Auli Packalén: In search of a metaphor for change capability

I end up having a thrilling conversation about developing organizations’ change capability nearly every day either with our customers, my colleagues or organizations that have discovered the importance of change capability and would like us to help them.

Why now? Why change capability? I guess simply because it has become evident that change is here to stay. “2020 is almost here and we can see it will be an era characterized by continuous change”, wrote my colleague Juha Lindfors in his recent blog post.

But what is change capability? In CCEA, we see that there are two aspects to change capability: people’s change competences as well as the practices and tools that are used to lead and implement changes time after time.

I have been trying to figure out what could be a good metaphor for concretizing what change capability is all about.

Those who know me, won’t be surprised that I’ve been mainly thinking about sports in my search of a perfect metaphor. It should be a sport that embraces endurance, adaptiveness to react to even the weakest signals and the unexpected, ability to retain clear focus, recover quickly if (when) you sometimes screw up and to learn from your mistakes, flexibility to see several routes to the goal…

“I so guessed you would end up to that one”, say those of you who know me really well. “For sure it’s orienteering!” Yes, it is orienteering. I really think that it is the best sport metaphor I can discover.

In Wikipedia, you can find this pretty good description: Orienteering is a group of sports that requires navigational skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain whilst moving at speed. Participants are given a topographical map, usually a specially prepared orienteering map, which they use to find control points.

Orienteering is a great metaphor in that sense too, that even though the courses are never the same and you often orienteer in terrains you’ve never been before, it is possible to develop and utilize certain patterns for decision-making that help you perform well in an unknown terrain. Just like change capability is also about models and tools, that help leading and implementing changes of all nature, form and size.

It is a true endurance sport that also keeps you humble. Every time you get the feeling in the forest that you master the sport, you’ll most probably get completely lost when heading for the next control point. Just like in changes: even if there are patterns you can utilize, each and every organization and change are unique in some sense. If you just blindly follow a one size fits all type of a model, there is a risk of getting lost in a diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain whilst moving at speed.

There is one thing with the orienteering metaphor that I am not happy about: in an ideal performance you manage by your own and try the keep all the other orienteers out of your own bubble. Leading and implementing change, however, is all about other people. So, the search of a perfect metaphor continues.

I will talk about change capability development in the CHANGE19 event in March. I would be more than happy if you challenged me. Can you help me to find out an even better metaphor?