Sometimes when you do something over and over again you see it with fresh eyes and appreciate how subtle and complex it really is. I’ll explain what I mean and perhaps it will encourage you to look at some of the systems and processes you follow as part of your routine and see what has been under your nose but hidden all along.
There is one exercise that I have been using for many years, and that we often return to at Colour; Noun, that explores how teams work together to develop a solution in a pressured and uncertain environment. From the outset, it has illustrated the core principles that the academic team that developed it wanted to highlight: that people will persist with what seems to be successful, even if it doesn’t advance their project; that unexpected changes provoke extreme reactions and attempts to deny that the change has happened; and that sometimes you have to take a step backwards to take more steps forward.
For a long time this activity that looked at processes had become just another process for me too… until the act of repetition started revealing patterns that repeated from group to group and that were much more subtle than the main themes that the exercise had been designed to address.
Little things started to click into place. The fact that everybody walked backwards to retrace their steps because if they turned around, they lost all their landmarks. The way that the group split when they planned their strategy at the start of the exercise into “planners” and “disconnected passengers” who lost all interest in “the plan” when it inevitably failed, and how even amongst the “planners” this failure brought about apathy, despair and a lack of connection – and an inevitable dilution of people who could offer guidance to the group.
The “big”, “obvious”, “intended” points were still there, but only by repeating the exercise dozens of times, with different groups, did the hidden, very human commonalities start to come out. There are many more things I started to see, and once I started seeing things that repeat and echo over a longer timescale than the exercise itself, it’s impossible not to see more each time. It’s like moving from being aware of the changing of the seasons to having an awareness of how continents move, and it has made the activity richer and more valuable to me and to the people who experience it.
So, what are the things that you have stopped seeing because you know them too well, and what things might become clear if you look past the comfort of the short-term activity and see the longer-term, repeating rhythms and behaviours that give an insight into how people work and operate?
I’d love to hear your thoughts...