How can I actually make change happen?
Change is tough.
Sometimes we naturally find that staying with something that’s bad is easier than adapting because at least it’s comfortable and predictable when we stick with something that is familiar.
Also, as we learn and grow and gain experience, we develop a way of thinking where if somebody suggests a change, it feels like an attack on us personally. It’s an attack on our thought process. It’s an attack on what we’ve established.
There's an old story about an elephant that was chained to a leash that was connected to a small stake in the ground when the elephant was very young.
The elephant pulled and pulled and couldn't pull away from that stake.
The elephant grew into an adult and was still chained to this little stake, but it held onto the belief it can never pull away based on its past experience. But the reality was that stake couldn't hold it anymore.
The elephant's truth really wasn't the truth anymore. The elephant had far outgrown the strength of that little stake.
Sometimes, the things that we hold true from our past are no longer reality.
That's absolutely the way in which technology has totally rocked our world and our way of thinking today.
In consulting in construction and design, we still think of things in truth that simply don’t apply to our industry anymore.
What are things that we cling to today that are just rooted in tradition?
You could look at countless examples of how we deliver drawings in a digital format, yet we hold sacred the drafting tendencies that we adopted 50 years ago because it was efficient and made sense when we literally were hand drawing on blueprints.
Are there ways and processes that we can improve based on the tools and abilities that we have now?
Digital transformation is just one adjustment.
If I said a document is intended to communicate a concept, it’s supposed to convey a concept. What other ways can we support better communication?
Is it including isometrics on our drawings?
Is it delivering our model?
Is it providing augmented reality so that people in the field can visualize in three dimensions what the design intent was?
The processing power we have in our pocket today as well more than NASA used to get to the moon and back.
How do we use that to help facilitate better fire protection in the field?
Can we get the most knowledgeable staff directly in front of onsite issues using FaceTime? What about 360 cameras? What about virtual reality?
Yeah, we can. What else?
It's not just digital and our ability to communicate, but what about the internet?
If we're so concerned about intellectual property being copied and used by potential competitors, couldn't we create some kind of check and balance just using the internet?
If we're concerned about our sign and seal being used, why not just set up a online database for somebody could look up whether a seal is authentic or not?
All this to say, there are plenty of wide-open opportunities right now to experiment and incorporate change in our industry.
The amount of technology we have at our fingertips far exceeds our ability to experiment and adapt it right now.
And that's just technology.
Going back to our original question, how do I actually make change happen?
There could be a lot of different answers here, and this one is especially subjective.
I tend to be somebody that is obsessed with figuring out better ways to do things.
It might be my tendency to just daydream constantly, or might be that I'm far too curious to take a status quo as the best option.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm someone who tinkers with things and occasionally finds a good idea.
But finding a good idea is never the last step.
Getting changed to happen requires buy-in from other people and quite often approval with it. If we're going to incorporate that change, we need that buy-in.
Small companies have some benefit of being more flexible and having less cooks in the kitchen if you will. So a good idea can be adapted pretty quickly. You only have so many people to convince.
Large organizations, on the other hand, often have well-established standards, and it can be difficult to get a new idea approved and incorporated on a larger scale.
That's not a knock on large organizations. That's just the natural tendencies when we get larger groups of people. We look for standardization, and honestly, large organizations can benefit from standardization, but there's also some barriers that come with that.
To actually make change happen, I find the best way to do it is not to talk about it but to prove it.
I can talk about a vision for a new idea all day long, but until I literally show someone the concept in some form, then I will get blank stares and a whole lot of doubt.
I don't really blame people either.
I like to say I'm an engineer, so naturally, I can't communicate.
That's especially true when I’m trying to relay some vision for something that doesn't yet exist, and the other person just has to imagine it right along with me.
The best way I've actually been able to make change happen is to demonstrate what the future can look like.
So my best advice is to go above and beyond. Don't ask for permission, but experiment and create something even if it's only 20% of the way there, just so you can show a concept, basically prove it.
I was working with an organization once who had a really outdated website.
Their group was fantastic, and they were innovative. They were flexible. And we all agree that the website needed help. But I found that sitting around and talking about what we all wanted out of a new website spiraled into endless discussions, and we couldn't really agree on anything.
In that environment, the status quo was the safest option, and it was going to continue to be the only option because it was so difficult to agree on what the future looked like. So, one weekend and without asking for permission, I mocked up what a future website could look like. It took maybe a couple of hours, but when I brought it back to the team on Monday and shared here's what I'm thinking this could be, the buy-in was immediate.
And the feedback was very positive, and suddenly it wasn't, it really wasn't that everybody was agreeing on my font choices and color styles, but it was really that they could see what I was talking about. They could see an example of that vision and how it was demonstrated to be better than what we had at the time.
And I've run into similar situations and design processes.
I once had a project that I was no longer on from the engineer who took it over, and he asked why my specifications were broken out into a spreadsheet to organize, edit, and ultimately print out for that project.
It was one of my experiments, and I was trying to figure out a way, a better way to edit and control specifications.
You said it took way longer, and it was more burdensome than just editing the specifications the way we had always done it.
Yeah, it was way worse.
It was a terrible idea.
It was an experiment that didn't pan out.
For every 10 things I tinker with, I'd only come up with two or three actual good ideas that I can use and hold onto. But that's the whole point.
If I don't tinker and I don't actually demonstrate some improvement, then I simply won't be able to make change happen.
It's not about ideologies and sharing a vision or talking about it. It's about trying things out and finding some way to demonstrate that your concept is far better than what the status quo is.
People like to ask if it's better to ask for permission or forgiveness, and in some cases, well probably most cases, I'm in the camp of asking for forgiveness afterwards, but the reality is that it kind of depends on the situation.
If what I'm experimenting with is not going to cause any harm, does not negatively impact anybody else, doesn't impede my ability to do my own job. Then I mean, really what do we need permission for?
In my very subjective opinion, I often find the best way to actually make things happen is just to constantly tinker around with things until I find an idea that is a winner.
Then and only then after I can demonstrate that it's a significant improvement, will I show it to other people and see if I can make that change happen.
I say all this because thinking about the world nodded as what it is, but what it could be the value that really cannot be understated.
When we look at historical data, we're finding that the rate of change now each year and just our slice of history, change is happening at a faster pace now than we've ever experienced in all of human history.
We may approach our lives in a very similar fashion to what we did 5, 10, or 20 years ago. But with technology and innovation, we really have so much more potential than we can even see today.
I would challenge you as you're having these thought exercises, not just to think about, well, how do I improve my workflow or my own methods for how I do my work.
That is very important, and continual improvement in your own experience will pay dividends throughout your lifetime.
I would just challenge you to think about big change, to think about things that impact not just you but your team and your community and the industry.
If you want to see something happen industry-wide, think about the steps to actually make that happen.
I started writing a blog in my basement five years ago and day by week, and day by day and week by week, I kept making small tweaks and improving that platform.
It wasn't an overnight thing, and it wasn't that I had some grand plan. I just started and started moving in the right direction.
That's not to say where this platform is now with the website, and everything is some big monolith. That's changed industry, but it's on a trajectory to actually make an impact.
The issues that I can help tackle now are far greater than what I could do at that time.
I think the daily forum is a great example.
At the time of this writing, the forum has over 4,000 subscribers and sees over a hundred thousand visitors each month.
It's literally just a open, free path to help discuss best practices for the industry in front of people all over the world.
That's new hires to the industry leaders that we have worldwide.
When I created that forum, I really wanted a place where we would stop beating each other up and avoiding asking tough questions because it might make us look bad. Instead, I wanted an outlet where we could actually discuss quality solutions to issues that we see regularly, collective issues that we all have to address.
Again, the forum is not the end goal. It's a step in the right direction, but you know that the platform is really built to support you in your efforts to do great things in the industry.
But along those lines, I would just challenge you as you're thinking about change and your impact across your career. Don't think too small.
You have the ability to learn and grow and influence and actually make change where you think it could happen.
So, go make it happen.
I'm Joe Meyer, this is MeyerFire University.
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