A useful idea: change as creating

A Useful Idea by Karen Dawson, Ian Prinsloo and Julie HuffakerWell, this is fun.

Three years ago, Karen Dawson, Ian Prinsloo and I started experimenting with a hunch. It went something like this:

A heap of smart people have spent a whole lot of time trying to crack the nut of organizational change: how do we pull it off, so we can be more [INSERT DESIRED STATE HERE]? Reams of books and consulting practices are built around attempts to answer to this question. (As in, I got 55,398 hits on “organizational change” in the book section of Amazon just this morning.)

Relatively low success, high frustration. When smart folks make little progress, the juiciest place to look is often not at what they’re doing, but how they’re thinking about it (which, of course, drives what they’re doing).

If you want to understand organizations, study something else. – Karl Weick

Although the three of us focus day-to-day on organizational leaders, teams, and ecosystems, Ian, Karen and I also have deep experience with a different planet, a planet where groups reliably pull off this kind of change. Where they consistently, reliably produce something completely new that leaves their marketplaces (and each other) utterly delighted and ready for more.

That planet is the planet of creators.

Ian directs groundbreaking live theater, and Karen and I have been avid students, teachers, directors and appliers of improvisational theater for years. Together, we started exploring the differences between how most organizations think about change, and how professional creators – theater directors, improvisational theater troupes, film ensembles – do. (SPOILER ALERT: the differences are HUGE.)

Our hunch: if we think of organizational change as creating, and approach it the way skilled creators do, we can get radically different results.

We incubated our ideas in in the petri dishes of our client organizations. We experimented in the snowy shadow of the Bourgeau mountain range at the Banff Leadership Centre in Alberta, Canada, with change leaders from oil companies to aboriginal school systems. (Want to know the best way to discourage the attentions of a mature elk during rutting season? Just ask me.) (Seriously.)

Now, we want to offer this little video.

It’s a window into what we’ve been playing with and how we think it can help. We had a blast of an adventure making it. Take a peek, share it with any changemakers you think might be intrigued. And know we’d love to hear from you: what’s all this got YOU thinking?

More to come.

(Video animation drawn by Sarah Moyle, Visual Storyteller.)