Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Design for Change

Sculpture at Canyon Road gallery, Santa Fe, NM (Oct 2015)

This observation is deceptively simple, my colleague told me. Systems are perfectly designed for the results they produce.

My colleague and I had been talking about organizational change – the challenge and necessity for systems to adapt and evolve and do something different.

Lots of creative and talented people have given thought to understanding change and the kinds of cultures that unleash the creativity and collaboration that can fuel change. My favorites at the moment are Bob Sutton (Scaling Up Excellence) and Ed Catmull (Creativity, Inc.), as well as IDEO CEO Tim Brown. If you've read them, you'll see their influence on this post.

The observations of my colleague, as well as those published by Sutton, Catmull, and Brown, and lived out by many folks in the city where I live were what came to mind when a student recently asked me about what I thought it would take to change the status quo on an issue on campus important to her. If one would like to change a system --both the processes and the culture that produce current results-- the work of change needs to be thoughtful, based on close observation, and ideally, built around existing bright spots. And because I try to hold myself to the same standards I advocate in print, in this case, that “Questions Make Better Answers,” I gave her a series of questions to consider:
  • What results does current system actually produce with regard to that issue?
  • What kinds of actions by students on that issue are good ones, as "good" is currently articulated by respected national and international organizations that convey standards for the field?
  • Where are the existing bright spots, that is, places where actions by students most look like what those standards articulate?
  • What might be done to make those bright spots brighter AND also scale them up --that is, replicate them and connect them to new bright spots?
  • What reward structures are in place to incentivize collaborative work around the "creation of bright spots," such that existing and new ones take shape through dialogue between those on our campus and those off?
  • Is the administrative, campus leadership culture one pre-disposed to remove obstacles, encourage risk-taking (new ventures are inherently risky), and model deep listening and an encouragement of a mindset of growth through constant learning and collaboration? If it's not, can it be? This point is important because without effective leadership at the top, it's very hard to scale up good work.

For readers, a series of questions: are you part of a change effort –wanting, leading, or sustaining a change to the status quo? How do you and your collaborators answer those questions above? What does the culture you create around you encourage, model, and do?