Often, organizations don’t realize that they’re falling down the abyss until extraordinary efforts are required to make a difference. But it’s always easier to fix it today than it will be tomorrow.
And here’s the hard part: You don’t fall down the abyss all at once. You compromise, you cut corners, you don’t bring as much to your work, and nothing bad happens (at first). So the feedback loop is broken.
Working your way back out works the same way: You work harder, you raise your standards, you invest, and nothing good happens (at first).
The challenge is to have the guts to care even when you’re not apparently rewarded for caring.
Brittle organizations are focused on which end of the egg you open. Are you wearing the team jersey the right way, saying the incantations each time, saluting properly…
Resilient organizations are more focused on what you produce, and why.
Petty dictators care a lot about words, about appearances, about whether everyone is genuflecting in precisely the same way.
The problem with words is that they easily lose their meaning. Say something often enough and it becomes a tic, not an expression of how you actually feel. Not only that, but words rarely change things. Actions do.
It turns out that it’s a lot easier to sign up for a tribe that doesn’t ask you to think, or take responsibility for your actions. But, in the long run, those are the very things that lead to the changes we seek.
“Use your best judgment, care about your impact, do work that matters…” are significantly more powerful instructions than, “Do it this way. Say it this way. Behave the way I told you to.”