Earn your stripes as a change agent

Professor Beto and I, when I earned my fourth belt stripe. Photo courtesy of Gracie Barra the Loop via Flickr, all rights reserved.

The words tumbled out of her mouth quickly and ended rather emphatically. “Aunt Carrie, when I grow up, I want to be just like you … I mean, you live in Chicago, you have a cool condo, you have a fun job and … and you’re sporty!” She beamed at me. As I thanked her for her kind words, I struggled to wrap my mind about what she had just said. Chicago, condo, job … those assessments made sense to me. But sporty? Really?

My niece is ten years old. For nine of those years I was the furthest thing from sporty. Maybe I’d go for a walk or join the family softball/basketball/whatever game every once in awhile, but sporty is something I most certainly was not.

A little over a year ago all that changed, subtly at first. I decided to be more active, which was a small goal that initially involved choosing to walk over taking public transportation or the elevator and getting up in the morning before work to exercise. Eventually that evolved into finally pursuing a long time dream of mine to learn a martial art, in my case Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I love learning to fight so much, I decided to supplement with boxing training for several months until my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training schedule wouldn’t allow it anymore.

Despite all that, I still don’t think of myself as being sporty. And it never occurred to me that these seemingly small steps would change my niece’s impression of me.

This reminded me of some of the challenges we’ve faced working with our clients to build their brands.

We conduct research to find the reasons why customers buy. We discover the criteria our clients can align themselves with to be distinctive within their industry. And then we inevitably hear, “Yeah, but we aren’t that!”

Some clients see the gap between who they are currently and what their customers value and consider distinctive as an opportunity. Something to rally the team around and use as a reason to make dramatic shifts in how they think about their business, their internal structure, etc. Other clients see it as a wall. As something they aren’t now and will never be. An obstacle too great to overcome without ever trying to affect change.

Which is exactly what I would have said if you told me a year ago that I should become sporty. My goal was to be more active, which was a lesser goal in comparison. But much like our change agent clients who see the opportunity, I started small. And over time each small change led to a slightly bigger change, which ultimately (and unknowingly on my part) lead to a change in perception … one that was more generous than my own.

And so it goes. Whether it’s within an organization or on a personal level, a potentially dramatic or seemingly slight shift, it all starts with a very small first step. And a change agent who has the courage to take it.

One Response

  1. Bob Goranson says:

    I was wondering why you wear 4 belts at work.

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