Creating Tension

Michael Schrage has written about what great organisations do.

And his term for it is:

“Who do you want your customers to become?”

I think this is similar to asking “what change do you want to make?”.

Harley Davidson is an amazing brand, worth billions of dollars.  Not because they make the best bikes in the world, but because they’ve turned a group of “outsiders” into “insiders”.  These outsiders used to be disrespected and frowned upon.  But when these people come together they feel something.  Harley Davidson made change happen.

Why is it that so many people line up outside the Apple Store for the newest phone?  It’s because Apple has made us into consumers that now have good taste in digital goods.

If we are going to make change.  You and I – what change are we going to make with our work?

I think doing important work means you have to be the one “in the spot”.  To do important work means you have to choose to be the one in the spot.

Being in the spot doesn’t mean it’s your “job” to do the work, or that the “dummies guide” told you to do the work.  It doesn’t mean you’re doing it because “everyone else is doing it”.

The work that matters, the work that we have the chance to create in our lives, is never work that other people could do.  It’s never the work being done by lots and lots of people.

The work that matters is the type of work where people would miss you if you were gone.  The work that matters is the type of work where people would be sad if you stopped.

Most of use work in organisations.  And most organisations are obsessed with authority.  “Can he do that?” “How come he didn’t ask me if he could do that?”  “Can I do that?”  “Who has the authority?”  “Who has the authority to spend for this?”  “Give me a raise so I can tell other people what to do.”

And this search for authority informs most of the bureaucracies in our life.  If you only had more authority, the thinking goes, then you could get “on the spot” and do the work that matters.

Well, no one’s giving you authority any time soon.  But there is something else you can take any time you want; responsibility.

People who take responsibility get responsibility.  No one gives it to you, you take it.  And what comes with it is the willingness to give away credit.  If you are giving away credit and taking responsibility when things go wrong, there is a looooong line of people out the door who want to work with you.

And this is super hard.  Because not only do you have to go “on the spot” and say; “I am going to do this”, but then you have to be responsible for what happens next.

Which leads to this huge idea about change.  Because when we do work that matters, we are changing other people.

There are two problems when creating change in other people: other people don’t want to change and we (ourselves) don’t want to be responsible for creating change.  Tension in us, tension in them.

Think of a great artist from centuries ago.  Got someone?  They created art that was universally hated by everyone!  Whether it’s Jackson Pollock or Elvis.  That person is hated.  But that person says “No!” and says “I’m making it anyway!”.

But it’s ok, because it was their responsibility and they wanted to create a change.

Are you willing to create this tension?


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