Changing a culture involves choices; what to keep, what to lose, what to grow.

Or does it?

Two helpful gurus suggest more contemplation.

Terry Pratchett was characteristically forthright:

‘If you do not know where you come from then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going.

And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong.’

While Buddha….

‘If you want to know your past, look into your present condition.

If you want to know your future, look into your present actions.’

The contemplation route is little longer and a little harder.

It should be.

Changing course in a business, a career, a life, is always more nuanced than a mere traffic light exercise can describe.

And the keep / lose approach tends to play to our vanity; we can hide away parts of the story that don’t suit.

So brands with a long history are tempted to re-invent themselves by losing an important part of their story; businesses choose to forget their origins in the process of reinvention.

Successful and healthy change is steered through full awareness of all the story’s ingredients.

What those wise gurus are protecting us from as we try to change is simple.

They are saving us from denial.


In Terry Pratchett’s novel ‘Unseen Academicals’, Ms Pushpram, an experienced handler of seafood, knows not to bother with a lid for the crab bucket. If one crab tries to climb out, the others will pull it back.

Oh, how we laugh. In a knowing sort of way.

At some point, we will all find ourselves in a culture that very much resembles that ‘crab bucket’.  What is this recognisable (and dispiriting) phenomenon?  Professor André Spicer and his co-author Mats Alvesson pinned a harsh but temptingly useful label on things in their 2016 book ‘The Stupidity Paradox’.

A tongue-in-cheek routemarch through ‘the power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work’ reveals both the safety, comfort and advancement benefits of ‘going along with – stupid – things’ versus the possibly catastrophic consequences of failing to think critically or reflectively about the project or future under discussion.

The authors suggest useful approaches to escape the stupidity trap: Devil’s Advocate questioning, reflection time, cultivating ‘Negative Capability’ (see Change Chemistry blog October 6 2016), and disaster-horizon planning. All these techniques will help surface the certainly present uncomfortable facts and issues that require smart, not stupid, engagement.

Professor Spicer’s next book, due Oct 2017, is called ‘Business Bullshit’.

Aren’t the words ‘Stupidity’ and ‘Bullshit’ brilliant? Don’t they grab you?  But something niggles.

It is easier to shock and to deride – and both are necessary – when on the outside.
Yet words such as ‘habit’ or ‘ritual’ instead of ‘stupidity’, would suggest a more complicated ecosystem.

We live in a post-modern world.

Multiple realities; constantly re-forming what we mean by right / wrong, good/bad; fluid and re-constructed identities; all form the soup in which we now swim.

Power changes, slips away and reforms.

Organisations need to reform too, into cultures where individuals can recognise and exercise power in different, non-conformist ways.

Inside that bucket, it’s not stupidity at work. The occupants of that bucket are exercising the only power they can see available to them.



Finding alternatives to what is clearly going on and looking to escape reality (‘denial’ as a harsh but accurate summary springs to mind) is a familiar, probably essential, and certainly very human component of all our lives.

But goodness, what different thoughts are conjured by….…..…#alternativefacts.

Whatever is going on over there at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue is already having an effect.image00

Over the last week, I’ve seen a strong ‘just tell me the answer’, or ‘just tell me what to do’ theme in workshops and team meetings.  Ground that seemed solid has suddenly disintegrated.  So everyone is yearning for some sort of instruction sheet or map.

But it’s not going to happen.

There is no map, and there shall be no instructions.

We’re all going to have to think for ourselves.  And decide what’s true, and what’s false.

Let me suggest a 3-point sanity and self-preserver.

Since a time of fantasy has begun, Terry Pratchett should be our guide:

  1. Embrace any signs and re-assurances that you are not mad, that something
    really NOT OK is going on. Good people (and bad) have been here before and survived. A re-balancing might be just around the corner. And he of the comb-over does not realise this. I think something upbeat and revengeful helps here.

    Eg from ‘Going Postal’

    ‘Always remember that the crowd that applauds your coronation is the same crowd that will applaud your beheading. People like a show.’

    2. Refuse to be bamboozled by apparent power and influence. Even he of the comb-over is but one human being. Your own ability to see things clearly depends on not being blinded by others. As TP reminds us in ‘Mort’.

    “People don’t alter history any more than birds alter the sky, they just
    make brief patterns in it.”

    3. Keep looking for the spaces between the nonsense where you can add value. Every small action and contribution counts. Now is the time to be unsure and inventive – a powerful combination. As TP says in ‘Monstrous Regiment’

    “The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.”

    Good Luck.