Fear can be good. Fear of predators kept our early ancestors alive. Fear of future problems keeps people from signing contracts that could create financial difficulty. However (and you knew this was coming), fear can also stop people from moving forward when it would be to their advantage to do so.

True story: a division of a large company was instructed to implement a new software system to increase production. This was going to add more workload to two departments. Corporate tried to help the division rebalance workloads, and supplied training and new procedures. Unfortunately, despite the fact that two sister divisions had already implemented the new software successfully, irrational fear of the new system took root during the months that preceded the implementation. The closer the go-live date got, the more afraid people became. With less than a month to go, they put it off for two weeks, then for another week. People said, “We’re not ready… We haven’t been trained enough… We need more people…” And some mid-level leaders said, “We’re supporting our people. They’re not ready.” The division’s CEO finally said, “We’re going live. We’ll work things out.” So they went live, with extensive on-site corporate support during the first week. Many of the people were actually relieved, because the uncertainty was finally over and the wheels had not fallen off. But at the end of the week when nothing bad had happened (yet!), one of the senior clerks opined, “This is like being on the beach after an earthquake. Just before the tsunami hits, everything is very calm, then the water draws way out to sea…” And this was duly repeated throughout the division, re-kindling the fear.

Yes, there were hiccups as the division adjusted to the new system. Like all systems, it was not perfect. But the fear was counterproductive; it caused great angst and hurt morale unnecessarily. FEAR can be a mnemonic for False Evidence Appearing Real. And that’s what it was in this case. In this case, the best path forward was implementing the system, because more delays would have only increased the fear.

So how does your organization deal with fear?

Gary Langenwalter

We’re Built to Learn

My granddaughter loves to learn – how to climb up stairs, how to pet a cat, etc. I like to learn as well (except for the more abstruse features of my smart phone). Humans are naturally curious – that makes us learning machines. So what can you learn today?

I invested in learning for 2 hours yesterday at a Fundamentals of Organization Development course, jointly created by Cascade Employers’ Association and Oregon Organization Development Network. This was the 2nd of 6 sessions. I’d invite you to join us, but the room is full. (I hope you’ll sign up next year.) Yesterday’s topic was strategic planning. Now, I’ve led strategic planning with clients and taught it at the graduate level, so one might suggest I don’t need to sit in on a 2 hour workshop on strategic planning. If I knew everything there is to know, I would agree with that statement. But I attended for 2 reasons:

1. To refresh myself on the concepts that I already know (even great sports stars use coaches to continue to improve), and

2. To learn concepts that I didn’t know.

I did learn a couple nuggets. I also reinforced a couple key concepts, including “letting go”, which will be the topic of another blog.

I have recently learned that learning is easiest for the very young, because they don’t have any preconceived ideas about what is. They are a blank slate. As we learn, we create our mental map of how society and our organizations and our families operate. This is invaluable – we could not function without it! However, once we have that map in place, learning something new requires letting go of something we have already learned, something we think is “true”. Thus, the longer we continue through life, the more difficult learning becomes, because we have more to unlearn.

So what can you learn today? And what are you willing to unlearn, so you can learn something new?

Gary Langenwalter