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“I want to do things differently.”

I hear this A LOT. Do I see it a lot? No. Not so much. It seems to be to be the biggest desire of people wanting to succeed, wanting to make an impact and to be noticed for the good work they’re doing, but it is rare that I meet people who know how or are willing to do it.

I had a meeting recently with a Learning & Development director for a large organisation. He talked about wanting to do things differently with respect to the development of their managers. I was there because I represented this difference to them. My experience, knowledge and expertise is not from within their organisation and the objective perspective I bring has a lot of value. I asked what ‘different’ looked like to him, to gain an insight into his appetite for change. He said they were looking to roll out an off-the-shelf resilience training package for middle managers. (I feel like this is worthy of a Pinter pause). This is someone who is very bright, energetic, well-read in psychology and approaches to systems thinking, and yet this was his idea of ‘different’. It didn’t feel very revolutionary to me, but this is a trap we can all fall into so easily. Our world view is built up of the experiences we have accumulated since birth and the same is said for organisations from their inception, fortified by societal norms and the wider cultural context. Breaking free of old patterns of thinking is long, hard work requiring a commitment to change. I don’t write this to shame or belittle the endeavour of this man and the company but I felt like the energy, passion and wisdom I had encountered in him was being blocked at the point of creativity. What else could be possible with those resources?

This restricted thinking and means of progressing plays into what transactional analysis calls ‘Life Scripts’ (Eric Berne, The Mind In Action, 1949). Our ways of thinking, behaving and responding to situations are determined in early childhood. The ‘script’ is written then, and rehearsed and performed throughout our childhood and into adulthood. A matrix of scripts protect us from perceived danger and hurt and operate to self-preserve. Growth and change threaten self-preservation but conversely self-preservation must be inherent in order for growth and change to happen. This lived narrative will influence all aspects of our self in and out of work. It is not just present in individuals. Organisations have their own scripts that are written over time, we might recognise it as the ‘culture’ of the organisation and for anyone who has attempted ‘culture change’ you will know how like turning a juggernaut that can be to influence and transform. By recognising the script patterns of a team or organisation it is possible to do the steady work of unpicking them and working new and more productive/healthy narratives into the system. There are a number of questions you can work together as a team to answer that will begin to unlock the organisational script for you and enable you to begin to bring about real transformational change and truly do things differently. Here are a couple to get you started…

  • In a sentence, what is this organisation about?
  • As a visitor what might strike you within five minutes?
  • What are the symbols of power?
  • How do things get done in this organisation?

Discussing these, and further questions with your teams can lead to some revealing aspects of the culture of your organisation and allow you a window into change that had previously been obscured.

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” Albert Einstein

To do things differently we must first be willing to change ourselves. To move our perspectives, re-evaluate our boundaries and review our relationships with others. Its tough stuff but if you really want to do things differently, to succeed in new ways, first you must be prepared to do the work.