordinary in new ways.
As I think of the dot number today (1939), I am reminded of that year when Hitler invaded Poland and World War II began. It was the trigger event that started the war, but it got me wondering what led up to that event. First Hitler had to come to power. He had to choose Poland as a place to invade first. He had to negotiate a nonaggression pact with Poland in 1934 “to neutralize the possibility of a French-Polish military alliance against Germany before Germany had a chance to rearm.”* He had to assemble and equip an army. And a thousand other things occurred within Germany, Poland and the world to set the stage for the initial invasion to happen.
I wonder what the first domino was that started this horrific chain of events. More so, I wonder what dominoes are in play right now and are lining up for other events to happen. You could cite steps leading to climate change or the state of U.S. politics, but, closer to home, think about the dominoes in your organization. What small steps are happening now that seem insignificant, but eventually will take on greater prominence – either for good or ill?
Consider who is in your talent pipeline – will that brand new hire become CEO after a few decades – or does the departure of a key employee alter the trajectory of the organization? Is that preliminary research into a new market what will cause your growth to explode? Is there an idea that is percolating now which will eventually become the main focus of your work? Is someone making a decision that puts the organization at a crossroads with its values and will determine its future path?
Hitler didn’t wake up on September 1, 1939 and decide to invade Poland; that strategy was in the works for years before. Who knows what is in the works today.
We can’t predict the future, but we can watch for signs that will alert us to what is already in process and more likely to manifest itself into reality. Pay attention to the “dots” as the inertia of the universe is compelled to connect them with something.
There is magic in doing something right away instead of putting it off — even for a short while.
When I wait too long to get to a bigger project, I struggle to start vs. when I “take a few notes” and start in on it right away. I find that when I write blog entries soon after I get the idea that they are better; old ideas tend to linger and then feel forced. When I outline a session I am presenting right after talking to the client, I get further along with the new training than the one that has been sitting on my desk for a month.
If I take that first step before I have time to dread it, the second steps easily follow. But if I think about something too long, I am apt to talk myself out of it more times than I talk myself into something.
Don’t let your energy dwindle as something lingers on your to-do list. Try to make it a habit to attend to something sooner rather than later. Later almost always equates to longer.
Yesterday as I was folding my laundry, I thought about that elusive sweet spot when things are worn in, but not worn out: when sheets are no longer stiff, but are not tattered; the shoes fit comfortably, but aren’t scuffed, or the pillow has that right consistency of not being too fluffy nor too flat.
I wish I could buy things at this stage of their life cycle, but then, of course, their lifespan would be too short. Part of the natural course is to tolerate some imperfection in exchange for longevity. I have my hair cut a bit on the short side so it isn’t shaggy before my next appointment. I know if I leave with a length that I like, I will regret it on the back end so my stylist and I make accommodations.
As a user, you need to align your expectations so that you don’t abandon an initiative or a product too early in the process. You should expect some rough spots in the beginning — whether that be of your new purchase or your foray into a new venture. It takes time to create comfort. Have patience and allow the sheets to soften or the change to settle before you make a switch at the start.
On the very first day at a job, I was in a meeting where people were complaining about the acoustics in the room. I got up, walked out into the hallway and brought the fake ficus tree into the corner of where we were gathered. It wasn’t perfect, but it went a long way in doing two things: 1) it did help with the sound bounce and 2) it signaled to the staff that actions were valued more than complaints.
When you are new — whether in a new job, in a new role or even on a new committee — it is important to do things early in your tenure that result in visible changes. They don’t have to be monumental, but a series of small improvements sends a loud and clear message that change is a good thing. During my first 100 days on the job, I compiled a list of the 100 things that we had done differently. It was a great way to step back and reflect over the first few months and show people that improvements were happening.
Often it takes some time learning and strategizing for impact to be made on the really big projects that you face. That work is essential, but so is continuing the momentum that comes with a person in a new role. Don’t let the initial energy fade while you are working behind the scenes. Instead, be sure you start with actions people can point to. The short-term visible changes will reassure you and others that good things are happening because of your presence.
[For an extensive resource in this area, see The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins]
Over the weekend, I attended a big band concert where the venue was set up in such a way that provided a dance floor in front of the stage. Throughout the first set, the conductor kept encouraging people to come forward to dance.
No one did.
Until one couple stepped out onto the floor.
Suddenly, dozens of couples made their way to the front and danced to the rhythm of the music. The band, the dancers and even the rest of the audience had a more enjoyable time because of the extra level of participation in front.
Can you be like the first couple the next time opportunity presents itself? Do you have the courage to step forward and be first, even if it may be a bit uncomfortable? Are you confident enough to be in the lead instead of waiting to follow?
The risk of being the first dancer was fairly low. None of the people on the dance floor were Dancing-with-the-Stars-worthy, and no one really cared about their form. What mattered was that they started.
Take a lesson from the dancers and raise your hand (or feet) the next time you receive an invitation. Don’t be a wallflower on the dance floor or at work and wait for others to set the tempo.
The U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1787, and the first ten Amendments to it were ratified in 1791, just four years later. In the subsequent 225 years, there have only been a dozen more Amendments. Not only is this a story about America, I think it is also a model for how most change happens. It is difficult getting the initial concepts from idea to paper, and then it is often challenging to get that concrete delineation of change ratified. Once something is spelled out in writing, it gains clarity, and often this means that what is made clear by the writer is not what others thought it would be. Once the idea is approved, details must be decided that were either not thought of or not articulated in the initial proposal. I believe this is akin to the Bill of Rights; things were clarified shortly after passage of the Constitution that were not considered or codified in the initial document. When a new process or program is introduced is when the most decisions must be made, as there is no precedent or clear interpretation of what was intended. But after a change is in effect for a period, people adjust and understand the parameters and fewer major modifications are required. The change also becomes ingrained; it would be incredibly difficult to abolish or even rewrite the Constitution today. The next time you are trying to enact a major change, follow the constitutional model. Get approval as soon as you are able for the broad initial constructs. Clarify or amend shortly thereafter to provide the detail necessary for implementation, and then let time take over to help the “change” become accepted as the “normal.” (This is why “piloting” something works so well; it reduces the barriers to start and inertia takes over to help build momentum towards permanence.) America is a different place than when the Founders took out their quills and penned the initial document, but the change process remains as consistent as the Constitution itself. Think about that the next time you want to create your own revolution. — beth triplett leadershipdots.blogspot.com @leadershipdots firstname.lastname@example.org