Yesterday I flew from the UK to Germany to have the first meeting this year with a client that I last worked for ten years ago. Getting up at 4.00am and struggling through the security gates which reminded me of a cattle ranch and then twisting and turning through the duty-free glitter path that is the only way to get to the plane at Stanstead Airport, I took a short 20-minute taxi ride to the client’s office that turned out to be more expensive than the flight itself! It was a beautiful day and I had a good two hours before the meeting to walk down memory lane. I needed to make sure I was energised and that my mind was clear.
The most surprising thing for me was that the client faced pretty much exactly the same challenges that they faced when I was last there. It was like seeing an old friend in the street that I had not seen for a while and saying “Wow! You haven’t changed a bit!” They were stuck in a rut. And what is more, they acknowledged the fact. It got me thinking: how difficult it is for all of us (and large organisations in particular) to adapt and change.
Whilst chatting to a friend today, the exact same thought arose in a different way. We were reflecting on what we had achieved in 2015 and what 2016 holds in store for us. Like wine, we tend to describe the past year as a “good year” or a “difficult year” or even an “annus horribilis” – depending on what has happened.
I think I would call 2015 a year of transition. What one word would describe this year for you?
Yet another friend said that their work has gone very well in the past year (to the detriment of everything else) and that he was way off on the objectives he had set himself which were to spend more time with his family. Success is both personal and relative – not just from individual to individual – but also in terms of the emphasis we put on specific relationships and projects. Everything has an opportunity cost associated with it. Life is a balancing act.
For example, in the first six months of this year, I became very distracted by a project which meant that I took my eye off the ball for several other things in my life – both personal and business. Setting a balanced set of aims and objectives at the start of the year is so important. Reflecting on the objectives that I set myself at this time last year, I completely underestimated the passion that I had for this unplanned distraction.
Understanding the dependencies and trade-offs that need to be made is so important. Yet we are emotional creatures and can often be overtaken by distractions and unpredictable events that come at us from stage left. Planning for unexpected turns is also important. As the great Peter Drucker said: “It’s not the plan that’s important, it’s the planning.”
But perhaps the most difficult thing in all of this is to break old habits. This is the case with my client in Germany – and is also so true of myself as we move into 2016. In order to change, you need to jump out of an existing pattern and create a new pattern – like the goldfish jumping from one bowl into another in the picture.
Some say that if you practice a new habit for 30 days, then it will stick. I tried that by giving up alcohol for 6 weeks in mid-October. Those friends who got a bit worried need concern themselves no more! I started again last week. Which just proves that the 30-day rule doesn’t work!
The creation of a new habit requires the displacement of other habits that you need to stop. And it needs to happen so that the new pattern becomes unconscious behaviour. Yet, when you jump to a new habit pattern, it can be quite lonely for a while.
Unless you can create a substitute pattern that is more fulfilling and purposeful, the tendency is to jump back to what is familiar. All the 12-step programmes understand that. The first step is always to admit that you are powerless to the particular addiction or pattern. In doing so, you become conscious of it and can change it.
Think about it. Which patterns do you want to dissolve or move away from in 2016 to give yourself more time to do the things you really want to do? What entrenched (perhaps unconscious) patterns do you want to jump out of? Write them down and share them with a close friend or relative. Get some support on the shift to a new pattern. It is much easier like that!
That’s what I hope to do with my German client. Given that they are conscious and want to change, we will start by describing the new fish tank. All the good things about the new environment and the benefits of being there. Then finding one or two fish that will make the first jump. A bit like “Finding Nemo”. The good news is that there are plenty of fish to choose from and I believe that, 10 years on, the temperature in the current tank is a bit too warm for comfort.
Please comment if you see any other analogies or have any relevant stories to tell! In particular, let us know what patterns you want to jump out of and let us know how you are thinking of doing it!