Melinda Gates on Pathways to Change

Change has been on my mind a lot. Maybe it’s the fall leaves. Maybe I’m ready for a change! The thing about change is that we want it, but we resist it. Or kick it down the road. It’s normal to fear change and that fear shows up in all kinds of ways. My take is that we have to pull the change dreams out of the clouds and break them down so they’re less scary. We have to face the fear it brings up. And we have to get clear on what we really want and what’s actually in the way. Over the next several weeks, I’m writing a series on change that’s inspired by recent events I’ve attended and reading I’ve done. I hope you enjoy it.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a live podcast with Melinda Gates as the guest. My biggest takeaways were:

  1. Get the facts. Melinda said that in her foundation work, her data science background is super helpful in measuring what actually keeps communities from changing. It turns out that having clean drinking water so children can thrive leads to having fewer children so women can work, and that is directly correlated with building wealth in the community. Not wishful thinking, but following the facts.
  2. Create pathways to change. Melinda talked about a woman who was ready to leave her husband and move to the city after the birth of their first child. She said that now that she had to take care of the baby, she no longer had time to fetch the water every day. Her husband, who loved her and didn’t want her to leave, started going to get the water in her place. The other men laughed until their wives started making them do it too.

At work, we think a lot about change. Maybe you’d love it if your boss wouldn’t call you into his office for a casual project review right when you’re ready to go home. Or you’d love it if your colleague didn’t interrupt you in meetings. Maybe you wish your team would be more excited about work so you didn’t have to micro-manage them all the time. Thing is, we think about change but we don’t always:

  1. Get the facts. Maybe there’s a way to update your boss earlier in the day. Maybe the interrupter thinks they are supporting you by finishing your sentences. Or your team would love to take more initiative, but they don’t like failing. We often see a situation from our point of view and that can make us spend a lot of unnecessary energy.
  2. Create pathways to change. When your boss, team or colleague does the same frustrating things again and again, why not get curious. For each thing that’s bothering you, write it down and then write 2-3 questions you could be asking. As soon as we shift from frustration to curiosity, the brain shifts into creative gear. Then possibilities emerge.

When change is too sudden or people haven’t been included, they are likely to resist it.  So make sure the change makes sense and that you’re seeing it from their point of view.  And try to include them along the way so the barriers come up early in the process.

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