“The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be.”


318px-1953_Bowman_Yogi_BerraIf you guessed Yogi Berra, you are right.

With Yogi’s death, his aphorisms are echoing once again. And rightly so. In many ways, Yogi was as insightful about the human condition as he was about baseball, if not more so.

As I was sitting down to write this post, I received an email from a colleague that contain several of Yogi’s pronouncements relative to our field of practice…successfully executing large scale change. This one–The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be–struck me as the one that I want to reflect on today.

At one level, it’s easy enough to agree with Yogi…and, so what? Things change. That’s the nature of time, and of life. At one time, an area code would tell you the location of the caller. (Some of us remember when “Diamond” and “Murray Hill” and “Hubbard” were exchanges that preceded five-digit phone numbers.) When you got a job, you kept the job. More often than not, you retired from the company that gave you your first job. You got married, had a family, stayed married. You were in the closet–perhaps deep in the closet–and you stayed in the closet.

The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be.

Today, an area code is more likely to tell you where the caller bought the cell phone than his or her current location. People don’t just change jobs and companies, they change career paths completely. (While pundits don’t agree on how many careers today’s new hires can expect, there is no evidence to suggest a new cycle of “career stability.”) Marriage, children, divorce, re-marriage, single parenting, and blended families are all increasingly threads in our social fabric. Coming out is now a multi-generational reality for children, teens, parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents.

Whether we are looking at our personal lives, our lives in organizations, or our lives within the greater society, Yogi’s message resonates. The future that our grandparents envisioned for us and for our parents is not the future we are living. The future our parents envisioned for us is not the future we are living. And, it is unlikely the future we once envisioned for ourselves is fully alive in our experiences today.

As I have written before, the volume, momentum, and complexity of change all continue to accelerate. We can selectively (and even collectively) try to wall ourselves off from it, but that creates its own set of stresses and conflicts as the world becomes more and more alien to us. That’s also a future that isn’t the future once foreseen.

Listen to Yogi as you create your change story. Listen to Yogi as you plan your change. Listen to Yogi as you prepare for the change journey. Listen to Yogi as you take that journey. And listen to Yogi as you live your new reality.

Whether your change is personal, organizational, or societal, you need to have a clear, crisp, easily communicated (and measurable) vision of the future you are trying to create; and, you need to know that the unexpected may require you to re-form that vision as you move forward.

You have to plan for all of the shifts in thinking and behavior that your change will require; you also need to be prepared to revise your planning as forces in the environment affect where you are going and/or how best to get there.

As you prepare for your change, brace yourself for the reality that there will be surprises, that the future won’t be what you anticipate it to be right now.

Moving through the change, don’t become so focused on executing the plan that you fail to look up, or look up to only see those things that reassure you. Because the environment is changing, because the unanticipated is inevitable in major change, you have to remain attuned or it is likely that you will be derailed along the way.

Yogi is right; the future you will be living when your change is complete will be a different reality than you set out to create. The paradox is, if you understand that before you start the journey, if you apply that reality along the way, it will still be a future that you have called forth. To ignore Yogi on this one is perilous at best.

(Image from the public domain, credited to Bowman Gum, 1953.

With thanks to Dave Martin for reminding me of Yogi’s wisdom.)

What is your reaction to this Yogi’ism? What others of Yogi Berra’s quotes resonate with you in the context of successfully executing personal, organizational, and/or societal change? Comment below.

At the End of Your Change Journey…


iStock_000005289966Small“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

T.S. Eliot

There is great power in metaphors, analogies, and stories…ways of communicating that move deeply inside of us, rather than just firing neurons in our brains. One of the greatest teachers of this message was Joseph Campbell.

There are several important things that I have learned about change journeys from Campbell over the years; in this post I share a few of those lessons with you.

If you look at the T.S. Eliot quote above, the message is really quite simple… New things come out of the old. Some thing or things have to end for others to begin. Starting a transformational journey, whether at the personal, organizational, or even the societal level, means letting go of something that has served as an anchor in the past. Beginnings can’t happen without endings.

Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey provides a powerfully wise road map to what your transformational journey is (and/or will be) like.

First, it is important to know that there are really two journeys needed if you are to achieve your desired outcomes. There is the outer journey: the new facilities, the new strategy, the new technology, the new processes, the new products, the new comp plan; you get the idea. (At the individual level, it may be the new career choice, the new relationship, the new home, etc.) But, there is also the inner journey: the new way of thinking about customers, or products, or line workers, or peers; the new way of seeing yourself and your role in relation to others; and, there are new ways of behaving as a result of the new ways of thinking.

The hero cannot make the journey successfully to the end without addressing both the inner and the outer.

The next important lesson that Campbell offers is the answer to the question, Who is the hero? 

As someone who has been a change practitioner all of his life, the unfortunate truth is that all too often those in this profession (change agents, mentors, trusted advisers, counselors, therapists, etc.) see ourselves as the heroes. We are not. We are simply the guides. We may do our jobs well, or poorly. We may offer exquisite guidance and profound insights, or we may mislead those who are taking the journey. We may walk alongside them, or serve as Sherpas carrying the weight of guide and counselor, but we are not the heroes. Hopefully, we apply every bit of wisdom we have; we offer the truth even when it is uncomfortable; we support the decisions, even when we disagree; we learn and grow; and we share our deepening wisdom with others so that our profession continues to advance. But, none of that makes us heroes of the change journey.

The heroes are those who make the journey, from the front line to the C-suite.

This is the next lesson that Joseph Campbell offers. The heroes are those who make the journey. Leaders are not heroes because they make the right decisions. They are not heroes because they send others to execute them. They only become heroes when they themselves take the inner and the outer journey. As my mentor Daryl Conner says, “Leaders can’t transform their organizations unless they are willing to transform themselves.”

This means that every change is personal. If the organization is facing conflict or imbalance in the marketplace, but the leadership is not taking it personally, significant change is not going to succeed. If the changes that are being faced are business imperatives and the C-suite is equipped with golden parachutes, be careful. If they are not personally feeling the heat, it is time to bring in new leadership for the change.

Perhaps your change is at the end. You–or you and your organization–are at a new beginning. Joseph Campbell offers up one more lesson to consider.

The ultimate aim of the quest, if one is to return, must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others.

What has been your experience with the Hero’s Journey? What are the most important lessons you have learned. Please share your insights below.