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Posted on: Saturday, 12 September 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Builders, Organizations And Stuff That Changes Things.

Genuine Builders embrace change. They are just as afraid of change as anyone else; but then they indulge in the act of building stuff that makes small and big dents in the universe. They indulge in the act of building stuff that changes things. Hire a couple of genuine builders; let them be your seed engineers and chances are; they will attempt to change just about anything that seems 'safe' in your organization.

Organizations; as it turns out; are often not very comfortable with these sort of huge changes or ideas that bring about these sort of changes.

Scott Berkun describes this with the help of; what he calls; a 'bad illustration'.

Scott explains:

The arrows are the paths of different ideas. The box in the middle is the organization.

Whenever leaders want more innovation, they typically start by adding more inputs into the process. They seek out more ideas. Hey, lets brainstorm! Or maybe we should crowdsource! Or how about getting everyone to mindmap!

Executives often do this flinchy sort of thing and it’s big news at many corporations to start “idea programs” to encourage people to submit ideas.

These programs are launched, ideas are submitted, and there is much rejoicing.

But little change.

The reason there is little change is that idea inputs were never the problem. The bottleneck was further upstream. Crowdsourcing, brainstorming, mindmapping, and the dozens of other techniques people obsess about help create early idea volume, but do little to help the curators, the people who winnow down the hundreds of ideas down to dozens, and dozens down to a handful.

It’s much more useful to study where the bottlenecks are, when and why new ideas are killed, and who the people are that are killing them.

When it comes to the software development shops around the world; I've seen countless new ideas by genuine builders; sometimes; even the ideas which are capable of standing the test of time; being killed faster than they are born.

As a builder; when you introduce an idea or build stuff that is supposed to make a small or big dent in the universe; you dear reader; are trying to bring about change; which; as it turns out; is not something that is easy to bring about; at-least not in most organizations.

DeMarco and Lester describe this in their book Peopleware while explaining the 'Resistance To Change Continuum' and how it works. According to 'Resistance To Change Continuum'  your organization can be composed of the following types of individuals.

The 'Blindly Loyal' kind will not force your ideas to go through a 'reality check' and will result colossal life-changing fu@#kups. Every other kind from passive observers to 'militantly opposed' are just equally dangerous when it comes trying to bring about change.

In the above list; the only kind that help bring about change in your organization are the 'skeptics' --- your fellow builders or story-tellers who look up to your; look after you; look at you and have the courage and the spine to tell you where you are going wrong.

Depending on where you work; chances are that more than once; you are bound to see situations in your career; where the ratio of every other kind compared to genuine skeptics is relatively high. Depending on where you work; you are bound to see ideas; even the ones that would have otherwise stood the test of time; die a miserable death in meeting rooms.

Look around you.

Does your organization have skeptics who challenge your ideas in a healthy way or do you often find yourself presenting your ideas to people of every other kind in the 'Resistance To Change Continuum'?

If you are stuck with an organization where the later is true:

  1. Let your ideas stand the test of time.
  2. Run them through a few genuine builders or skeptics you might know and trust.
  3. Throw them out there and let them spread.

Then; if you find your ideas spread and survive; get your partners in crime to join in; and try out implementing these ideas --- in your garage.

Till you can get your organization to 'see it' and 'get it' --- that is where most ideas will have to turn into prototypes and then take the shape of real products.

Unless you work at an organization which embraces change; that; dear reader; might be your only chance to bring about change.

I wish you good luck.

Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.