For so many of us, progress is closely associated with work – hard work. The visible toil of intellectual, physical, emotionally wrestling with a goal or outcome is a signal that we, or our team are getting somewhere.
So often we think the more we throw at it, the more progress will result – but how many times have you found that more force doesn’t equal more output? We’ve also read those articles about shifting from five to four day weeks without a drop in productivity.
What’s the secret?
Video transcript and relevant links
Ok so how many of us equate progress with work? and… hard work?
This is one of those belief patterns that runs deep. I know certainly I was taught growing up – work hard, get results – that respect for a work ethic. This is something that has gone deep deep deep inside and every now and again we find ourselves in situations where pushing harder doesn’t necessarily result and more progress.
So particularly when you’re working in change. Particularly when you’re working in changing thinking, often “progress” isn’t visible in this way and yet we have this pattern and this belief system that is caught up with the fact that if I can’t see people visibly toiling – whether it’s frustrated and wrestling with something intellectually or physically digging holes and filling them in – then I have this sense that people aren’t working hard and therefore we won’t make progress.
I wanted to share a little story today that somebody shared with me a while ago. I think it… to me it’s really really similar to working in change.
So if you think about people who work in creative professions – an artist with a gallery opening – what we see visibly is often a whole scramble of work in a very short period of time and then a gallery show or a visible demonstration of output and those shows might last for a week or a month or so but all that’s really visible is that show as a result of the output.
We have a sense that some work has gone on, there’s that wrestling and putting it together at the last minute that happens. And we don’t often consider that ok so there is a period of time where those paintings or those photographs were taken and developed and worked on leading up to the show.
But even before that, is this huge piece of work that’s going on but it’s not visible wear ideas are starting to fall into place. We’re digesting new thoughts, we’re coming up with an understanding about a theme or a particular topic, learning about ourselves and others and what’s going on, that precedes even pulling out a paintbrush and putting that to paper.
And so that creative process is not only the gallery opening that we see at the end and it’s not only the making of that work that we see in that last minutes rush. But actually, all of that apparently blank space in between, that might be months or years in the making.
The reality is that that end output, was never going to happen without all of that blank space happening as well. That blank space is critical for those ideas to come through, for the digestion, for the understanding, for the thinking process to happen so that we can actually make those beautiful works of art.
For me this is exactly like being in a change program.
You’ve got an outcome that you’re striving for. You have a chunk of very visible work – whether it be changing process, introducing new work methods, new ways of working, the automation of testing if you’re in an IT project, prioritisation of work, you know… all of that change in business process that happens. To me that’s right at the end as well.
But what precedes all of that happening, is this blank space. And in that blank space it’s critical that people have the time to digest these new ideas and to start to process these ways of thinking and working in a new way.
And so your role as a change agent in planting those seeds can often be incredibly frustrating, because what you’re seeing a lot of is the black space before we get the action.
So it’s a… wonderful way I think of this work in that it helps me to remember that my job is to plant seeds. My job is not necessarily to get the gallery opening happening. Not straight away anyway.
Ultimately yes, but my job is to plant the seeds and so even though that progress might not be visible – and certainly I’m one of those people that things are never moving fast enough for me – but during those blank space times, just knowing that people are processing, people are digesting, people are working through and working themselves up to the point where they’re actually going to do that visible, physical, output, workload.
So yeah, so that for me is something that is critically important when you’re thinking about change programs. Even though it’s not necessarily visible, even though that work is not necessarily visible, you’re still making a huge amount of progress in that blank space.
As long as you’re consciously sowing those seeds, and continually working through the thinking change that needs to happen. That means that actually, when the work happens, it’ll be solid, and you’re gonna get the outcome that you want, it’ll be sustainable and it will last well beyond your tenure.