When Change Smacks You In The Face With Your Own Story
Chris Houstonon 04 September, 2015 at 11:09
As helpful as organizational programs, techniques, and consistent strategic priorities are to turning vision into action, there is one essential ingredient to meaningful cultural change – a personal change of heart and mind. We call it metanoia.
In this series of posts, we’re looking at the 7 marks of the essential experience of metanoia outlined in the 7 Essentials for Culture Change. In this post, we’ll look at the 6th mark: metanoia gives us deeper knowledge of our own story.
Throughout my father’s 70-plus year—and counting— career, the sheer volume of publications that he’s produced has been a persistent source of intimidation.
As I have found myself compelled to share my own insights about a shift I sensed in the attitudes of consumers and employees that is reshaping the nature of business, I also came face-to-face with my narrative as the son of a prodigious writer of thoughtful and profound insights. This compelling desire to share something I found deeply encouraging brought me face to face with my own sense of inadequacy. It seemed that I could not engage the one without the other.
My father has always encouraged me to pursue my own path, to be different from him, to explore and celebrate my own uniqueness. Yet I found myself in his territory, as a fledgling writer, intimidated by the enormity of his output itself, a sharp contrast to the work and life of his father, my grandfather.
Such is the nature of metanoia—it brings us face-to-face with our own story.
I remember the conversation as if it were yesterday. I was thirteen and choosing which courses at school to which I should apply my rather haphazard intellectual efforts. Seeking some insight at home, I exclaimed, “Dad, should I do geography or German?”
My father, the professor of Geography in an Oxford college, replied unambiguously, “Why, you should study German, of course.”
The memory of that occasion has given me a lifetime of professional latitude, especially as I was later to turn down an available PhD program in order to pursue a life as a peripatetic management consultant, living in a domain that was far removed from the halls of academia where I had been raised. He might have served me even better if he had asked, “What would you prefer?”, but I know it was his intention to celebrate my gifts and uniqueness that moved him to affirm my freedom to choose a path different than his.
So when it finally dawned on me that the change of heart and mind that was to become “Telosity” was leading me inexorably toward writing, and perhaps one day public speaking, I found myself confronting this very personal aspect of my own story. Metanoia does that.
Metanoia causes us to engage more deeply not just with what we think, but with who we really are. [TWEET THAT!]
Consider the fictional story of Amina Sankar.
The analytics company Amina had co-founded with a friend of her aunt’s had flourished by any standards of reckoning. Now fifteen years old, her company had become the industry’s gold standard, a price and market share leader. Amina was at the top of her game as CEO, and had been for some time. She was respected at her company and in the community, and was a role model other South Asian entrepreneurs looked up to.
Occasionally, though some of the company’s clients grumbled that the success was breeding a little too much hubris. But as customers flocked to their annual user conference where the latest innovations were unveiled, both confidence and valuation were rising steadily. However, the considerable pricing power that Amina’s company had built was also causing a groundswell of resistance, even resentment, to their latest offerings.
As with so many innovations and one-product companies, time and competition would eventually catch up. Innovation was mandatory. This realization had dawned on Amina with piercing clarity, and persuaded her to pursue a fundamental shift in business strategy over the last year.
But the new launch was not going well.
As she drove to the office early one morning, Amina found herself reflecting on the present dilemma. Before the latest product release, Amina had been very confident that they had some critical insights that their clients had missed. Instead of the gratitude they usually expressed when her company provided such insights, they were angry and disappointed, showing signs of considerable resistance to the major innovation she had been driving the business toward for over twelve months. There was something strangely familiar in the voices she heard on the numerous phone calls she had taken over the last week; calls from disgruntled CEOs whose businesses she had, according to them at least, now placed in some difficult circumstances.
It took her the better part of the commute to recognize in their strident criticism the ringing tones of her aunt, who had served as her guardian and mentor following the death of her own mother when she was six. Despite providing a home and stable platform for growth, her aunt had been a hard woman, critical before complementary. Amina sometimes joked that her aunt saw the glass as, “half empty… and leaking.” Her vocal skepticism that Amina would ever succeed as a woman in business, much less a South Asian one at that, had fueled Amina through years of maturity as a leader and CEO. The echoes of that familiar critical voice, long since muted by age and distance, were as fresh as ever and still packed quite a punch.
For a few weeks following that flurry of critical calls, Amina felt a shroud of doubt envelop her leadership. Did she really have a strategy insight worthy of putting all she had built at risk? What if the more skeptical clients were right? What if her aunt saw things as they truly were? Maybe she had been a “one-hit-wonder” and run with a single bright idea. Was a second revolutionary idea simply too much to hope for?
Amina began to sift through her memory to recall how she had worked past the critical voice of her aunt and wondered again if she could find what she needed for this challenge that evoked such painful personal struggles once again.
The business argument she had fashioned was unassailable, of that she was sure. But would her confidence hold up? Would she be able to summon enough courage to see the changes through? That was a question only time would answer.
For other posts in the Telosity series, click here.