you should get out more


As I have done my work this week I have seen an interesting pattern in workplace behaviour. It has left me searching for the workplace equivalent of the social expression, ‘you should get out more’.

Nearly everything I do is about change. Understanding it, designing it. Working with change in the external world (structure, products, processes etc) is a piece of cake compared to cultivating internal change – attitudes, perspectives etc. But the real work of change is actually about the latter, and I have been curiously observing the different ways people approach a potentially different future.

In a nutshell: people who have experienced lots of change, either of their own choosing or not, respond much better to the invitation to consider thinking and working differently. Apparently, our capacity to live and work effectively though change is like a physical muscle, the more we exercise it the stronger it gets.

But perhaps this should not surprise us. If we have only ever done one job, lived in one place, related within the same community, then our worldview is by definition a narrow one. It doesn’t necessarily follow, but his can sometimes lead to an inflated view of our own expertise because we have not had to use it in contexts where it doesn’t polish up as well. Our repertoire of responses is cultivated by our experience of life.

It follows of course that if we want innovation and agility at work, we must provide opportunities for people to see things from different vantage points. “Every point of view is a view from a point” so the most effective way to change our point of view, or at least to entertain the possibility that our point of view is not exclusively true and therefore explore alternatives, is to change the point from which we are viewing. The short term pain of having people move around, sideways and into different departments, will be rewarded by a broader perspective and greater intelligence in the long term.

In the mid eighties I read an article that contained a double page image of a road winding around and through hills and mountains; it was about being  ‘a lifelong learner’. I was 5 years into my adult life, each year of which had catapulted me forward in my appreciation of life and people. I was intoxicated by the prospect that I could experience that kind of learning for the years and decades ahead.

However at the time I romantically imagined that my learning would come primarily through the books … I’m not the bookworm type, I rarely read fiction – but for me it was about interacting with authors and their ideas through their writing. I now know that real learning, the kind that genuinely increases our repertoire of responses to what life serves up, comes from the different situation and contexts from within which we have had to negotiate life.

So, let’s identify the ruts we find ourselves in and get out of them, at work and in life. There is a place for stability, and continuity; but lets not confuse that with maturity and excellence which comes from growth and comes only from seasonal changes and the requirement to navigate life from within diverse circumstances.