"Change Things Up"​ To Transform Your Organization

Photo Credit: Alan Levine

Photo Credit: Alan Levine

Summary: Sometimes “changing things up” — switching out routines, trying something new, or maybe simply taking a break — can have interesting, often unexpected benefits at the individual and organizational level. These include new perspectives, skills development, the discovery of latent talent and possibilities, and the ability to come at something fresh. The following are mostly personal anecdotes, but there is a metaphor herein as well for agile organizations that need to change things up in order to deliver for the customer, innovate, and stay competitive.

After a really brain-heavy year, I remember one summer my father found a job for me close to our home on Camano Island, WA. The job entailed replacing old water meters in a neighborhood with a friend of mine from high school. Each water meter was contained in a big concrete box which we had to extract and replace which is all fine and dandy. Except, more often than not, these water meters were underneath gravel driveways that had been driven over for decades and therefore consisted of hard pan clay and rock. So the only way to get through the ground to replace the water meter with pick and shovel. I mean, this was old school, “I’ve been working on the railroad” kinda stuff: physically intense, back-breaking work.

And that’s what I did all summer.

“So, that sounds like an exhausting Summer.”

In certain sense, maybe so. But I beg to differ actually. Why? Because the previous year had been super draining mentally — my brain needed some downtime to collect itself. For me, that summer was actually super rejuvenating, physically vigorous, and I got to hang out with an old friend. I returned to university the following year and did way better than I was expecting.

The analogy I’d draw is that changing things up at work can have unforeseen benefits. By changing things up, I mean learning something new, working with someone new, or (taking a page out of Reshma Saujani’s playbook) trying something new even if you think you might suck at it. Who knows? You might be amazing at that thing! Or you might meet someone who will transform your career! Or you might fall in love with a new direction or area of knowledge that could be key to your future. Or you might just get the break you need to come back to that core thing you do and just crush it.

At the organizational level, "changing things up" can make an organization resilient to volatility in the marketplace. Here's what "changing things up" organizationally often looks like:

  1. Putting people in a position to work cross-functionally,

  2. Providing an adequate amount of autonomy and internal transparency (something Neat Work can help with) so people can avail themselves of the opportunities that surround them, and

  3. Creating a cultural expectation around career growth, helpfulness, and “re-creation” (fun activities that build relationships, spawn opportunities, and create stakeholder value).

So take a chance! “Insert a little randomness” into the flow of things (as Nassim Nicholas Taleb would put it) by changing things up at work. By so doing, your organization will become more resilient to the acceleration that surrounds it. And so will you

Joseph Faux