100 Ways to Succeed #19:

Zen & the Art of Spoon-banging Change.

“Some people look for things that went wrong and try to fix them. I look for things that went right and try to build on them.”—Bob Stone, Mr. ReGo

Bob Stone was Al Gore’s point man for reinventing government—hence the Mr. ReGo moniker. He got an amazing amount done in a short space of time. And in the process he rewrote the book on “corporate” change. (And he kindly wrote a book to explain what he’d done: Polite Revolutionary: Lessons from an Uncivil Servant.)

Bob, as I see it, was a Zen master, a Sumo wrestler—a Master of Indirection. (Ha! Maybe that would be an apt substitute for the ever-questionable MBA!?) He full well knew that he could not force change on the Federal bureaucracy; even the President rarely succeeds by frontal assault. And as a Pentagon refugee, he knew the silliness of producing ever-to-be-unread, always-to-be-ignored encyclopedic “White Papers” and fat manuals.

So he turned to the art of storytelling—and resurrected the always faithful “accentuate the positive.” Hence the Gospel According to Stone: “I look for things that went right and try to build on them.”

He knew there were astonishingly effective, renegade Civil Servants (Uncivil Servants?) dotting the landscape. The trick was to ferret them out, certify (via Mr. Gore) their heretofore shunned approaches, applaud them in public, cast their results in Monuments of Documentary Film … and shame scores of others into following the lead of their obstreperous peers.

There’s much more to the tale—see Bob’s book, or my précis of it in Chapter 17 of Re-imagine! (“Boss Work: Heroes, Demos, Stories”). The point here: I urge you to become …

An organizational Zen master.
A sumo wrestler.
A Master of Indirection.
An “accentuator of the positive.”

Jill Ker Conway played the same game with matchless skill. Ms. Conway, though appointed as the first woman president of Smith College, found herself not only surrounded by skeptical tenured (mostly male!) profs, but also without budget to implement the very programs she needed to make her reign different from that of the feckless old boys who had preceded her. Enter Zen. She nosed around the campus (like Stone) and discovered a robust Change Underground. She met with them, encouraged them—and urged them to begin the process proclaiming their views publicly. As to the absent money, she concocted the Mother of All End Runs. JKC became The Tireless Traveler. The hell with standard budgetary sources of bucks. There was a Change Overground of Smith Alumnae who were beside themselves with glee at the belated appointment of this first female prexy. She met and met and met some more—and cajoled and cajoled and cajoled. And soon had enough “external,” off-balance-sheet funding to Pilot (Demos again!) several programs that eventually became the hallmarks of her wildly successful term of office.

All hail the Sumo wrestler from Northampton, MA!

Message: Powerlessness is (mostly) a state of mind!
Message: With a dab of Zen here and a shudder of Sumo there … Mountains Can Be Moved!
Message: We can all become Uncivil Servants!

Start today!

Tom Peters posted this on October 21, 2004, in Success Tips.
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