Getting Down and Dirty in the Quagmire

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a masterclass (yes fancy) on Place Making by Creative Communities guru, David Engwich.  From where I sit this was pure genius and what made it extra spech was that so much of the theory and discussion is firmly planted in sociology and behavioural science.  What David talks of makes complete and utter sense to me and, not surprisingly being the freaky receiver that I am at times, several things have revealed themselves this week that match these learnings (I give thanks).

The first gold nugget of an idea I want to share is related to the ideal environments for evolution and change.  Essentially, David’s revelation is that sustainable, ground breaking evolution rarely occurs in clear, cool, sterile water.  These conditions are just not optimal for growth.  Instead major change generally takes place when the conditions are muddy, dirty, sticky, stinky, bubbly, hot and gloopy.  Amphibians didn’t grow legs and journey out of the water in nice, clean surrounds.  They mutated and evolved in quagmires, bogs and marshes.

So too, with organisational and social change.  It should be expected that during times of change people may respond with heightened sensitivities, be more easily upset and/or defensive.  Naturally this may be an uncomfortable time with temporary divisions, people may choose to be unhappy, have a bit of a winge, resist what is proposed and, possibly, they may decide the change is not for them and leave (which should be seen as totally okay too).  Or they may just love it, thrive on what is proposed and think “’bout time” and “where has this been all my life”.  The crowd is often divided during these times and, as David points out, you can’t have difference without expecting on upsetting 50% of people.

So with all this in mind, it seems rather strange to expect social and organisational change to be all squeaky clean and nice.  It’s a bit putting like plastic covers on sofas expecting people to feel comfortable.  Not really gonna happen.   The perception that everybody should be overjoyed, playing nicely and getting along, with consensus revealing the ideal direction is both unrealistic and unattainable.  Muddy times are not a reflection that the organisation or community is broken, but more that a shift is in play.

Also, I’ll be clear – it’s not that I’m saying that we should intend to upset or disenfranchise people (absolutely not).  We still need to be respectful, plan to bring people along with us as well as plan for an approach to respond when people aren’t happy.  It’s more about recognising that you can’t please everyone all the time and the progress train must chug on.

On a similar note,  I posted the article “Wonder Weeks” just over a year ago, in which I  paralleled those difficult times at work with the CAFS concept for those tough, trying weeks kids have which inevitably lead to quantum shifts in their growth.  Essentially the moral of the metaphor is that with pain comes great gain and growth.  Same deal.

So what I put to you is this: If you are in the position of shaping change consider that, instead of going all chicken little on the situation or crying foul play (excuse the double chicken entendre), it may make more sense to embrace and work with the muddy vibe, knowing that what will result will be spectacular and bring immense value compared to what is currently on offer.  And the reality is when the dust settles, most people will find that they like the new and improved a whole lot better than they’d ever imagined.  The quagmire is not a negative, but a positive, full of rich opportunity.

More on David’s “gold nuggets” to follow soon….



One response

  1. Great article Meg. Liked the double jointed chicken bone too. Change is uncomfortable for some and you have to hold your nerve while in the eye of the storm. J

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