Saturday, December 22

Moving My Cheese

I started Friday morning in the culvert. It was about 14F and the wind had blown the garbage can into the culvert. So before the garbage truck came, I put on some clothes I didn't mind getting slimed and pulled on my rain boots and went to haul the garbage can, which was handle side down in the muck) from the culvert, which I did and shoved the thing to the side of the road.You can be sure I was especially grateful for hot water and soap.

Later that day I had a conversation with my boss. I work for a fairly small company that is growing, burgeoning, quite nearly exploding. We are doing good stuff and it is a challenge to keep up because rapid growth often means making changes to keep up with that growth. No one can get too comfortable with any organizational structure or with any organizational process because we are constantly adapting.

For a period of time I had consulted for a company and we had daylong strategic planning meetings every month, and then we had executive something-or-another meetings every week. We spent a lot of time in meetings, which was good in some ways, but often it seemed as though we didn't move. We planned. We discussed the plan. We reviewed the plan. We reviewed decisions made because of the plan.

I spent a few minutes today reading I Moved Your Cheese by Deepak Malhotra. It's been on my pile of things to read. Once I picked it up, I realized it would take about an hour to read. If you've read Who Moved My Cheese? you'll know that book was meant to be a motivational work to help you understand how to manage change, which is inevitable. Mr. Malhotra came along to tell us that we are not mice and we do not exist in a maze.

The older, wiser mouse points out that the younger mouse, by escaping the maze, "refused to accept the assumptions, the rules, and the constraints that others had accepted" (p. 65).  The older, wiser mouse explained that most mice defined themselves in reference to the maze.

The point?  Perhaps the inevitable is not inevitable.  Perhaps what we take for granted shouldn't be taken for granted.

My Friday morning did not start well, and certainly not as I had planned. As I walked down the driveway, I thought about all of the things that could go wrong and how I might manage those. I hadn't counted on being able to brace against the culvert pipe which made my task a bit easier, though no less smelly.

At the end of the day, my cheese had been moved. A few times. I think about the folks who spend so much time talking about strategic plans and working according to expectations and trying to follow whatever rules they think are in place. That is their maze. I think about my current situation in which there seems to be no plan, and sometimes there isn't any actual plan.

At the end of any day my cheese is moved, and probably several times because so few things go as expected, because there is an unexpected problem or situation or phone call or something. Over the years I've learned to ask questions or to try to understand some of the changes I've experienced, but also to try to recognize those that simply are.

I suppose the bottom line is this. It is the rare day that everything goes as planned. It is the rare event that is executed absolutely flawlessly. Sometimes in the midst of an unpleasant or difficult task there is one small thing that can make the difference, an unexpected change in circumstance. There is change we can manage, to which we may need to adapt, and about which we may be able to gain some understanding or perspective; there is change we must simply accept. We can become blind to our circumstances, allowing them to define us and accepting any limitations as immutable. Or, we can refuse to accept assumptions or conventional wisdom and we can refuse to be limited by constraints everyone else has accepted. We can, as a colleague of mine has said, work out of the box and off of the page. Now that's moving some cheese.

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