How Simplification is the Key to Change | Lisa Bodell | TEDxNormal

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Translator: Riaki Poništ
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven 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!” (Laughter) “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. 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. 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? (Laughter) “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. I was kind of testing this theory
with a group of scientists. I sat on an advisory board for really
great, smart, incredible people. The geeks are my peeps. They really are creating tomorrow today. I was there, and one of the guys
there was a neurologist. I love the guys
that do cognitive psychology – anything cognitive,
I love to talk about brain science. Of course, I got him aside
at the cocktail party, and I was having a glass of wine with him. And I said, “You know,
I think thinking is a daring act.” And he got really – he had been pretty introverted before. Suddenly, he got really engaged. He said, “Lisa,
I completely agree with you. In fact, you know, the brain is
the most amazing organ that we have. It starts working from the very
moment that you wake up, and it doesn’t stop until the very second
that you set foot into your office.” (Laughter) I put, “Alright, right.” But you know, why do we laugh? This is true, right? Thinking is a daring act,
and we have to change that in order for the space for change
and innovation to happen. And I want to tell you
three simple ways to do it. The first is around provocative,
killer questions. The second is around killing stupid rules. And the third is about making
simplification a habit. Let’s talk about each one. So first, I want us to get
into asking provocative – I’ll even call them – killer questions. Why? Meetings and emails, you sit a lot of times in classrooms
or meetings or brainstorms. And quite frankly, a lot of us
aren’t expecting a lot out of them. That’s bad. I expect a lot out of my meetings
because my time is valuable. Why do we get so mad
when people waste our money, but we don’t get as mad
when people waste our time. I don’t get that. So I think I owe it to people
and you owe it to people as leaders when you get into the room, if you want a better answer,
ask a better question. But we are so taught as leaders or people that are bringing out
the companies of tomorrow to find the answer. “Get to the answer.” So we go to these rooms and we say,
“Who’s got an answer about …” “Oh my god, I don’t know. I’m already asleep or thinking
about something else.” How can we ask a better question? Let me tell you why this is important. In the future, asking the right question is going to be more valuable
than finding the right answers. We have machine learning,
we have artificial intelligence, we have tons of algorithms, we have the data out there
that can get us answers we need. Are you asking the right question? Let’s think about this. Google is not a search engine.
Google is an answer engine. Ten years ago, when you typed
something into Google: “When is Abe Lincoln’s birthday?” you would get a list of links
that would send you to the sites that will get you Abe Lincoln’s birthday. Now, when you type
in the exact same thing: “When is Abe Lincoln’s birthday?” what do you get? You get the Wikipedia
dissertation of his entire life, and then you get, of course, summaries of pages that tell you
the birthday right there. Then the other places
where you’re supposed to go, where they think you really
want to get the answer of the question you’re really asking. Are you good at asking questions? So if we can go to the next, I’ll tell you the questions
I want you to get better at asking. So think about this. Next time you go into a meeting, what if you ask questions
that really got people right up here in their neocortex. Right up here where creative
problem-solving happens. Rather than sitting back and snoozing
and checking their email, doing in-and-out thinking,
get them engaged. They can give you
really disruptive things. So the first thing you could ask
is, for example: “If we had to give away
our products and services, right now, give them away for free,
how else would we make money?” For the next one, “What question
would you love to ask our customers, our students,
our employees, our friends, but we are too scared
or embarrassed to ask?” The final one here. This is great if you’re inside
an organization, and you don’t know
why people aren’t motivated. This is one of my clients
that told me this one. “You’ve just written a tell-all book
about the organization. (Whispers) What secrets would it reveal?” So I want you to think about: “What killer question
would you love to ask?” To get people to shake up thinking or define an answer
that you might be uncomfortable with, that you could create
this productive agitation and get people out of that status quo. All right, let’s talk about the next one,
which is around rules. I’m going to tell it
to you through a story. This was actually told to me from an engineer
at a nuclear power company when I was travelling in Germany. I said, “What’s holding
you back from change?” He said, “I won’t tell you directly; I’ll tell you a story
that sums it up pretty well.” And I loved this. He said, “Okay, there’s a scientist,
and he had ten monkeys in a cage. He decided he was going
to perform an experiment. And he put a banana on top of the cage. Of course, all the monkeys
fought to get the banana. The first monkey that got
the banana, he got to eat it, and the scientist poured water
on all the other monkeys in the cage, all nine of them. They were really mad. Next day, he does the same thing. He puts a banana on top of the cage,
all the monkeys fight to get it, one of them gets it,
he’s really proud of himself, he gets to eat it, scientist pours
water on all the other monkeys. They’re really mad. By the end of the week, any monkey that tries
to go for that banana, everyone pulls him back down. So the scientists got smart,
and he said, ‘You know what? I’m going to change up this experiment. Every week, I’m going to take
an old monkey out and put a new monkey in
and see what happens.’ So over the next ten weeks,
what does he do, next week, he takes an old monkey out,
he puts a new monkey in. What’s the first thing that monkey does? He tries to go for the banana. All the monkeys pull him down. By the end of the week, that monkey knows,
‘Oh my gosh, do not go for that banana!’ But at the end of ten weeks,
there are ten new monkeys in that cage. None of them go for the banana.
None of them know why.” This is what happens to us
all the time at work or the organizations we spend time on. We do not question why things
are the way they are. Someone put that rule
in place for a reason, right? Must be there for a reason.
Maybe it outlived its time. I think what we need to do
is start killing stupid rules. If you ask people – I get people in a room all the time,
and I give them 15 minutes, and I say, “If you could kill two rules
that hold you back from better innovating, what would they be and why?” And what they come up with
are not always rules. Their policies, reports,
meetings, and emails, cultural assumptions, things where their boss said,
“Who told you that was a rule?” And it starts the conversation
of getting rid of the things that hold you back,
from the status quo. The final thing I’ll tell you is really
the bigger picture we have to get to. This is about making
simplification a habit. [I survived another meeting
that should have been an email] We laugh because it’s true, all the time. Meetings and emails. Too often, we treat
simplification as an event, a one-shot deal, right? We do in December when things are slow, or we do it just before strategic
planning to look really good. Simplification is something
we have available to all of us. It’s a skill all of us have
at our companies, but none of us use it. We spend more time making things
complex than we do simplifying. It is time for us as leaders in a room
to take a code of conduct, to commit to simplification,
to make it a new operating principle. Every time you have a task
that comes in front of you, you owe it to yourselves,
to your colleagues, to the people that work for you,
to say, “Is this necessary?” “Am I doing things in the most
minimal way possible and still achieving my goal?” “Am I operating with clarity,
with language people can understand rather than trying
to be obsequious about it?” Are we doing things
that are really meaningful? Are we empowering people? Are we empowering them to make
those decisions on their own so they know it’s okay to get rid of, to create the space for change
and innovation to stick. [Change is a choice.] I think we have to realize
that change is a choice. You don’t have to do it,
but it’s the right thing to do. And you can do it in really simple ways. You can ask the killer questions
that shake us up out of the status quo. You can kill stupid rules
to make things easier right now. And you can make simplification
your new operating principle so people can actually get
out of that mundane work and get to the work that matters. And that’s how change
and innovation will really happen. With that, I want to say, thank you. (Applause) Thank you very much. (Applause)

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