How Simplification is the Key to Change: Lisa Bodell at TEDxNormal (Full Transcript)

Lisa Bodell – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

I have a very simple goal today. I want to help you create more space for change and innovation in your organization, the places where you spend time every single day.

Now, I know that change and innovation are not new topics for everybody here sitting in the room. We talk about change all the time; we talk about innovation and making it stick. What I wonder more about is: Why aren’t we doing it? What’s really holding us back from being able to make that change happen?

And what I realized is that change is very hard for people. See, I spend my time talking to about 100,000 people all around the world each year about change, how to anticipate it and how to activate it. I know that it’s a very hard thing to do, but I wanted to know why.

So I started asking groups that I work with, whether it was 25 people or several thousand people at a time, this very simple question: “What do you spend your day doing?” Think about that. The day-to-day stuff you do. What do you spend your day doing? What surprised me was not the uniqueness of their answer but the consistency of it.

See, no matter what country or culture or company I was talking to, or what level or function of the person and the organization I was with, they all answered the exact same way “What do you spend your day doing?” And they would always say, “Meetings and emails.”

And I’m there to talk about change. So, you know, I have this feeling that people get up in the morning, and they want to do meaningful things. I don’t know about you, but I do not have a single friend that gets up in the morning and says, “I cannot wait for meetings!” “I can’t wait to tackle all those emails; I will feel so inspired by it.” Nobody does that. We don’t get up to do the mundane; we get up to do the meaningful.

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We want to make a difference, we want to create change, we want to solve problems, we want to move things forward. How do you do that if you spend your time in meetings and emails? What this made me realize is, within most organizations, the large majority of organizations, we approach change in all the wrong ways, right? The very things that we put in place to help us better create change and to innovate are the very things that put a chokehold on it. Meetings, reports, policies, emails, task forces – they’re all very important. But unfortunately, too often, they become the only thing that you do.

And then they become an excuse because it becomes complex, and it becomes the status quo, and we become complacent. And there’s no space for change to happen. Does that sound familiar? So, how do we change that? I think what we have to do is we have to approach change in a brand new way. Rather than starting to do more things – the first reaction we always have: “Let’s do more,” “Let’s put more things in place.” We need to stop that.

The first thing we need to do is “get rid of.” We need to kill things; we need to eradicate the stuff that’s too complex, that gets in our ways – meetings and emails – so we can make that space for change to happen. And I think we can do it in really simple ways, and I want to tell you how. But first what we have to do is we have to think about changing our mindset a little bit.

So if we could go to the next slide – I think there’s a problem in what we value and the places where we work. It’s a mindset shift that we have to get at first. I’ll tell you what I mean. The first thing is – what I see is we are not grooming leaders. At best, we’re grooming managers, and frankly, what I think we’re doing is we are training professional skeptics. People are really good when I go in and I teach innovation and I talk about new ideas – I taunt them with something totally new and disruptive – they’re very good at telling me why something is wrong.

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And they can do it for really long time before they can finally get to what’s right about it. I think it’s great to question things. But it cannot be the only thing that you do.

I think the second thing is we have this desire for process over culture. We talk a really good game in companies about culture, but we talk about it in kind of “BS” ways. It’s cultural aesthetics: it’s colored walls; it’s whiteboards; it’s foosball tables; its beanbag chairs; it’s great meeting rooms; who cares, right? That’s not culture. What we’re really doing is process in our companies because it’s specific. It’s structural. We’re very uncomfortable with the soft behavioral things. And those are the things that matter and help change and innovation happen, that gray area.

The final thing I think that we have to change is this addiction to doing over thinking. I think in most companies, thinking has become a daring act. Now, think about it. When you walk into someone’s office – I love this because I say this to people and they smile. You walk into someone’s office, and there’s your friend, Steve, and he’s just sitting there, leaning back in his chair, and he’s looking out the window, smiling. And you say, “Hey Steve, what are you doing?” And he looks at you, and he says, “Oh, I’m just thinking.” What’s the first thing that pops into most people’s minds? “Get back to work,” right? “I wish I could do that” “I wish I could have time to think.” But that’s what you want every day. Thinking is a daring act.

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