It can be quite depressing sometimes, looking at the world and thinking how much needs to change. All those wrong turns we’ve taken as a society valuing the wrong things for the wrong reasons (we’re pretty much the first generation, for instance, who don’t see our principal role as that of passing on the lessons of the past; but we are the first to see elderly parents as an encumbrance best out-sourced to “care” homes). Such societal wrongs seem to provoke three reactions: the ostrich-like ignoring of the reality; the shrug of the shoulder, what-can-one-do acceptance of the status quo; and the radical, up-with-this-I-will-not-put of the change agent. It was, of course, Marx who said that: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world…the point is to change it“. However, despite my rather iconoclastic thinking, I’ve never been much of a sans culottes revolutionary. In fact, I’ve always been rather suspicious of the action-orientated eager beavers rushing overhead frantically making things happen.
For me, change is always more effective when it comes from within; and, to that end, I prefer to influence it and let it happen in its own good time. Change rarely works when it’s forced on either an individual or an organisation. Real change occurs when the person is themselves the agent rather than the object. And the gestation period for that moment of self-realisation differs by person, organisation and issue. The natural process of change can be helped by thinkers, and coaches. By providing a questioning environment they in effect give permission for people to think and feel differently and to realise that there is no rule book which states that life had to turn out this way.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I’m beginning to sense that more and more people are beginning to question why things are the way they are and how, perhaps, they can start to change. Two things recently helped to reinforce my view. The first was a marvellous personal event, that of my daughter’s graduation. She was one of nearly 200 young people receiving her BSc in psychology (at the same ceremony there were also around 25 MSc graduates and half a dozen PhDs.). It occurred to me that the huge explosion in the popularity of this subject can only be a good thing for society. Equipping a whole generation of future leaders with the knowledge, interest and scientific understanding of how people think and behave the way they do must be a positive development. Using evidence-based research to consider the effect of both nature and nurture on human behaviour will help us better understand how we can positively impact the society we live in.
The second event was reading a blog. http://blog.wcgworld.com The author (a communications thought leader and himself a PhD Experimental Psychologist) wrote about an MBA class lecture he gave on reputation. What was interesting was less the content of the lecture and more the way he described how these future business leaders addressed their group exercise. Faced with three major corporate issues, the class responded by seeing the solution as being proactive transparency and stakeholder engagement.
Bit by bit we are seeing people question action-orientated leadership, management by results, and a sole focus on shareholder value. Slowly but surely, we are seeing a more mindful approach creep into business, including a growing move towards long-term thinking and environmental sustainability. We need to nurture these thoughts and allow people to feel comfortable challenging current social norms. For instance, rather than accepting that the political debate must be dominated by the demand for growth we should recognise that true happiness is rarely found in mindless acquisition.
I believe that the current zeitgeist has entered the first stage of change, that of questioning. Let’s pause and celebrate, but recognise the inevitability of gradualism.