When is the tipping point?

The more I delve into organisational transformation and development, the more I realise that the ‘new way’ of working is not actually that new. The ideas and principles that underpin the Agile movement have been around for quite some time. Way back in 1969 you’ll find the following in the Industrial Management Review (Tannenbaum, Davies, 1969):

  • Away from people are bad towards people are good
  • Away from individuals as fixed towards seeing people as being in process
  • Away from status and prestige for power towards status for organisationally relevant purposes
  • Away from competition towards collaboration

In the same year, Richard Beckhard published his classic Organization Development: Strategies and Models, in which he explains his assumptions:

  1. The basic building blocks of the organisation are groups (teams)
  2. An always relevant change goal is the reduction of inappropriate competition
  3. Decision making is located where the information sources are
  4. Controls are interim measurements, not the basis of managerial strategy
  5. Develop open communication, mutual trust, and confidence between and across teams
  6. People support what they help create

It’s almost 40 years since 1969 and it’s clear that we haven’t yet reached the point where these beliefs are pervasive across industries. We still work in highly authoritarian environments where human-ness plays second fiddle to mechanical efficiency. We still try to keep our emotions bottled up in favour of logic and rationality. Our workplaces are still dominated by disempowerment, fear and angst, rather than autonomy, mastery and purpose.

That’s not good enough for me. That’s not good enough for any of us. I’m working on pushing us over the tipping point. I’m devoted to living in the new world that I can see in the distance. I’ll do whatever I can to get there.

I hope you’re with me.

Zone in to your comforts

You decided to get off the couch and get yourself to gym. But 6 months later you’re still doing the same exercises.

You realised you couldn’t eat take-outs all your life and learnt to cook. A year on and you’re still only making the same 3 dishes.

You started feeling out-of-date so decided to expand your musical soundscape by hooking yourself up with an online streaming service. It’s 6 months later and you’re listening to the same playlist that the system put together for you when you joined.

You realised your literary knowledge was lacking so you decided to start reading books. 3 years later you’ve almost made it though all the books in the political thriller genre.

Comfort zones are always lurking around the next corner. If you’re not cautious, you’ll slip into one without even realising it. You congratulate yourself for making a change, thereby giving yourself the grace to sit back a bit and relax. But the new groove becomes the old, repetitive groove very quickly if you don’t watch yourself.

The next evolution

We’ve been evolving for years. Our genes have kept mutating, testing out combinations that may work better in our environment. The aim is for the organism to survive. Genes are selfish – they want the organism to survive at all costs so that they can survive and propagate.

Evolution goes a bit further. Some organisms have learnt to collaborate with others to increase the likelihood of their survival. Families band together, looking out for each other, helping to pass their genes on. Tribes work together in the same way, protecting their way of life and passing it on to their children.

But we’re now at a point where we need species-level evolution. The threats we face affect everyone on the planet, no matter your family or tribe. Sticking your head in the sand just means your arse will get burnt like everyone else’s.

We can’t afford to be selfish genes anymore.

Lift up or bring down – you choose.

Overheard this conversation between 2 elderly men at gym:

“How’s work going with you?”

“Same shit, different day.”

The conversation continued along this vein, both parties moaning about their daily work lives.

This isn’t a unique case. It seems to be the norm to bitch and moan about work. Either it is really boring, mundane or painful, or it’s just a social norm, something people say because they’ve heard it said before and it sounds funny.

If it’s the first, why are you in your job in the first place? Why aren’t you rather doing something that you enjoy, something that will make your life interesting?

If it’s the second and you actually enjoy the work you do, you clearly don’t realise how powerful your words are. You’re perpetuating negativity. You might think it’s a funny saying, maybe elicit a small laugh. But you’re not contributing. You’re not inspiring anyone. You’re not uplifting the conversation, you’re bringing it down.

Leaders inspire. They motivate. They bring out the best in others. We should all be leaders.

Making comparisons

We compare all the time.

Ourselves against others –

“Bob’s much better at public speaking than I am.”

“I wish Matt would just clean up after himself like I do!”

“I’ll never be able to run as fast as Magda.”

Others against others –

“Mike doesn’t cook as well as Molly.”

“Sam’s better looking than John.”

“Betty’s so much more introverted than Brian.”

Comparisons put the spotlight on one characteristic. They highlight a specific aspect and perspective at the expense of others. They don’t tell the whole story or allow for the wonderful nuances that make up our extremely varied personalities.

Bob may be better at public speaking, but you connect one-on-one with people with great empathy.

Matt might be a bit messy, but you might frustrate him with your cleanliness OCD.

Magda may be a great sprinter, but you can go the distance.

Molly cooks up a storm, but Mike’s a great host and without him, Molly’s food wouldn’t taste as good.

Sam may be better looking, but John has that ‘something’ that just seems to draw people closer to him.

Brian might be the life of the party, but Betty watches and observes and uses that material for her next bestselling novel.

Next time you make a comparison, remember it’s just a lens; a filter through which you’re viewing yourself or someone else. Take that filter away, look more holistically and you may discover something beautiful, something unexpected, something surprising.

New game, new rules.

We believe we can keep the order. We think we can regulate the world around us, control it, organize it to fit neatly into a construct that make sense to us, that we can understand and neatly categorize.

We create processes and procedures to organize and optimize our lives, worshipping efficiency and speed above all else.

When our organizations grow beyond a handful of people we implement structures and hierarchies so everyone knows their place, knows what to do and knows what’s expected of them.

When our human-created systems start to fail or break, we put even more controls in place, more regulations, more rules.

The rules and structures we create used to work in an industrial era of machines and parts, cogs and wheels. An engine is complicated, but with enough time and effort you can figure it out and understand how it works.

A system involving people is complex and defies ordering. It’s a network and the forces at play are often hidden from view.

The game has changed. Don’t get stuck playing by the old rules.

It’s a choice you have

When you wake up, you could jump out of bed immediately and get going with the day ahead, or you could lie in trying to avoid the inevitable until the last possible moment.

When you drive to work, you could lose your temper, working yourself into a frenzy about the terrible traffic and the awful drivers on the road, or you could observe the beauty of the trees in the park as you drive by or the happy smiles of the people setting up their shops as they start their day.

When you get to work, you could open your laptop, put in your earphones and try to avoid interacting with as many people as possible, or you could invite a colleague for a coffee or breakfast to find out a bit more about them.

During that meeting you scheduled to sort out that complicated issue, you could argue your point vehemently, not backing down because you know you’re right, or you could actively listen to the other point of view and work together to figure out a working compromise.

When you get home, you could throw your bag down and flick on the TV, telling yourself you deserve to relax after the day you’ve had, or you could start on that personal project you’ve been dreaming about.

They’re all choices. It’s up to you to make them.


It’s far easier to keep going than to start going again. If you’re doing something regularly, it’s become a habit and continuing to do it is relatively easy.

If you stop however, you may struggle to start again.If it’s a short break, getting yourself motivated to start again may not be too tricky. Leave it too long and the weight of the inertia may be extremely difficult to shake off.

Things don’t just happen. First we have to want them to happen. Then we have to make them happen.

Lastly, we have to keep them happening.


There’s never enough of it. There are so many things to do, so much work to get done, so many projects to complete, but there never seems to be enough time to do it all.

There are tasks on your task list that just seem to have been there forever. They’ve gathered so much dust you probably can’t even remember what they were about. These are things you never seem to get to because there is always something else more important that comes up.

There are stories on the backlog that keep getting moved down the backlog because another story turns out to be more valuable. The story’s moved so many times the card is by now dog-eared and sad looking from all the neglect.

There is only so much you can do. There are only so many different projects you can try to juggle (‘try’ being the operative word). Your first step is to prioritize. Always work on the most important thing. Once you’ve done that, recheck your priorities and start the next thing. If you’re already doing this and your list keeps growing, take some time out to cull the items off the bottom of your backlog or task list. It just causes you stress to see such a long list. If the work was really that important it will rear its head again when the time is right. if you feel you can’t cull it, at least move it into an “Archive” list so that it isn’t visible to you. Once you get near the end of your current list, then you can take some time to review the archived list. You’ll probably find either that there’s nothing in there of value anymore or that the value is no longer relevant.

More important is to keep your focus on the present task. Stay in the moment and enjoy what it is you’re doing now. There will always be more ‘stuff’ waiting for you in the future. There’s no point stressing about it.

Life will go on.