Thank goodness for Peter Fuda. More on that in a moment.
For the past decade, the “sky is falling” change management approach seemed to be THE way. The sky did seem like it was falling, and it was a quick way to get employees and organizations to rally around a new concept, initiative or change. And it worked…for a time. But then the sky kept falling more and more, faster and faster, and with little fanfare the sky was perpetually falling. Without exception, gloom and doom ruled.
“It’s like trying to turn the Titanic.”
“Can we link this to a burning platform?”
If innovation is the breath of fresh air to build new, valuable stuff, the burning platform is the life-sucker that stole the joy. I wish I was the one smart enough to know this. But alas, it wasn’t until two years ago when my friends at the National Health Service Helen Bevans and Lynne Mayer (now at Ko Awatea) introduced the ILN.org to a poweful youtube video by a researcher named Peter Fuda. (Please watch it and share widely). He laid the foundation of moving from “burning platform” to “burning ambition.”
Now I have to admit one of my fabulous fails. Ten years ago I proudly used the burning platform metaphor, and didn’t even use it correctly. I thought a burning platform was an intensely important political issue (as in a plank in the Democratic platform). However I actually used the image of a real burning oil rig platform for the presentation. Indeed as most of you know the oil rig is the metaphor. And it’s a dark, scary, death-y one to boot.
And so, two years ago I stopped using it. Then lo and behold while teaching at an innovation event it reared its ugly, fiery head. An attendee shared and asked, “Fear is our motivator. How are we supposed to get stuff done if there isn’t a burning platform?”
Its a good question, and paraphrased, here is my response (knowledge courtesy of Fuda):
The “burning platform” is only a metaphor. Its not real. We are not on fire. We don’t need to jump off a real burning platform into the dark freezing ocean. It is a paradigm shift; an intellectual choice to view our current challenges from a different len and with a different metaphor. You can choose any lens or metaphors you want. But why are we so sure that fear is the only tool we have?
So let me say loud and clear:
We are not the dinosaurs.
We are not on the Titanic.
We are not on a burning platform.
Our asses are not on fire.
We are working really hard to make a difference in the lives of patients and the people who serve them.
We are making healing and wellness the best it can be.
We are doing this work with our hearts, minds and souls.
It’s our Burning Ambition, not a Burning Platform.
Thank you, Peter, for shattering this fear metaphor.
I’ve had the strangest experience returning to my hometown Springfield Massachusetts. I have not been back here for more than a couple of days at a time usually around the holidays. However this trip I settled in for a full three weeks, and have noticed some odd behaviors emerging in the general population.
1) people cross the street anywhere, anytime. There seems to little to no fear of cars, and sometimes mothers are pushing baby carriages directly into four-lane traffic. Rarely are crosswalks used, and crossing lights used even less.
2) many people are choosing not to use sidewalks, but instead are walking in the roads, sometimes in the middle
3) drivers no longer pay attention to lines on the road; they have become meaningless
And this got me thinking about design, behaviors and culture. The design of the roads, traffics and sidewalks work because culture and behaviors cooperate with the design elements to make the whole system flow. Without culture and behaviors, the design elements are simply silly remnants of the past. I pushed the crossing light button to cross a major thoroughfare, and was laughed at by two pedestrians who darted through the traffic. I felt really silly.
When I visited Vietnam a few years ago, I marveled at the organic-ness of city traffic. Thousands of mopeds, car and pedestrians zoomed and darted in SEEMING chaos. More time there revealed the elegance of the known behaviors. There are social contracts that safely move a pedestrian across the street. If you don’t know the norm, you can get hurt and hurt others. In fact, my partner did just that by hesitating while walking across the road.
Back to Springfield: there seems to be two different cultural and behavioral systems in clash, and all with the same design elements – the old rules-based and new free-flow. The real danger is that different operating systems are driving these different systems. I follow the traffic lines. I am less concerned that others will “disregard” them. I am surprised when I almost crash.
And now back to design: how many systems in the environments that we live and work are in flux or outdated? How many designs are simply relics that make less sense in today’s world? How can we ensure that we are paying attention to and design for these changes? For surely, culture and behaviors are not static.
I know a lot of pissed off drivers and walkers in Springfield Massachusetts. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know the clash between the different operating systems is really dangerous. People are pissed. People are dying.