I was interested to see a story by Janet Rae-Dupree in the New York Times about how you can change your habits and develop new skills hover on the most emailed list for quite some time – I guess this indicates that there is a real self-improvement fever out there somewhere. It also has some interesting implications for organizations that are undergoing major change.
One thing the article suggests is making a number of small changes rather than one big one and finding your stretch zone, in which you are somewhat uncomfortable but not so stressed that you can’t focus. This reflects studies done by organizational researchers such as Ralph D. Stacey, author of the book Complexity and Creativity in Organizations — creative organizations operate on the very edge of chaos, in which there is just enough instability to push people to be at their best and get out of their comfort zone, but just enough security that people aren’t overwhelmed by fear. It’s a tricky balance, and it generally falls to the leaders of organizations to produce it. I’ll have to write more about Stacey in the future, because it’s some really fascinating stuff.
The article also prescribes cultivating a sense of wonder and to simply try new things, rather than focusing on eliminating an undesirable habit: “Once those ruts of procedure are worn into the hippocampus, they’re there to stay. Instead, the new habits we deliberately ingrain into ourselves create parallel pathways that can bypass those old roads.” It suggests avoiding the cultural pressure to be a decider and staying open to all possibilities for a longer period of time so that you don’t prematurely cut off your options. This also generally reflects Stacey’s organizational research. Organizations tend to become obsessed with control and often decisiveness is associated with power and status, even in environments such as modern newsrooms where the habits and needs of the audience is changing so rapidly that constant revisions in priorities might be necessary.