The quality of being able to grip something firmly. To be persistent. Determined. The moral strength to resist opposition. To be courageous in the face of resistance. Tenacity!
I think that I first borrowed the word when I was beginning to study the process of change and transformation. My mentor in change management, that is, how one plans and executes change, was Daryl Conner, the writer of Managing At the Speed of Change, a form-setting book. While Daryl introduced me to change in terms of organizational development, or OD, he taught me several lessons in terms of human behavior. The most important was the simplest and turns out to be the most prevalent: EXPECT RESISTANCE!
Now, this seems simple, but it turns out to be profound. Think of the many times you made a decision to change something in your schedule. Or, recall a time when you decided to alter the schedule of your family or organization. The unavoidable truth is that we humans tend to prefer “the way things have been”, that is, what is familiar to us, namely, what is comfortable. We prefer “homeostasis”. which refers to our inclination to maintain a “steady state”…..and by the way, this is not a reference to the laws of Florida.
Daryl taught me that lesson to apply when I was making a change in an organization’s life: to expect resistance. Some of the resistance will be obvious, as people resist the change explicitly in oppositional behavior. That is the easiest resistance to confront and deal with. The more insidious form of resistance is the unconscious decision to oppose the change that goes underground, undetectable. The image I have used with my students is a clever phrase framed by my biologist mother: “the P is silent, as in swimming.” I am a bit more explicit in my image of unconscious resistance to change: it’s like letting people piss in your pool. It goes unnoticed but it is real, and messes with things. And that’s where the real danger resides… you don’t see it coming. It’s sneaky.
Daryl had some counter-intuitive advice: Surface the resistance. Rather than allowing it to go underground, force it into the open where you can deal with it. You actually invite the negativity which runs counter to my natural inclination to be a positive “spin doctor’. But, I have used this powerfully in my attempts to change relationships, marriages, congregations, institutions, and even cities. It is a strategy that I have followed with specific tactics, leaving me bloodied at times, but standing on the other side of change on most occasions. Surface the resistance,
This organizational insight is applicable to the individual person as well. In attempting to change one’s self, one may begin with a flurry of resolve to make “big changes in the way I do life!” and yet, there exists resistance to the alteration of the structures that you have created which makes your life comfortable, manageable. When we really wish to “make a change”, as Michael Jackson would implore, we have to watch for both conscious and unconscious ways, shrewd and stupid, to block the stated desired change.
Charlie Palmgren, the writer of the book I have been reviewing, Ascent of the Eagle, puts the dimension of tenacity as the last of the five conditions for Creative Interchange, and it is critical in terms of dealing with the inevitable resistance to the change it implies. It is worth noting that I first met Charlie at a conference I was attending which was presented by Daryl Conner as I was trying to figure out how to best manage the change in leadership at the Cathedral where I was serving as the Canon Pastor. Charlie was working as Daryl’s main assistant, focusing on the phenomenon of synergy within organizations, which turns out to be a dynamic of creative interchange, that can assist or block the process of change. Charlie and I have continued our relationship through time in a variety of incarnations, including now as he serves as my faithful guide entering the Franciscan Tertiary Order, and as a colleague in a study group of the man who first named the process of Creative Interchange, Henry Nelson Wieman.
As I have noted in my last four articles, Charlie has identified a number of conditions that make the Creative Interchange process possible. The process is about the interaction between people that are authentically engaged with one another to create something new. I don’t think I have to spend a lot of ink convincing you that this kind of interaction runs counter to what has become the norm in our world. We have become divided in unprecedented ways. In such an adversarial ethos, how is any kind of fruitful interaction possible? It is my belief that Charlie is offering a model of authentic interaction that respects the other’s perspective while opening the possibility for an integrative possibility to emerge.
In review of the conditions requisite for this dynamic possibility, let’s remind ourselves of the necessary components. First, a conviction of one’s intrinsic worth is fundamental, as one is not forced to engage in an existential quest to gain worth by what one does or produces. Worth is a “given”, which liberates, unleashing one’s original self’s power. And, simultaneously, that worth is accorded to all other creatures as a part of this creation. This starting point is critical to what follows, freeing the acting parties to engage without the press of competition.
The condition of trust is the next, that is, relying on the engaging actors to be operating with the best interest of all, while also trusting the process to yield fruit. Next, is curiosity which initiates a willingness to look afresh, ask probing questions that might produce new insights. And then there is a spirit of connectivity by which one sees linkages, makes connections between a variety of perspectives that before seemed disparate, at odds.
The final piece in this bag of tricks is tenacity, although it is not “late” in the process, as it must be employed from the word “go”. Tenacity seeks to describe the attitude as mentioned before, a deep commitment to engage in this creative process. Allow me to borrow a term., “dogged”, which was used by famed golf writer, Dan Jenkins, in his humorous account of the terrible fate of becoming a golfer, His book, The Dogged Victims of an Inexorable Fate, describes the addictive type devotion of golfers in trying to master the ancient game of golf. In a similar line, to pursue the lofty work of creative interchange, one must be “dogged” or relentless in pursuit of that event. To add an element of play into the mix fits my demeanor precisely as one is invited to be seriously playful and playfully serious in this interaction between others in the hope of producing results that would be unimaginable otherwise.
Let me quote the master precisely to put a fine point on the project, Charlie writes, “Tenacity is the fifth critical condition on the road to reclaiming the original self. We honor our worth, trust that there’s value in pursuing it, use our curiosity to explore the possibilities, imagine new ways of being, and then practice, practice, practice to turn new skills into sustainable habits.”
Here is my confession. I am in the process of being intentional in my practice of these habits. I think that I have worked hard to grasp the elements of Creative Interchange conceptually, but now comes the hard part of putting it all on the field of my relationships. Charlie includes a final section in his book, “prescribing” a regimen of practice to be approached daily. I have written his instructions down, in my way of understanding, printed it out, and now keep it poised strategically in my well-worn planner for review before my scheduled interactions. Unscheduled are a higher degree of difficulty, but they come, regardless, relentlessly. I rehearse the list, interact with an “other” or group, and then review it for correction. It’s slow going, but I can see improvement in my interactions.
Here’s my “cheat sheet”:
- Authentically Interact, sharing the best you now know, with clarity about your intention in the interaction.
- Appreciatively Understand by listening to the “other” with humility, being conscious of the “other’s” unique perspective, using paraphrase to “check” your understanding.
- Find hidden positives in the perspectives of others.
- Integrate differences by using both/and thinking.
- Reframe issues, differences, and problems in order to discover better ways to integrate those differences and find creative solutions.
- Make a commitment: act with courage, patience, and Tenacity!
- Practice….a lot. Don’t worry…..you will have plenty of opportunities if you simply look.
- Observe and remember…RE-mind.
- Celebrate success.
- Correct your mistakes.
As I have said repeatedly in these five articles, this is a tall order. You are swimming against the cultural tide of the adversarial attitude that has defined our common life over the last few years in this country. It does take commitment when it seems easier to just keep on doing what it is you do. And yet, I would pose one of my favorite questions taught to me by my rock jock mentor, Don Imus: “How’s that working out for you?” If you are anything like me, you find yourself hungry for a better way of interacting.
Charlie Palmgren offers us an option, a realistic way of changing the way we interact, with the promise of recovering a fresh look at our world, with the side benefit of creativity. Check out the full story in Charlie’s book, Ascent of the Eagle. available through Amazon, or better yet, your local bookseller.
See you on the field of Creative Interchange. Play ball!