You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic. You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic. Who hasn't been there? You move a few inches, then a sea of cascading red tail lights rolls towards you like a petroleum powered wave. You pound the steering wheel, let out a sigh and slouch back in your seat. You're stuck. If only these bozos would just mooovvveee!!! What's the hold up anyway? Don't they know you have somewhere to be?

I met a civil engineer once who specialized in traffic flow. I asked her how traffic happens. Is it one person slowing down that creates a ripple effect, is it talking on cell phones, is it bad drivers? Nope. It's us. We are the problem. There's just too many people on the roads. And the sad reality is it's not happening to us, we are the cause.

Last week, Bob Anderson from The Leadership Circle spoke to a group of our leaders at work. He shared an anecdote about his own career. He was positioned as a change agent in his organization and convinced that his inability to produce results was surely the fault of the culture, senior leadership, buy in, resources... anything but his work. He was an expert in change, after all.

Bob's realization was simple, he wasn't leading his own team the way he was coaching others. He was highly effective at getting others to understand and work through change, but he wasn't practicing what he peached. When he retooled his thinking. He began to work as a change agent for himself and his team. The end result? Things started moving in the fast lane.

I can relate to Bob's story. The role of a change agent can be a difficult one. Remember that great conversation about empathy I posted about a few weeks ago? We also talked about affecting change in cultures and organizations. It probably doesn't come as a surprise there's a high rate of burn out among innovators and people who promote change. Sometimes the organization has accepted or implemented all they have a capacity for, at a given time. Sometimes the agent them self has given all they can; taken the group or project as far as they can. Hopefully that timeline coincides with success, and a successful transition.

I think a lot about change. I work in a role all about innovation. We look at new ideas and trends and practices and think about design and process and user experience. How do all these parts fit together? Is there something we can do with widget A and process Z and team N?  Usually, success comes when a team or group picks up the threads and the shell you've created and makes it their own. It goes from conceptual and testing to operationalized.

But for one area in particular, that hasn't been the case for me lately. I've been stuck. Red taillights as far as the eye can see. It's goto to be some idiot 2 miles up the road talking on their phone, fiddling with their GPS...if only they'd move faster, this traffic would clear.

Then it hit me: I'm not stuck in traffic. I am traffic.

How am I going to take my foot off the break and open up the throttle? It starts with Bob Anderson's realization - We've got practice what we preach. If I was trying to coach another group through a similar challenge, where would we start? I'd ask questions:

  • Have we identified the challenge?
  • Do we understand the goal, barriers, stakeholders?
  • Have we put ourselves into an empathic mindset about the end user of this process? What do they really want?

In short, I need to take myself and team through the same design process I'd work with others on.

To be fair, it wasn't exactly a a lightbulb moment. I can be pretty dense about autodidactic growth. A few friends and big thinkers helped me think through the problem and how to design through it. How'd they get through my daft brain? They asked questions. What are you challenges? Do you know where you want to go? Have you though about doing XYZ, would people react differently if it did? See what I mean, smart people.

And, in fairness, it also helps to be married to an awesome OD expert in change management.

These friends are on twitter and you should follow them. The following example tweets from them are apropos of nothing in this post: