Always go sleeveless

Steve Chenoweth, RHIT

At some point in promoting change, we epiphanize that all the commitment, energy, processes, logic, and artifices put into our effort don’t guarantee success.  Change is not, after all, a sure thing.  Highly compromised ideas, other priorities, and inertia could still win the day.  What to do now?  Time to back off, get away, and reflect.

At Synectics,[1] where I once sought frequent idea help, we would stop thinking about our conundrum on purpose.  They call it an “excursion.”  After a long ordeal of trying to make the important thing happen, you Excurt by getting involved in something completely different:  Go for a bike ride, getting lost in Boston traffic.  Learn to play “London Bridge” on the accordion.  Switching your mindset eventually brings you back with fresh focus on the problem.

As a result, you may realize, perhaps, that everyone else at your institution possesses a mindset when it comes to your desired change, a mindset many won’t spontaneously leave behind just because you advocate for your change.  They may even relish engaging you in dear old academic disputation about it, winning points for their perspective by poking at yours.  Remember, these are your co-workers.  You respect one another.  Yet, for them, “new” equals “threatening,” in the Kurt Lewin[2] sense.  Their perspective is grounded in weak assumptions and anxieties more than by broad critical thinking, at least from your point of view.  So, wouldn’t it be helpful to inspire them to take an excursion too?

No, you won’t get them on a bike against their will, and the thought of your entire department playing the accordion is more terrifying than any failed change project.  But you can knock them off center.  Remember that disrupting their mindset s not easy; they may frame any jostling you do as just one more sign that your change threatens everything they hold dear.    Hmm…

Picture1Time to get radical.  Make academic adversaries do a double take.  Rather like I ask you to do, when you view this office pic of me, a still image where everything’s moving, become unexpected change.  Go for the uncanny, the impossible, the ridiculous.  Link your new idea to acts and exposures so preposterous that coolly cutting them down, in the usual ways, would be a waste of time.  And countering convincingly would require transparent, on-the-spot fabrication on their part, laying bare their worldview’s inelasticity.

By proving that you are willing to humble yourself radically for the sake of your cause, you have stepped beyond where change objectors are likely to go.  Your antagonists’ reasoning cannot accommodate this megatwist.  Their position, after all, is tied tightly to upholding the status quo, with the honor, dignity, and noble qualities that they believe are sustained only by careful adherence to current practices.  Every nuance of ceremony is unbendable.  The tassel of your commencement cap must be on the correct side.  I forget–left side for faculty?

Be a good iconoclast:  wink at the standard, taste a taboo and keep talking, to show the irrelevance of their syllogisms.  Wow–the institution did not collapse after all when you did this!  We can now listen to new frameworks as we consider the change proposal.

My personal preference, as you see, is to always go to the meetings sleeveless.

[1] See

[2] See, for example,

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