Change Can Come From Anywhere

January 7, 2024




In this 8020Info Water Cooler, our first of the new year, we look at the flow of change, sources of surprise, tips for new leaders, writing better, mentorship, and assessing whether what you have to offer is different, better and special. We’re also reading about trust and shortening attention spans. Enjoy!


1. Change Can Come From Anywhere


Many believe change comes from the top. But that’s not necessarily true.

“When we look more closely, we inevitably find that the CEO was inspired to give the pivotal speech [that first proposed change] from a conversation he had with his daughter. The marketer got the initial idea for the campaign from a junior team member, who saw it somewhere else,” innovation consultant Greg Satell write on his blog.

But if change doesn’t necessarily start from the top, he argues, culture does. Leaders determine what gets rewarded and what gets punished. And that can determine whether people will feel free to be innovative.

Often organizations have a certain amount of freedom within agreed upon guardrails. Those seeking change will be more likely to succeed, he says, if they work within the culture rather than try to break the norms.

“Successful change efforts don’t overpower, they attract.”

And people at every level of the organization have a role to play.

“What’s important is that you go to where the energy is, not try to create or maintain it by yourself,” he says. “Go out and find those who are enthusiastic about change, who want it to work and will not only work to bring it about, but bring in others who can bring in others still.”

He warns: “You need to recognize that the urge to persuade is a red flag. It usually means you have the wrong people or the wrong change.”


2. Tips for Lasting First Impressions as a Leader

Leaders taking on a new assignment have to watch their step. In their eagerness to assert themselves, they can send the wrong message.

On The Trust Ambassador site, leadership consultant Bob Whipple notes: “What happens in the first few hours will determine your success for the next several months. First impressions stay with people until supplanted by ideas from events that play out over time.”

Some things to watch:

  • Learn about the culture: It is a mistake to come in with an assumption that everything is messed up. Instead, try to understand the strengths and areas of good performance that already exist. “Seek to learn, appreciate, and reinforce for the first week or so,” he advises.
  • Establish rapport one on one: Meet with each employee privately to chat about their role. Get to know them as an individual, and show you care by asking about family, hobbies and other personal interests.
  • Build trust: From the start you need to display the five C’s of trust: Competence, good Character and values, Consistency, Cordiality, and Caring.
  • Avoid pushing ideas from your former job: People tire of hearing about all the wonderful policies in a new boss’s previous position. When you start, he recommends, refer to the prior job only one time in public. Then refrain from other references for at least two months.
  • Try to learn about the cliques and informal networks in your new organization, and be visible by wandering around extensively.
  • Finally, smile — let people know you are happy to be there.

3. Write Fast, Redraft and Read It Out — Often

Whether it’s a marketing newsletter or an email, consultant Ann Handley recommends getting the first draft out of your head and onto paper or the computer as fast as you can.

“It’ll be lousy. It’ll be ugly. GOOD FOR YOU. You did it! Have a snack,” she writes in her Total Annarchy newsletter.

Now rewrite, as unappealing as that may be – even if it’s just an email. “The difference between something you make excuses for and something you’re proud of is one more round of revisions,” she says.

Show, don’t tell. Lazy writers state things as they see it, rather than getting into the shoes of the recipients. Paint a picture in which they can see themselves. “Count the number of YOUs in anything you write. If you run out of fingers… you’re doing GREAT,” she notes.

Read everything out loud. You will hear your voice, literally. You’ll spot awkward phrasing, moments when you’re too prescriptive, and even spelling and grammatical errors.

Finally, write every day – even if it’s just a sentence. You’ll improve.

4. Five Mentoring Traps to Avoid

Check yourself to make sure you’re not exhibiting any of the five traits of bad mentors that executive coach Dan Rockwell highlights on his blog.  Bad mentors tend to:

  • Pressure people into conformity.
  • Give instruction but not feedback.
  • Expect you to be like them.
  • Talk more than they listen.
  • Don’t understand what makes their protégés tick.

If anything from that list sounds like you, stop. If it sounds like your mentor, change.

5. Zingers

  • Do the Hard Part First: If you’re trying to reduce risk, do the hard part first, advises entrepreneur Seth Godin. If the project fails, you’ll have minimized your time and effort. An exception is when you’re looking for buy-in and commitment so you can get through the hard part. Then you must do it last, using the momentum of early wins. (Source: Seth’s Blog).
  • Impact of AI on Tasks: A recent Accenture study found generative artificial intelligence has the potential to affect 44% of all working hours across several industries. Banking was at the top, where 72% of working hours may be transformed; insurance was just slightly lower, at 68%. Retail, travel, health, and energy were at 40% to 50%. Tasks, not jobs, will be the building blocks of this transformation.  (Source: Harvard Business Review).
  • Strivers vs. Naturals: Some people like to be known for their hard work, but if you are perceived as “a natural” at your job rather than a striver, others will rate you higher. In one experiment, people heard the same piano performance but they gave it a higher score when the pianist was described as a natural rather than as a diligent striver. Other studies have found naturals rated better on multiple dimensions of performance and success.  (Source: Medium).
  • Encouraging Employees to Grow: Don’t be afraid to showcase the leaders on your teams who have made multiple lateral moves in the organization and developed a wide range of skills and experiences. This counters the belief that, to rise, one has to go elsewhere. Linda Jingfang Cai, global head of learning and talent development at Aon, also recommends explicitly telling your teams it is a good thing to let their best talent go — so those individuals can build new skills. (Source: ChiefLearningOfficer).
  • Avoid the Worst or Seek Perfection? Instead of always trying to be your best, ask yourself how to avoid being at your worst, says thought leader Shane Parrish. (Source:

6. The List: 10 Questions on Being Different

To assess whether your product and services stand out from the competition, strategy consultant Rich Horwath offers these 10 questions in his book Strategic:

  • What are the activities we perform that are truly different from the competition?
  • What activities are similar but we perform them in different ways than the competition?
  • How is our business model different from the competition?
  • What resources do we have that are different from the competition?
  • How do our core competencies differ from those of our competitors?
  • How do customers or clients describe the differences between the competition and us?
  • How does our culture differ from that of our closest competitor?
  • Are there any real differences between our people and our competitor’s people?
  • How does our professional development approach differ from that of competitors?
  • What is the primary differentiated value our offering provides to customers?


7.  Around Our Water Cooler


An Insight Worth Considering: 
Focus on Just the Next Step  

As leaders we may have visionary dreams, but often we talk ourselves out of pursuing them because a project seems impossibly big or complex.

If you’re having trouble getting started, shorten the distance between where you are and where you focus. If climbing Mount Everest is your ultimate goal, change your focus to the next step. You can’t reach the top if you don’t get started.

(Source:  Superlinear FS Blog Nov. 5, 2023)


Preparing for Surprises in 2024:

No doubt this new year will bring plenty of surprises, but it’s hard to plan and prepare for what you can’t see coming.

As Policy Horizons Canada explains in its helpful framework, the discipline of  strategic forecasting offers this checklist identifying five sources of surprise that can emerge:

  • Surprises coming from places where we’re not looking. (Scanning the operating environment can help.)
  • Impacts when a significant change cascades across the system. (Consider mapping potential chains of cause and effect downstream.)
  • Changes interacting with each other. (You might want to trace the interactions and brush up on cross-impact and system analysis skills.)
  • Being unaware of pathways and networks through which change could flow. (Mapping system channels/connections can help.)
  • Failure to anticipate how unexpected patterns of change could emerge. (Consider scenarios incorporating different models of change.)

There are ways to build buffers and resilience in your organization as you prepare for surprises, but it’s easier when you can glimpse them coming.


What We’re Reading:


  • Harvey’s Pick: In How Trust Works, University of California professor Peter Kim brings together his experimental research and recent controversies to explore how trust is squandered or rebuilt after a rupture.
  • Rob’s Pick: Our ability to think long and hard is collapsing. In Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention–And How to Think Deeply Again, Johann Hari  investigates what helps and hinders our ability to concentrate. He explores the crisis of shorter attention spans, multi-tasking (humans can’t actually do it), the addictive nature of technology (especially social media), and his own three-month “digital detox” experience.


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8.  Closing Thought

“I didn’t get to where I am by going after mediocre opportunities.”

– Charlie Munger (Until his recent death, Munger was vice chair of Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate controlled by Warren Buffet.)