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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Falling Up vs. Burning Platforms: Culture, Mindset, or Stimulus?

(Perspective 2 in a series of weekly perspectives on Structured Problem Solving)

Last week in Part 1 of this series on Structured Problem Solving, we introduced the Turning Adversity into Opportunity Mindset.  This week we will enlarge our knowledge of “Falling Up” and discuss its lesser cousin “burning platforms.” 

Do you remember the 3 Paths in Falling Up?  
There are two scenarios to illustrate this concept: 

Scenario #1:  Falling Up.  Think of yourself as an employee (or company) in today’s tough economic times and you’ve just been laid off (if a company, you’ve just declared bankruptcy). Conventional thinking leaves you with two outcomes:

1.       How can I survive this?  Reactive in nature.  Not very positive.
2.       Woe is me!  Worst case scenario and very negative. 
However, there is a third option!

3.       Use this adversity as a way to not only pick yourself up, but as an opportunity to get better than before.  You create your own future!  Real transformation happens here.
Remember, we often undermine our ability to tackle our challenges when we don’t use other options.  We become helpless.  We create self-fulfilling prophecies.  This is a sure fire route to failure and what positive psychologists call “learned helplessness.” 

Scenario #2:  Burning Platforms. 
This is similar to scenario #1, except the adverse event hasn’t occurred yet and you face a looming black cloud (for the Federal sector this is the Secretary of Defense’s Efficiency Cuts).  Again, conventional thinking leaves you with the same two outcomes:

1.       How can I survive this?  Reactive in nature.  Not very positive.
2.       Woe is me!  Worst case scenario and very negative. 
Again, there is a third option!

3.       Use this looming adversity as an opportunity for growth and get even better.  
However, the difference in this scenario is the “looming” condition.  This is where I disagree with many change advocates who enjoy using (or just talk about) burning platforms as catalysts for change.   When working with teams, there are differing levels of social engineering going on.  Using looming, negative events is a very reactive and poor way to get teams to gel for lasting success.  Yes, they may band together to get the problem solved, but once the looming event passes or a decision is made, most teams go back to business as usual. 

Is that real change?  Have you affected the culture?  In my book, NO.

But I digress, the key here is that we must create an organizational culture that considers problems (even looming ones) as an opportunity to improve, which leads to the key methodology in our Lean Six Sigma Practitioner Professional toolbox: Structured Problem Solving.  Perspective three in this series will look at Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC), and Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA).   I will leave you with a thought from Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage:

“…..And above all remember that success is not about never falling down, or even simply about falling down and getting up over and over.  Success is more than about simple resilience, it is about using that downward momentum to propel ourselves in the opposite direction.  It is about capitalizing on setbacks and adversity to become even happier, even more motivated, and even more successful.  It is not falling down, it is falling up.”

About the Author: Ernie Shishido is a Master Black Belt with the US Air Force’s Business Transformation Office with 29+ years of uniformed military service.  Ernie can be found on LinkedIn @ http://www.linkedin.com/in/ernieshishido or by email at er.shishido@gmail.com / ernest.shishido@pentagon.af.mil (until 10 Dec 2010).  

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