Embracing Change, Evolution, and Growth

Stuart Young Illustration 1Change is good,” my art teacher whispered in my ear as he erased every pencil line I made in my attempt to accurately draw the life model. 25 years later, and those words still ring clear. With every endeavor and every new skill I wish to master, I only improve if I embrace change. As a trainer and lifelong learner, I find growth in learning and how we evolve over time deeply fascinating. So much so, that I thought I’d type a few words.

 

Change is Good

Stuart Young Illustration 2Let’s jump back to art college as I map out some key milestones along my life’s journey. The words, “change is good” continued to echo in my mind as I progressed to university to undertake a Design degree in Illustration. Now a small fish in a big pond, I was confronted with some pretty awesome illustrators. I’ll never forget how envious I was of the unique style one fellow student mastered from day one. But there was a flaw to this. The recurring message of “change” resounded from the tutors who seemed dissatisfied with the magnificent way this student would crack out the same drawing style. Consistency is good, right? Well, it’s wrong if it creates a fixed mind-set. I had 4 years at university to draw, draw, and draw again. My desire was to grow, fail, learn, and fail some more, and NOT play it safe.

Change is Hard

Stuart Young Illustration 4Zooming forward to a time when I supported adults with learning disabilities, it was apparent that change can be a bigger challenge for some. I had the good fortune of supporting individuals whose lives required structure, routine, and stability. Where possible, this was in the form of visual activity boards and person-centered plans. Yes, this sparked my passion for visualization as an enabler to enhance communication, but let’s park this as I focus on the theme of change!

So as I was saying: where possible, we did our very best to offer structure and stability. But, as you well know, life will inevitably throw a curveball, which for some can be incredibly traumatic and unsettling.

Oops Moments

Stuart Young Illustration 5My sister, who is a local school teacher, uses similar interventions to support children who also require a high level of routine and structure. One technique is using social stories to prepare individuals for change and another technique is using visual cards (yes, this was another example of the power of storyboarding and visual storytelling but I need to stop getting distracted by visual thinking!!!). Within the deck is an ‘Oops’ card, a card that symbolizes the ‘Oops’ or ‘oh-crap’ moments that life throws at us. For a pupil, this might equate to a fire alarm or an absent key worker. And for you, perhaps the discovery of a flat tire prior to an urgent journey.

Change and Agile Transformations

Stuart Young Illustration 6So how does this translate to the world of business? People who embrace “Agile ways of working,” will be familiar with the value of prioritizing, ‘responding to change over following a plan’ from The Agile Manifesto. Makes perfect sense, right? This is what we preach to individuals, teams, and businesses going through any type of transformation.

Trainers and coaches within this space will also draw up the faithful “J-curve of disruption” to explain the duration of time an organization will inevitably face pain and disruption in their pursuit to transform. But how often do we self-reflect? For that matter, I wonder how many people who advocate for it really and truly embrace change and feedback?

The Power of Feedback

On a personal level, I too may stumble when it comes to walking the talk. In the classroom we often make use of the Johari Window as a technique that helps people better understand their relationship with themselves and others.

The four quadrants, or windows, describe self-disclosure:

  • Arena – a space for things that are known to yourself and others
  • Façade – a space for things that are known by us and not by others
  • Blind spot – a space for things that are not known to us but known to others
  • Unknown – an area where you’re pretty screwed because these are the things that are unknown to you and others

Stuart Young Illustration 7With every model and technique, we must really absorb the learning and constantly self-reflect. If you think you’ve mastered this with your teams, make sure to take a step back and look at the situation objectively. Do you really know your blind-spots? Do you embrace the feedback you receive?

Feedback comes in many forms and whilst feedback should allow us to grow, growing pains certainly hurt!

Feedback Can Be Hard to Hear

I will never forget the first time I took to the stage to deliver my first Agile talk… or I should say that I’ll never forget the aftermath that followed. I was always shackled to the drawing board in the corner of the room or facilitating a workshop. So a few years back I decided to broaden my horizons and deliver a talk in front of an audience.

Stuart Young Illustration 9Overall, the experience and feedback was positive, bar the feedback from one individual. One individual with a mere 40k Twitter followers: Dave Snowden. Dave is best known for his thought leadership and expertise in systems theory, complexity theory, and sense making (all topics that will blow your mind). Dave is also rather vocal on social media and it’s fair to say he didn’t love the delivery or content of my talk. It was a tough pill for me to swallow, but a hell of a way to adapt and strive for improvement.

Now, years later, would he agree with the principles and ideas shared within this article? Probably not! Would he find flaws? Certainly. But would I be less wrong and more right than our first encounter? Probably, yes. Having since delivered many talks and hosted many events, I remain deeply grateful for the feedback I have received.

I often remind Dave of the deep dread I felt when I saw him sitting in the audience. He always responds with a gleeful smirk.

Think Fast and Change Faster

Stuart Young Illustration 10Those of you who know me well will most likely chuckle when I say that I was once a black belt in martial arts. I have to say, I’m chuckling to myself right now. I’m not entirely sure why I stuck to it for over a decade, but one thing’s for sure, the growth of learning was rapid. Why? Well, when someone’s hurtling through the air with all limbs blazing whilst headed in your direction, you have to think fast and change faster. If you forget to raise your guard, a foot could make contact with your nose and before you even realize what happened, everything is blurry. A sloppy guard will rapidly take shape into a strong one.

Certain life experiences do accelerate the speed of change and this is not different for businesses attempting to survive in a time of disruption.

The Speed of Change

I had the opportunity to host the Business Agility Conference in New York City. It was there that a line-up of awesome business agility executives, thought leaders, and practitioners took to the stage to tell their unique stories. There was a salient theme that resonated throughout their talks: Opposing a crisis. It was a fitting theme when Covid-19 was increasingly impacting the world around us.

Stuart Young Illustration 11Making light-hearted fun of the pressing situation, I joked of running a conference the following year for a ‘non-Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous’ world, with a Gannt chart in full construction and a list of must-have agenda items. If this were true, I would have received zero registrations, Why? Because disruption is the new norm and we live in a VUCA world. Period.

But what has this got to do with the speed of change I hear you say?

During a talk by Angel Diaz-Maroto (Certified Scrum Trainer and enterprise coach) on crisis simulation, he shared the sad news of the death of his father and how he had no choice but to adapt fast and learn from the experience. He went on to present a thought-provoking quote that should resonate with any individual, team or organization:

It takes a crisis to obtain the right mindset for change.

-Angel Diaz-Maroto

This was an “aha” moment for me. Consider a crisis that could impact a business model, prototype a defense, review, generate insights, and improve the process. Learn through doing, contingency plan, swarm, and strive for continuous improvement. Simple right? Well, with the right mindset for change and an awareness that change equals survival, it’s an important message.

Be Wrong to Get it Right

Stuart Young Illustration 12Back in 2015 I ventured to Phoenix, Arizona for my first Scrum Gathering where I experienced an unforgettable opening keynote by Mike Cohn: “Let go of Knowing: How holding onto views may be holding you back.” This is the man who has truly influenced and inspired the world of agility and yet here he was, informing a mass crowd that he has written a lot of books and said many things BUT he might have been wrong! Mike was exposing ways that our own personal bias may prevent us from questioning our assumptions and why being open to new views is hard but vital.

 

Open your minds and say whatever opinion I have might be right, but there’s a slight chance it might be wrong.

-Mike Cohn

He goes on to explain that this is confirmation bias: you seek to find confirmation that your beliefs and opinions are correct. These are the very points that I evangelize:

  • The importance of team collaboration and fast feedback
  • Why the key to innovation is to embrace diversity of thought
  • Why teams must continuously validate and test ideas collectively

These principles reverberate with the views of Mark Manson in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@ck. Mark describes some poorly thought through life values that will not lead to happiness or growth. Top of the list was “being right,” followed by, “certainty being the enemy of growth.”

Being wrong opens us up to the possibility of change. Being wrong offers the opportunity for growth.

-Mark Manson

In Summary

At this point, you might be wondering, ‘So Stu, who is this article really for, individuals, teams, or organizations?’ My response would be, it always starts with you.

Now this is the part where I should say, ‘don’t go changing,’ BUT perhaps I should say ‘do go changing.’ But have fun along the way and grow a little. I’ll leave you with one final quote from Joseph Chilton Pearce.

“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong”.
-Joseph Chilton Pearce

Stuart Young Illustration 13

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Stuart Young, Certified Scrum Trainer and Visual Storyteller
Stuart Young, Certified Scrum Trainer and Visual Storyteller