3 tips to get ready for change

As previously discussed in my blog  “Why do we struggle with change?”, “change readiness” is not a skill but a habit. So what can you, as an individual, do to increase your capacity for adaptation and transformation? Here are my top 3 tips:

1. Stop an old habit

Adaptations work like this: chuck out DNA that’s no longer needed in order to make space for chromosomes that help a species to thrive in new environments; likewise, in order to have capacity for a new practice, you must stop an old one; for example, after listening to Tim Ferriss about 3 weeks ago, I have stopped reading online news almost completely because I realized it occupied me for 60-90 minutes each day. Instead of consuming content, I now have the time, focus and energy to blog. The thing is, I didn’t intend to use the gained time this way, it just happened, seemingly accidentally, and now I am keen to make it a new habit.

2. Hack your routines

Start disrupting your most mundane daily habits: choose a different way or mode of transport to work, sleep with your head at the foot end of the bed, browse the newsagent for a magazine you would never read (but that’s interesting enough to explore for an hour), swap your iPod or playlist with someone for a week, spend a day hot-desking in another department, and so on; the intention is to get inspired by something new, and to notice how you feel when this happens. These hacks are a sure shot at instantly becoming more change ready – I’ll buy you a drink if nothing comes from it!

3. Let go

This may be pushing it for some of you, but I wholeheartedly recommend you go to a restorative or yin yoga class, and learn how to surrender into poses you’ll find deeply uncomfortable to hold for 5-8 minutes both physically and mentally. You can’t ‘do’ those poses by controlling your fear, you need to ‘become’ them by letting go of your fear; I always feel more open to new things for a few days afterwards, and seem to display less ego. Egos don’t like change…

Summing up, change starts with you and you need to demonstrate your own capacity for change before you have any credibility to ask others to be ready for change.

Why do we struggle with change?

The last decade was VUCA: volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous; moreover, the laws of nature dictate constant transformation and flux.

Yet, according to countless academic statistics, many organisations are not ready for change, and some big consultancies even quantify “change readiness” through their research on organisational health. Thus, change readiness is mission critical, but what does this actually mean for you as an individual, in practice, on a daily basis? What can you do?

Like “Excellence”, “change readiness” is not a skill, but a habit – the habit to hack your habits, the practice to break your patterns and disrupt your default mode for anything.

We are creatures of habit, and neurologically, this means that daily practices like brushing our teeth in the morning or setting up meetings for a full hour as the default duration, is taking place on so-called super highways. Just like the internet has those fast connections connecting entire continents in milliseconds, your brain has those broadband connections for repetitive tasks and habits. Once a habit is using a specific superhighway, this becomes the default network system, and it becomes very hard to change. And why should it? You don’t want to reinvent the way you brush your teeth on a regular basis, right?

On the other hand, more and more companies have been hacking the Outlook Calendar Dictatorship, as they realised that most meetings don’t actually require the full hour, but perhaps only 35 minutes. In fact, 50 minute meetings are quite hip at the moment with one of my clients as it allows them to actually be on time, have time to go to the loo, and still be able to take a two-minute mindfulness break.

However, the start of this practice was somewhat irritating for some people and cumbersome for the project team who were trying to make the organisation more agile and nimble, and here is why: When started and trialed, those “organisation innovations” take place not on those super highways, but on little, windy, and perhaps muddy country lanes. Unless you have a tractor, driving on those narrow lanes is not very relaxing, and because there are so many little crossings and turns without any signposting, it’s easy to get lost and forget the fastest way next time. This is one reason why so many large and small change initiatives fail, because your inner dialogue goes something like this: do I really want to navigate those single-lanes again? Nah, too complicated. I’ll take the motorway again. And again, and again, until your brain passionately rejects the idea of unchartered territory.

This happens to all of us (with varying degrees) on a daily basis both in our private and professional lives. And then the next change pops up on our radar, and we do not feel ready for it.

Have you experienced this? In my next blog I will share with you my 3 top tips to help you get ready for change, but in the meantime, I am really interested to hear how you increase your capacity for adaptation and transformation. Feel free to get in touch!

Yes, and…” the best ever formula for innovation


What do multi-award winning comedian Tina Fey and serial innovation companies 3M or W.L. Gore have in common? They wholeheartedly say <strong>“Yes, and…”</strong>.

“Yes, and…” is one of the most powerful and successful mental models and business practices I have ever come across. It is very different from “Yes, but…” and takes you to spectacularly different outcomes. This client’s story tells you why and how.

Recently, at the end of a highly-regarded and long-running eight-month leadership development programme that has all imaginable bells and whistles, £15K investment per head, fireside chats with both CEO and CFO, foraging visits to other companies and lots of other goodies, I asked the question what has most resonated with participants, what things have they fully integrated into their daily leadership practice, etc. Tom, the Head of IT, said in front of the group “Marcus, do you know what, it’s the small things that happened in between, like that “Yes, and…” exercise you did back in Module 2 – this had the most profound impact as it has completely changed the way I work, live and lead.”

Upon inquiry, he explained why and how: “Before “Yes, and…”, I said “Yes, but…” a lot. So I asked a confidante to shadow me for a week through our marathon of meetings, conference calls, jour fixes and workshops in order to quantify this. At the end of the week, she asked me to guess how often I said <em>“Yes, but…” and the result was shocking. I thought 50-60 times, however, she counted 214 times! That’s more than 40 times per day!”

Tom didn’t sleep well during the weekend and shared this astounding insight with his partner. He admitted that he also did it a lot at home, and with the kids, and so did she. They suddenly saw “Yes, but…” for what it is – a “No” that you are either too lazy or not bold enough to state, mainly because you want to avoid conflict or because you think you are right and the other is wrong.

“Yes, but…” is the death of open dialogue and of high-quality inquiry and advocacy. Moreover, it is a horrendous time killer. Then Tom observed everyone else for a week and counted in his notebook how many times “Yes, but…” was used around him. Well, he actually stopped on Wednesday afternoon when he reached 500 “Yes, but…” counts, and couldn’t bare it anymore. He stopped his own team’s weekly meeting to ask his 7 people to ask themselves what is really going on: Are we listening to each other? Are we working towards a shared goal? Are we appreciating each others contribution? The dire answer was no.

He then explained to them what he learned on the programme and in every meeting for the next few weeks he ran the same fun little exercise with his team. He then reflected with them and together they concluded that “Yes, and…” has impact on three levels: self, team and the wider organisation.

Here are the top three benefits:

At the level of self: “Yes, and…” puts your ego in its place, because it stops that chatter in your mind about what you want to say next while your colleague is still talking; quite simply, it forces you to let go of your assumptions, and instead go with the flow.

At the level of team: the change was immediate, instead of torpedoing their ideas in those classic “brainstorms” (think about the potential damage of ‘storms’ for a moment…) they are now better at co-creating solutions together, where each person is laying one brick on top of another, building strong foundations for whatever they wanted to create.

At an organisational level: Tom and his team realised that when a few hundred people operate in the “Yes, and…” mode, the potential becomes exponential, with outrageously creative and impactful solutions becoming the norm rather than the exception.

Why is this so powerful?

For that answer we have to go back to its source, Tina Fay, or rather the Chicago School of Improv Theater, where  “Yes, and…” is a core technique that stand-up comedians have to practice for years. One actor throws a sentence at you, and the other one needs to pick up the ball, enthusiastically appreciate the idea with a resounding “Yes, and…” then add their wacky idea to it. This is how the best-improved comedy comes to life, literally out of thin air.

Innovation itself is – among other key ingredients and practices – the art of taking something from a seemingly unrelated world that is ideally far away, and bringing it to your problem. Hence, at least this is my conclusion, why this simple exercise had the biggest impact on our IT Manager Tom.

Top Tips:

Count how many times “Yes, but…” is used in meetings and call them out once you hear them 3 times in a relatively short period of time.

Run that little “Yes, and…” exercise at the beginning of jour fixes or workshops. If you want to have precise instructions or if you have any questions, please contact me

HR = Human Resistance?

LinkedIn Influencer Brian Solis uses the term Human Resistance for HR because this department often inundates employees with red tape.

Why is it, that talented and well-meaning professionals feel the urge to create pointless policies? My hypothesis is that it’s systemic, and it links to our personal lives:

My son and I had been at the beach and I put on a proper log fire for him. He loved it, and I realised that he had no concept of the possible danger, so I later allowed him to light up a candle to experiences heat in a controlled environment. I was criticised for that – he nearly six years old!

I reflected on this incident, my own childhood, and most likely yours, too: we were given far greater responsibilities, and did a lot of hair-raising stunts on playgrounds and in the woods. We were taught to take educated and calculated risks. And when we over did it, we learned a lesson and got a plaster. Our parents tightened the leash a bit and were possibly cautioned, mostly by friends, in rare cases by doctors or police officers. Life went on, and the vast majority of us never had a broken bone.

Today’s Zeitgeist is fundamentally different: we don’t give kids the benefit of the doubt, smother them and avoid risks at all costs. And every community has those deputy sheriffs who itch to report us to social services (who then get distracted from those headline-making horror stories; and each ‘system failure’ results in ever more policies…you can see the vicious circle).

Now imagine, you are an HR manager trying to do the right thing, but you have this constant background radiation on your horizon…we shouldn’t expect too much simplification in HR if our wider culture (that’s the same ‘we’) resists to take risks and responsibility.

This requires your integral self: you can’t credibly expect to innovate or simplify at work when you immerse yourself in a cloud of status quo and complexity for the remaining time. Our brains don’t like that. We therefore need to be aware of our own inconsistencies and strive towards integration of our various worldviews. This will also helps with today’s holy leadership grail: authenticity.

An HR Director who takes risks in their private lives is much more likely to reject a policy that is designed for that one bad apple on a large tree. And they take personal responsibility for that judgement call rather than hiding behind paragraphs and clauses. This kind of HR person empowers employees, and 99% rise to the occasion and practice Human Reliability.

By the way, according to Tom Gill, one of Britain’s foremost experts on child safety, rubber playgrounds may now be the cause of more broken limbs than were sustained on hard surfaces in the past…

Is this a call for more Human Risk-taking in our organisations?

When You Know You’ve Led

A few weeks ago I went hiking across a frozen lake in New England. It had snowed the day before. The absence of any footsteps indicated that no one else had done this, at least not in the last 24 hours.

It was an exhilarating experience in itself, but when I returned to my starting point I noticed that about a handful of people had followed my footsteps. I had tried and tested the ice for them. I blazed the trail and led the way.

My wife and folks were indoctrinated to never go on a frozen lake for all their lives, so my suggestion didn’t go down so well. Anyway, I ventured into unchartered territory, because I knew what I was doing. I spent the previous two weeks in arctic temperatures, so I knew 100% that the ice is more than thick enough. On the other hand, no one else seemed to have done it, so I asked my wiser self if I can trust my judgement.

Believe me, it wasn’t without thrill especially since I also had my son and his uncle in tow, I was responsible for them as well. Leadership is first about trusting your guts in combination with assessing data from a wide range of sources. Then you go first, and if your followers still hesitate, you communicate your point.

I know this is only simple little anecdote and that leading thousands of employees is way more complex than this. However, giving others confidence to do what they fancy (in potentially life threatening conditions) despite the unknown felt somewhat primordial.

My question to you is this: when do we know we have led the way for others by putting ourselves on the line? In corporate job in a cosy office? Where the biggest risk of the day might be to be late and unprepared for a meeting?

Your Marcus Druen

Purpose rules. Tribes matter

Ten years ago, I was sipping fine wine from Stellenbosch and eating even finer game in a restaurant in South African. It’s called a Boma and looked like the hut of a tribal chief. A colleague saluted “it doesn’t get better than this”. Yet, I felt I am in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, being with the wrong people. What on earth was going on?

I had just started at a global Telecommunications company as an account manager for their mobile Internet services. Among others, my markets were Egypt, Switzerland and South Africa. I earned a lot more money than in my previous role, I admired the inspiring female leader of our PMO, and my employer more or less sponsored a long weekend in Cape Town, probably the most remarkable coastal city I have ever been to. One part of me felt on top of the world – and another felt buried under the burden of a wrong career choice.

I didn’t enjoy the tasks I had to perform, it had little to do with what I did before, yet on paper it looked the same and was more senior. It was one of those jobs where you sense that if you don’t show up for a week (or month) life will have coped without it. I didn’t get on with my direct line manager. I just didn’t make the right choice and there immediate cringe moments e.g. when the London bombings happened – on day three of my short stint – a colleague complained that all tubes were now down, yet that statistically now the London Underground is the last place where another terrorist attack would happen. He disappeared into a conference call to mask his anxiety and pretended it was business as normal.

In essence, I didn’t have a sense of purpose, and I was with the wrong tribe.

Fast forward to 2015, I am in exactly the same hotel (which I didn’t book, pure serendipity…) sipping Chenin Blanc and eating Springboek, and I say to myself: it doesn’t get better than this. I am facilitating a two-day storytelling with people I love and for a client I start to love. And this time it’s true and real. What a beautiful node in my personal space-time!

Over the last ten years, I have become a respectable leadership coach and change catalyst. I now run my own business, and together with Stuart Bewley and Tambo Silavwe of Amplify Presentations we deliver the first pilot for global sales managers at Microsoft Mobile, formerly known as NOKIA. Working with creative, open-minded and fun-loving account and product managers from across Africa made it easy for me to be in the flow.

In 2015, I am proud and happy to live and breathe my purpose and I am lucky and privileged to be surrounded by awesome people from various tribes.

Are you…? If not, ping me and I’ll give you a free career coaching session.

Boyhood, Oscars and Insights for Change Leaders

Have you seen the movie Boyhood? It’s fantastic storytelling about choices and consequences. And it’s quality movie production on a mere $4 million budget.

Were you disappointed it didn’t bag more Oscars? I was, but I quickly realised this was pretty predictable, and here is why:

Of the 6,000 people who get to vote 70 percent are males with an average age of 63-years-old. So, would the majority of white old-males in the film industry vote for a movie where men in father roles are depicted as traditional, irresponsible, drunk, drugged, repressive, angry, and abusive? And where – despite all that – the heroine gets her kids through school and into college whilst getting a degree and becoming a professor? No, of course not!

I am not saying that these male voters are like Mason’s rockabilly dad or alcoholic step-dads, but surely there must be some unconscious loyalty or gender proximity happening here. Let’s face it, there is at least a varying degree willful blindness in most of us, even if we want to change and try really hard.

Hence, in the words of Ron Heifetz, the “issue isn’t ripe enough yet” and having awarded Boyhood with an Oscar would have caused too much controversy at dinner tables in Hollywood – about their own lives, choices and world views. Instead, academy members voted the third movie about the movie industry itself in six years. Introspection paired with self-aggrandising – a common phenomenon in corporate systems, right?

So, what’s the insight for change leaders here? A system needs to be ready for change, and the issue needs to be ripe enough. Patricia Arquette’s statement about equal pay and women’s rights was powerful and timely, and Meryl Streep’s ecstatic reaction almost seemed to be a relief: “Yes, I am not a lone nut anymore”. It also helped millions of secret/shy advocates to come forward and say: “I always said that.” However, it also faced the expected back clash by people who don’t want equal rights, because it would destroy their whole life concept and self-image. Dare I assume they are (unfortunately) still in majority?

Change leaders in organisations large or small, commercial or political, ask yourself these questions: once you got enough Meryl Streep’s on board to create noise, who are the Stacy Dash’s, Greg Gutfield’s and vocal Twitteratis you need to identify, convince and turn into advocates of your agenda? Most of them are actually crying for help, but disguise this in anger. You must re-frame the issue for them, and once they feel there is something in it for them, they become your change catalysts. You need a few reformed opponents to create the tipping point, and then you win. Who were the first white males Martin Luther King got on board?

In Apple’s Defence

This article also shares three insights about organisation effectiveness.

Last week Apple Inc. reported a quarterly profit of $18bn – the biggest in corporate history. Hat’s off – that’s a lot of oil companies to beat!

At the same time Tim Cook got a lot of criticism again for Apple’s business practices. These articles and commentaries follow a long tradition of slashing Apple despite it being one of the most purposeful, innovative and value creating companies of all times.

Let me say it straight away: I am neither a fan of their tax praxis nor a blind lover of Apple products e.g. I was kicking and screaming when my Apple Powerbook 5300c started to smoke in 1996, and I think corporates should pay the same tax rate as a small business owner.

That said, here are three insights in defence of Apple:

1. Apple has squared the circle

Apple is the most valuable company on Earth repeatedly reports record profits, and has cash reserves of a whopping $160bn (and they didn’t achieve that just by tax evasion). Interestingly, this is not enough for activist investors who are notorious for putting more pressure even on star performers like Apple. When is it ever enough Carl Icahn?

Let’s remember that in 1997 Apple was 13 trading days away from bankruptcy. You never forget that as an organisation and so start hording cash in case it gets bad again. Or simply to free yourself so you can make critical choices and long-term bets and implement these innovations consequentially. It is not inconceivable that Apple takes over Tesla Motors or a fashion imperium like Prada in 2015. However, such decade or maybe even century defining moves require strategic clarity, which requires time. If you just chase for quarterly earnings and try to please short-term vulture capitalists, you don’t become Apple or Google. Warren Buffet would agree.

2. Apple stuff just works

Apple gets a lot of criticism for its closed ecosystem and rigid guides for app developers. Really? Partnering with Apple is a commercial offer and not a civil right. Besides, in eight years on the iOS platform I never had a crash, bug or loss of productivity. Can Android or Windows Phone users claim the same? By the way, BMW also have precise requirements for their suppliers, they call it quality control.

3. Foxconn and us

Yes, the conditions are bad, but instead of accusing Apple, why don’t we point to ourselves? What if your iPhone cost £3,000? True Cost Economics is hopefully the next evolution of global capitalism, but the system change must start with us, the consumers. I boycott Primark, but I close my eyes before Chinese iPhone assemblers and their conditions. And so do you, with every product purchase.

The insight business leaders and organisation development consultants can take from Apple and Foxconn is this: there is no ‘broken system’ – it’s a myth. As Harvard’s Ron Heifetz and Marty Linski poignantly say in their book Adaptive Leadership: every organisation is perfectly adapted – the question is to what or to whom?

In conclusion, Apple management gets most things right and to all the critics: envy is a lovely sin, isn’t it.

The Trouble With Best Practice

Last week the archery video of Lars Andersen went viral. His bow & arrow skills look superhuman! Plus, it is a great example why ‘best practice’ is fundamentally flawed. Best practice and benchmarking are wide-spread phenomena in business. The do serve a purpose, but can also give the mediocre an excuse to justify why Level X is good enough or less bad enough (“Oh, so and so even has a leadership effectiveness score of only 54…” So? Are the companies you refer to actually a role model for yours? What makes you sure ‘they’ have found the best way to do something? Just because it’s ten of them? What if there is an unknown practice that dwarfs all known practice by the power of ten? Watch this video and appreciate the power of inquisitive investigation, experimentation and Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice.