Our theme this month is ‘doing different’. But it pays to ask ‘Why’? – and what may be the consequences of not paying attention to this question.
The human mind is hardwired for novelty. We seek out what is different and exciting. And it has served us well. It has been the source of our greatest inventions. But it can also lead us astray. When I left the University to work in the public service back in the early 1980s, every heavy engineering organisation (rail, ports, power, water, telecommunications) was headed up by an engineer – a guy (and they were all guys) who knew how to get things done. At this time, ‘stewardship’ was the word most accorded to those who ‘took care of’ assets, asset management was still in the future. But as the administration gradually moved from stewardship into management, we saw a different face at the top. And these different faces were finance and accounting. These guys (again!) knew what things cost. Under this leadership, we focussed on efficiency rather than effectiveness, or, in practice, ‘getting costs down’. This was when we introduced outsourcing, later to be followed by corporatisation and privatisation. The next move at the top was to ‘content free management’, these were people who were not engineers who knew how to get things done, and not finance who knew how much things cost, they were people trained in nothing more than ‘management’ itself. And now we started to see more female faces at the top. We also started to see something else. Whereas previous heads had worked to ‘keep the show on the road’, this new crop of managers were keen to ‘do something different’. The more radical the difference, the greater the publicity that they could expect. The publicity they garnered was sufficient to move them on to the next top job. Few stayed around longer than a few years to cope with the damage they caused.
We continue to exhalt difference for its own sake. ‘Disruptive’ is the joyful current buzzword. As if disruption itself was the benefit. How many times do you find new ideas presented at conferences – and how few are the times when those same presenters return a few years later to tell you honestly what the outcomes were? In fact, In our haste to move on to the next new and shiny thing, how much time and effort do we put in to make the last change succeed?
I still believe that we need to ‘do different’ – but not for its own sake!
My question today is: If not for its own sake – what IS the purpose of ‘doing different’?