It’s Not the Cynic Who Counts

I want to start off this post with a very open admission – yes, the title to this blog post is meant to invoke the famous Teddy Roosevelt speech at the Sorbonne in Paris on April 23, 1910… the one that tends to be described as “The Man in the Arena”. Now that we’ve got that properly settled, let’s move on.

I’m a little nerdy when it comes to the topic of the culture of organizations, groups and teams.  I’ve always liked being part of teams and found tremendous amounts of energy and purpose from being part of something larger than myself striving towards a common goal.  The magic of uniting with like-minded folks and trying to figure out how each of our unique talents, experience and viewpoints can contribute to that goal is endlessly fascinating to me.  I’ve only come to appreciate that in a very keen sense the last several years.  It explains my current role in “Employee Experience” where I work and the masters degree in applied psychology I am oh-so-close to completing with the University of Southern California.

One thing that’s caught my attention of late is what it takes to make changes in these group environments.  Without delving too deeply into all the nuances and psychological underpinnings of change management, there’s one spot that has been on my mind: resistance.  It’s one of the inevitables of seeking change because… well… we as humans don’t always cozy up to change real quickly.  Hell, I know I don’t.

But in group change dynamics, the resistance can come in the form of not just skepticism, but genuine cynicism.  “Oh look at you… thinking you’ll fix all this.  That’s adorable.  Let me spoil the ending since I’ve seen this movie a few hundred times before at this place – ain’t gonna work.  But hey, good luck with your fun.”  Well I’m fired up to conquer the world now – how about you? *insert highly-vexed eyeroll emoji*

Now, the people who take this view could actually have very valid and well-earned cynicism – maybe they have seen flavor-of-the-month change efforts come and go, each time brought forward through some new leader who wants to make his or her stamp on their organization, but who really wasn’t committed to making the change… just to the appearance of it.  It’s hard to criticize anyone for getting tired of seeing fake change that smacks of insincerity.  I get it.  And in any smart change effort, the resistors and cynics do need to be accounted for in making an earnest change.

Here is my caution in all of this and the point of this entire post: planning for people who aren’t on board with making a change is smart, but they aren’t the ones who will count, especially when they are likely a vocal minority.  If you have a good idea, but discount it or even totally scale it back because of the cynics, you’re likely missing out on creating a rallying point to the far larger (but much quieter) majority that is looking for someone to step forward to advocate zealously for much-needed change.  I’ve seen this happen time and time again in my career on scales both small and vast.

Don’t water down your ideas or pull your punches because of the negative few.  They may have valid perspective, but they aren’t worth caving your efforts over.  The many who stay silent may very well be doing so because they have hope, but are looking for that bold soul to step forward as the catalyst.  And maybe that catalyst is you.

Giving Good Ideas Their Proper Credit (Even If They Make You A Bit Sad)

One of my absolute favorite memories growing up were Saturday mornings – shocker eh?  I had my own little routine of coming downstairs, popping on the Superfriends and pulling out my big bag of Legos to spread out on the floor and create whatever came to mind.  As corny as it sounds, it was kind of magical and just one of those moments that puts me in a good state of mind whenever I think back on it.

Today, my primary outlet for Legos is through my nephews who have inherited the obsession with these fantastic building bricks from Denmark.  I tell ya, if something’s rotten in the state of Denmark, it ain’t Legos.  I will confess a certain amount of jealousy about how freakin’ cool the new Lego sets are, especially the Star Wars stuff (which my nephews go bananas over).

But Legos are going in a bold new direction in the very near future, one that I am both fascinated and a little saddened by.  Lego Universe is coming and the little bricks will never be the same:

I first saw this over on Gizmodo, a really cool tech and gadget site.  Lego Universe is basically the idea of virtual Legos wrapped up into a MMO (massively multiplayer online game – think along the lines of World of Warcraft, but more for kids).  You create characters, adventure through the game to earn all sorts of bricks that you take back to a creation area and build whatever you want.  According to Gizmodo, there may even be the option of getting your creations delivered to you in real life so you can go old school and play around with physical Lego bricks.

Believe it or not, I’ve actually been giving this concept a lot of thought as to whether I like it or not.  While it makes me a little wistful to imagine kids not playing with Lego sets all spread out on their family room floors, I’ve come to the conclusion that this new development can only be a good thing.  It’s interactive nature will only serve to deepen the entire Lego experience for kids (and for adults too… oh right, like I was not going to get in on this when it comes out – COME ON!).  Plus, kids who want to play computer games are going to play them anyway and I think this is a smart move by Lego to keep itself relevant in an increasingly virtual world (at least for entertainment).

Personally, I cannot imagine that Lego bricks will just completely go away anytime soon.  As great as video games can be (and I’m certainly a big fan), there is a completely different experience with building something with your own two hands.  I think of Lego Universe being an extension of that experience and not a replacement.

The lesson from all of this is that it’s not just pointless to shake your cane angrily at the young whipper-snappers with their crazy new ideas, but it’s also the surest way to miss out on something new, creative and mind-expanding.  I can tell my initial reaction to this of “Whaaaaat?!?!?!?  Why would you replace real Legos?!?!?!?” was the classic fear of change.  I mean, I loved it when I was younger… they are doing something different with it… and different must be bad.  How can you improve upon something I love and cherish so much?  Well, maybe you can.

One way or the other, none of this will ever change those wonderful memories I have from growing up.  Now please excuse me… I have a sudden urge to go lay on the floor with Bioncles and play DVDs of the Wonder Twins.

Don’t fight the future… ’cause ya ain’t gonna win

Throughout the news these days, it’s become all too common for those who bring us the news to actually be the news.  Traditional print media is taking a complete beating these days because of a fundamental failure to evolve.  Newspapers were killed by free classified sites like Craiglist’s and never figuring out a good way to make money with their web sites, where they typically gave away the same content as their hard copies for free.

But this is interesting to me:

Sports Illustrated really looks like they could be onto something.  I mean, in terms of “WOW!” factor, this has it.  Everything you love in your favorite magazine, automatically updated to a slim device you can bring everywhere?  With video?  And sharp photos and color?  Bring it my way.  I am already ridiculously in love with my Amazon Kindle (which if you know me, you know I can hardly stop talking about it at times).

But here’s why I am talking about this in the blog.  Three reasons really.  First, I am a sucker for ideas that seek to push the envelope from what we commonly accept as “the way it is” and seek to do things bigger, better, cooler and so on.  Great ideas are endlessly fascinating to me.  Second, whether or not this device ends up panning out, it’s those who seek to bring forward these ideas that I give a ton of credit to.  It’s easy to see all the questions that go along with this tablet: What will be the price point for the device?  How about for the magazine subscription?  Will I be able to get other magazines besides Sports Illustrated on it?  What kind of competition will this bring out and will the competitors do it better, cheaper or both?  But to go ahead and push forward with a product that changes the way we understand a commonly-accepted item to take them in entirely un-thought-of directions (iPods with music, the Kindle with books, Google with search, me with dead-sexy bloggers… you get the idea) is the inspirational piece to me… even if done by a gigantic media conglomerate like Time Warner/Apple/Amazon/Google.

The third reason has to do with the subject of the post.  I think we all seek to fight the future in some ways because change can be pretty scary.  I had lunch with a good friend today and we both talked about how we struggle with that at times.  I find change both scary and thrilling… it just depends on the kind of change.  For instance, when I see chances within the workplace to tear down old ways of doing things?  I am all over it.  Love it.  Gets me fired up.  But if you suddenly asked me to do the same, but uproot my life and move far away?  That’s when you would probably hear the longest “Welllll….. seeeee…. the thing is….” ya ever heard in your life.  The change might be great for me, but my appetite for it may be in the small tossed salad with a nice house dressing zone as opposed to the 32 oz. cowboy cut ribeye zone.

The moral of the story for me?  Go for the steak, baby… go for the steak.

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