A few years back, when I had just moved to Cambridge, I was sitting in my new home feeling deeply depressed. The move had been extremely stressful and at that point I was regretting it. This had been intended to change my life for the better, but right then it just seemed like a massive mistake. I remember chatting with the son of a friend of mine, who was a veteran of twelve step recovery.
“Ah,” he said sagely, “you pulled a geographic.”
He explained how easily people in distress from addiction reach for miracle cures – big changes that will transform their lives. A new relationship! A new car! Or (hence the term) I’ll move to Australia! Unfortunately, these big moves often fail because they don’t address the harder to spot, deeply rooted, tiny habits that make up the addiction.
I eventually turned things around in Cambridge, but that conversation has always stuck with me.
Which leads me to another clip from John Wenger’s latest post.
He makes this neat point about the idea of a quantum shift, neatly embracing its stricter meaning and the more popular interpretation.
What was required was a quantum shift; I use “quantum” to describe both the smallest thing and the largest thing. From my experience, it is usually the smallest shifts in individuals or teams that create the biggest and most significant ripple effects in culture and perforamance.
I think management porn encourages us to compete with each other for “strategic” insights. So the little shifts that might matter get disparaged. We sit at boardroom tables wringing our hands about high-sounding abstractions. The ability to hold these kinds of important conversations is often the route to power in organisations. But they easily distract us from the multiple, apparently mundane details that make up our real lives and may have more to do with how things really change.