I love my job! It’s Monday morning, I’ve been up since 3:30 am and I’m writing this from gate F27 of the Philadelphia International Airport. I mean it, I really love my job! On any given day I am a puzzle-solver, listener, creator, counselor, therapist, administrative assistant, controller, cook, concierge, project manager, and most importantly a learner.
I love to learn. And I really love to learn new words. This affinity for words became crystal clear when I commissioned a comic book artist to create my personalized superhero for a charity fundraiser. Thinking it would be fun and interesting, I invited my staff to help identify my superpower. They unanimously (and alarmingly quickly) selected, ‘uses words mere mortals cannot understand.’ I don’t know that I’m thrilled with my superpower, but for the moment I will embrace it as a gift.
Today, I am going to share my superpower with all of you, and introduce you to my newest vocabulary word, Ttwwadi. Yes, you read that right. I didn’t accidentally put my coffee cup down on the keyboard…ttwwadi. Who knew you could have so many consonants together?! Ttwwadi, pronounced tee-WAH-dee, is a noun of Anglo-English origin and is defined as ‘the complete and utter incapacity of a leader, team, or organization to conceive of something new, much less alter behaviors or expectations, and thereby create change, or initiate evolution; also incapacitating inertia’. Wait, hold on! Don’t reach for your dictionary just yet.
How did I happen upon this new jewel in my lexicon? I thought you’d never ask.
Here at Colloquia Partners, we spend a great deal of time learning from employees in organizations. I am always amazed at the things people know about their employers. People and companies (because they are made up of people) are infinitely fascinating, and when asked, many of them will share interesting (and sometimes surprising!) details about their jobs, teams, leaders, customers, and the unique minutiae that make an organization really work…or not. This is how I happened upon this wonderful new addition to my word collection.
During a recent employee round table discussion with a group of managers and supervisors, we asked, “What are the greatest opportunities for helping the organization achieve this year’s aggressive business targets?” The group shared many excellent ideas, including enhanced technical training for staff members, various and specific technology and equipment upgrades, improved process flows, etc. And then…
The very animated manager seated to my left burst into the conversation and practically hollered, “None of those things can happen if we can’t get past Ttwwadi! You know! Ttwwadi!” We all stopped in our tracks and asked her for a bit of clarification regarding her comment… and especially about this strange word she was shouting.
In an effusive (I’m activating my superhero powers here!) monologue, she shared her 24-year-long frustration with the organization. She cared for the company a great deal, and had deep admiration for the people and vision, but she was disappointed in the by the lack of progress they had made. Finally, she said, “I wish we could get out of our own way! I’m so tired of our usual response to suggested improvements and opportunities – why are they always met with, because ‘that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it’? Ttwwadi!”
There was a flash of understanding and then the group lit up. Many of them felt the same way…frustrated that plans and proposed progress was often met with resistance and a pull back to what was familiar. We engaged in some very important and meaningful conversation with this team, and then with others in the organization, about the overwhelming inertia resulting from their failed efforts at progress.
In this instance, implications for this inertia included equipment and processes which hadn’t been updated in more than 30 years (no joke!). As we continued to assess the current conditions, we found work-arounds being used to accommodate failing systems and equipment (which required extra man-hours to maintain), contributing to production errors and ultimately profit-losses for the company. How did they get here?
Human beings are creatures of habit. For the most part, we like stability and the comfort of sameness. And, many businesses abhor the idea of spending money to replace things or change processes for fear of upsetting the Apple-cart or worse, breaking things that aren’t already broken. While I applaud prudence, in a situation like the one we were grappling with, it appeared that things had been taken to extremes.
There is time-tested evidence that principles such as continuous improvement offer tremendous benefit for organizations. Even a simple practice such as taking a few minutes at the end of an activity, or the end of the day, to reflect on what went particularly well, what was learned, and what should be adapted to make ‘it’ better (whatever the ‘it’ was you were working on), allows you to keep the best parts and improve upon those that weren’t what you hoped for. Dare I suggest that you make a habit of intentional evolution?
In one popular Harvard Business Review article by Chris Argyris, he discusses the topic of double loop learning. In this particular model, companies found to be most successful are those that encourage opposition to policies and procedures they feel are expired or out-of-date. They believe that in order to continue growing and improving, checks and balances must be in place that do not admonish members of the organization from offering suggestions for change, proposing new ways of doing things, or criticizing components of the organization that are no longer working. By doing so, these companies continue to evolve, a process that is critical to any thriving entity.
Furthermore, in their 2006 book Built to Change, Edward Lawler and Christopher Worley say, “most organizations simply cannot sustain excellent performance unless they are capable of changing.” They make a compelling case for building flexible and adaptive organizations, which:
Are closely connected to their environments
Learn about new practices and technologies
Commit to continuously improving performance
Seek temporary competitive advantages
Built to Change suggests that “organizations that are built to change are a lot like today’s careers – both need to be guided by a ’dynamic view’ of effectiveness.”
Ah, the familiar ding of the cockpit intercom and the pilot announces that we are 10 minutes from landing. My formerly quiet neighbor perks up and asks me why I am on this flight. We briefly introduce ourselves and he tells me that he and his wife lived in this city once, for about a year. When I asked if he liked it, he shared that his wife is an enthusiastic educator of children with special-needs. They had moved here for his job and she took a role with a local, well-respected school. After 9 months they were looking to move back home. I asked why, and he told me, “she was unable to overcome their insistence on doing things the way they had always been done and it saddened her terribly that she couldn’t make a real difference in the lives of her students and their families,” so they packed up and headed north again. They both seem to have found opportunities in much more dynamic organizations, and are very happy!
In this case, a school had lost a fantastic teacher, eager to make a difference, simply by not wanting to change. It happens everywhere, every day. Change is scary, but necessary, and without it, success is not sustainable. It takes a great deal of self-reflection, willingness to hear new ideas, and an openness to think outside-of-the-box, but by doing so, humans (and the organizations and communities they create) can continue to flourish, develop, and grow.
And lastly, as an aside, should you be curious, my superhero image hangs on the wall of my home office, directly across from the bookshelf upon which rests my copy of the Oxford English Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. It is a daily reminder to continue growing, learning new things, and sharing my findings with others. Have I mentioned that I love my job?