Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mockingbirds and Robins: How We Face New Ideas

If you live in the more temperate parts of the USA, you probably see robins during the warm months. Their annual return may be what tells you that winter is over. But I live in Central Texas. This is where robins spend their winters.

This morning my back yard is the scene of an epic battle. The robins are here in force, and the mockingbirds are none too happy about it. Every mockingbird in the yard is chasing robins. It's futile. There are far more robins than mockingbirds. They might as well be trying to mop up marbles – you can move them around that way, but it won't get rid of them. But mockingbirds never, EVER give up. In a couple months, the robins will decide it's time to head north again. They'll leave when they're good and ready. When they do, the mockingbirds will do a mockingbird victory dance, yelling the mockingbird equivalent of "We won! They're gone!"

It won't occur to the mockingbird warriors that it's in the nature of things for the robins to leave when spring rolls around, and all the effort the mockingbirds put into making the robins feel unwelcome had nothing to do with it.

Have we ever seen this before?

A new management fad sweeps in like a flock of birds. We complain about all the stuff plopping down in little splats. We shoo the new thing away, like mockingbirds chasing robins. We think of ingenious ways to avoid it, and when these don't work, we complain some more.

Ideas succeed or fail on results.
After a bad idea fails on results, it goes away as inevitably as robins fly north in the spring. Those of us who have been complaining about it decide we have been successful in resisting it, and feel encouraged to complain and resist when the next unpalatable idea comes along. "Keep on chasing those robins, and they'll go away," we tell ourselves, treating the episode as validation for complaining. But the fad didn't go away because we complained about it. It went away because it didn't deliver the anticipated results.

Try this: The next time a bad idea comes along, see what happens if you don't complain. See what happens if you treat it as a good idea and go along with it as well as you're able. See what happens as the results come in. If it's truly a bad idea, it will fail on results; and if it turns out to be a good idea, you won't be one of the whiners who opposed progress.

The direct damage from a bad idea is usually transitory; the most lingering damage is the fact that so many people take it as a license to complain. Think about it: What kind of workplace do you prefer – one where people give ideas a chance and let results speak for themselves, or one where people complain?

This year, I'm going to do my best not to be a mockingbird. The robins are going to leave in their own time, whether I raise a ruckus or not.

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