Everybody seems to be talking about change these days. I’m adding my voice to the mix with personal stories of change. These stories will describe how its possible to transform our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world into one characterized by vision, understanding, clarity and agility. We’ll talk about concepts and then apply them immediately on a running project.

The change we’ll be discussing will not be of the “change your mind” kind. And, not change as in “No way you are leaving this house until you change out of that outfit.” (I’ll save that one for my 13 year old daughter!) We’ll focus our attention on change that requires the expertise or involvement of more than just one person. The kind of change that starts out with a nagging intuition that says something isn’t quite right — that says things should be different somehow.

The change also should be something that seems reasonably inside of our control. Lofty, but accessible stretch goals. While I in no way want to discourage any of you to have as your change initiative to bring about world peace or transform global warming into global healing, we’ll focus our attention on much more plebian ventures. Morphing corporate culture, achieving goals set forth in our strategic plan, or organizational restructuring are all fair game. A hospital that is implementing an electronic medical records system or starting up a new company are a good fit as well.

With these kinds of change intiatives, participants are faced with significant complexity, collaboration will be required, and the exact post-collaboration future state would be difficult to accurately predict. It will be necessary to use our imaginations to envision the future. The successful outcome will depend on our ability to attract others to the task, see the surrounding system clearly, understand its moving parts, find the leverage points and let loose interventions that guide the flock toward our vision. We could agree to call it cooperative change.

My friends at Knowesys have agreed to help guide me through a change that I’d like to see in the world. I’ll apply their adaptive change framework and write about the experience here.

Desire is the seed of change

I expect each of us stumble upon things that we desire to change in our own way, based upon our experience through life. Some of us are big picture idealists and see opportunity at every turn. Others see problems and strive for solutions. I’ve noticed my yearnings for change can come from either camp.

In the scenario I’ll be documenting in this blog series, my desire for change began with a constant annoyance — keeping track of my kids. Mind you, it’s not my kids that are annoying. They are a delight; fun and talented and smart. But all of this education and entertainment comes with a price. My wife and I share the responsibility for carting the kids around from place to place. I know what you are thinking, and yes, my wife does more of it than me. She collects the calendar and stores it in a big binder. I never can remember the when’s and where’s, so I’m always having to ask my wife. Or, more accurately, my wife is always having to tell me when it’s my turn, where I have to be to pick up which kids and at what time. The now debunked myth that we retain 30% of what we hear and 10% of what we read, doesn’t hold true for me. While I’ve not subjected myself to rigorous experimentation, I am relatively certain I retain more of what I read. Or, it might just be that that, as my wife says, I can’t hear the frequency of her voice. Or maybe it’s the disease commonly referred to as CRS. In any case, I generally need to hear it multiple times.

If I want to know for myself where the kids need to be and when without having to ask, I need to consult the binder. It contains every printed page of calendar that the kids collect — forensics, theater, dance, violin lessons, volleyball, soccer, school events — they are all in there.

I don’t like the binder. Maybe its that I never know where it is. Maybe its that I know from my career as an information architect that its contents are never 100% accurate. Event times and locations are very dynamic while her paper based system has no good way to stay current. Not my wife’s fault, but the paper doesn’t help. It gives the illusion of up-to-date information. It’s the deceit that bugs me, maybe. What’s more, the publishers of each calendar do not print a new calendar for every change. Rather, the changes are usually in a series of email blasts or voice mail from a phone tree.

Also, it’s neither searchable nor filterable. I can’t ask the binder to show me the events containing the word “ballet.” And, I can’t get a list of events only for today. The list of events that are happening today are represented across multiple calendars. I have to aggregate them by day in my head while flipping through the pages.

This problem for me is like that mosquito in the dark. No potential to really do me harm, but damn if I could just make it go away.

I probably would have let this open sore fester but for a recent workshop session on observable work where the presenter, the esteemed Jon Udell, related to us his latest project teaching others to be virtual curators for community calendars based on syndication. We share frustration with the way event producers present their calendar information. In the information age, we need event data presented in way that we can consume more easily, taking advantage of the tools at hand. Turns out that the tools are readily available for someone to share their calendar in such a way where we can subscribe to it, making those events appear in our personal calendars while the publisher maintains control over the event information.

It strikes me that my desire for this change is owned jointly by my desire to have an easier solution for managing calendar data and by the knowledge that a solution is readily available save for a change in human behavior. Just that (sarcasm included).

Perhaps that’s a critical ingredient for change — knowledge that the change is possible. For my part, I think that’s true. I find myself looking for precedent as permission to proceed. I know others who are able to just believe. Belief is the strongest motivator.

So, with my belief that this improvement is possible, I set out to form the collaborations necessary to bring about this change. Let’s call it a lesson in adaptive change with a civic lesson in information literacy thrown in for good measure.

Where do we begin?

I like Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth where he suggests we “begin anywhere.” The entire path to successful change need not be known. We need simply next action. Still, it’s helpful to have a framework and a guide. So, to begin, we’ll take a closer look at some concepts around how change happens.

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