Change always happens mid-stream but where does it start?
The low point for me as a teen drummer arrived early on when I prematurely joined a band. One night on stage I started horribly wrong. The band leader quickly realized the situation was unrecoverable and simply turned around and yelled “Just!… Stop!... Playing!”
Change must happen mid-song or mid-course or it’s not change. It’s never easy, never a straight path, never ego-centric, and never perfectly articulated. Change is utilitarian, brash, unrefined, blurry, audacious… Messy.
These characteristics make it problematic to consider the topic of change in terms of formula or “steps.” In my experience finding a successful path to change is often elusive even in the face of pressing need. (If it were easy, we’d all be seeing & embracing change far more frequently!) There is, however, a singular characteristic that I believe exists in all change: The crisis point. This is the point where someone has a realization that what is happening right now is incompatible with long-term success. Critically, too, this realization must result in action.
What’s a “crisis point” though? It needn’t be dramatic or external — it’s simply a catalyst — a moment in time where the need for change becomes overwhelmingly apparent. The larger and/or less change-ready the team, the greater the perceived crisis will need to be. However, skilled leaders can sometimes speak to the need for change in such clear and compelling terms they actually create a sort of “identity crisis point” on the spot. Likewise, talented leaders will co-opt larger already-acknowledged challenges to add urgency to their mission and increase the velocity of change.*
(Almost invariably there will be one team member who will speak up with some change-resisting question like, “If it ain’t broke why fix it?” The more compelling the crisis and proposed solution, the fewer and sillier these objections will be.)
In 2018 I joined a software startup that was struggling. The team had been decimated by low moral and the work backlog was knee-deep and scatter-brained. The handful of developers remaining had lost sight of their mission and were doing more each day to create technical debt than they were to advance the strategy. Worse still, this had been…