On tiny revolutions and change

One of the more interesting elements of working in the information industry is constant change. There are changes in information technology, in information seeking behaviours, in information channels, and in the intensity and spatial characteristics of information access, use, and re-use.  In addition, there are changes happening within organisations, groups of people, and individuals.  And sometimes we want to initiate change ourselves.

In many cases, however, initiating change is akin to the never-ending challenge of rolling the metaphorical boulder up a steep hill; something the modern-day Sisyphus would be all to well aware.  It isn’t enough to have a good idea.  One must “sell” the idea to key decision-makers, and then wait to see if anything transpires. To make “it” happen, we have to take the responsibility, lest we keep pushing boulders up hills all our working lives.

Naturally, there is some tension over the speed at which ideas get translated into action, depending on where one stands in the milieu of stakeholders.  But for those of us who like to see good ideas take root quickly, it is worthwhile to consider making tiny revolutions for change. After all, Rome wasn’t built-in a day and nor was US health reform!

David Gurteen alerted me to a blog post by Chris Brogan called Tiny Revolutions.  Tiny revolutions are the small steps necessary to get things done. Brogan isn’t specifically talking about turning ideas into action for organisational effectiveness, but I see what he has to say generically and I can apply the thinking to organisational contexts.

The first step is usually the easiest – you have an idea or want to take some action.  Brogan goes on to say: “What happens next is that you move from thinking into action-taking.  That step is huge, by the way. The difference between thinking about something, deciding something, and DOING something is like the difference between firing a gun and just throwing the bullet”.

Brogan asks us to think about some of the steps along the way. The first is what we already know from experience – in most cases, people and organisations don’t like change and they try to resist it. Brogan reminds us though that we need to take daily action that are made up by many smaller events (some of which you may even be completely unaware). In the course of these tiny revolutions leading you to “the moment”, you will need tools of some sort – “”You need new ways to see, new ways to think, new ways to evaluate, new methods of support. You need to try new skills, learn more about different ways of doing, you need to build new habits and forge new alignments.”

But the revolution won’t be totally devoid of pain. Brogan says that “Moving from one state to another involves pain. It might be emotional. It might be physical. But pain is part of revolution”. Indeed, sometimes the pain is shared and sometimes the pain is disproportionate to the originator of the idea.  In those situations, it is imperative to provide continuous communication, feedback, modifications if necessary, and understanding.

Brogan concludes that not everyone may want a revolution. Indeed, in my own workplace experiences over the past twenty-odd years I have seen plenty of obstacles to good ideas simply because it was easier and more comfortable to do nothing.  On the other hand, sometimes tiny revolutions emerge by themselves and gain traction along the way because they are good ideas.  Tiny revolutions are around us everywhere – how can we use them to improve ourselves and our organisations?

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