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If you talk to my clients, they will tell you that I use cooking analogies all the time. Cook this, cook that. Which is odd, because my cooking skills stop at knowing where the oven is in the house.

You’ve gone to the supermarket (a good one) and you have spent quite a lot of money buying the best ingredients. You know that they are good because you talked to carrot experts, then to cauliflower guys, then to filet connoisseurs from New Zealand, and then with many others who know about those things.

Your kitchen is now full of stuff, shelves overloaded, counters crowded.  You’ve tried a bit of clever mixing but you are not sure of the outcome. It just doesn’t taste of much. Maybe those experts? Well, the carrot experts did not know a thing about cauliflowers and the New Zealanders meat lovers thought of carrots as a health hazard. Like me. Then, you thought you knew of a couple of YouTubes that explained it all. But they didn’t. Actually, they elevated your confusion to a higher level.

Small detail, you realize, in the intimacy of your thoughts, that is, that it had never been totally clear to you what you were supposed to cook. Enthusiastic about all the ingredients and their individual expert support, you bought the lot. You don’t even have a cookbook.

Looking for ideas, you call a few friends  and you have to pretend that you knew. After all, it would be kind of embarrassing to acknowledge that supermarket bill and the obesity of the kitchen without a specific meal in mind. You watch more YouTubes by some well known chefs.  But they use different ingredients. What are you going to do now? How are you going to cook a risotto (your problem solving mind has just forced you to decide on a risotto) for ten people coming for dinner when you forgot the rice? You are then at that crucial point of illumination in which you think of your mission as inventing the rice-less risotto. Is that not that disruptive innovation everybody is craving for?

OK, seriously, you must use what you’ve bought. Wait a minute. Is that not what accountants call sunk costs, which means I don’t have to worry about the buying anymore? (Accountants made here a significant contribution to embarrassment sciences)  ‘Cognitive Dissonance’, always ready in your mind when needed, kicks in: never mind, red meat is not healthy, the carrots would have been insipid, the cauliflowers were organic and therefore tasteless. Just as well.

But you have still ten coming for dinner. So you reach for four packs of a ready-made meal,  which is less hassle and microwave-able without anybody noticing.

Dear friends. I have just described many ‘change management’ programmes which get some music, pick some ingredients, do something (lots of activities on workshopsterone), and have lots of  informed discussions  about the importance of the ingredients, the process of procurement, and the deployment of self-contained cooking bits and pieces. And hope for the outcome. Praying often helps. When all fails, the sellers of ready-made stuff are always at the door.

Having ingredients without knowing what to do with them is not a known benchmark for good cooking. Deploying ‘change activities’ without a map and a platform for the journey, is the same. But people who have invested time, energy, money and personal reputation in the shopping, are the most reluctant to admit that they are stuck. Stuck is the worst organizational state. Embarrassment is stuck’s half sister.

I have tested this analogy with some clients, ex-clients and friends,and I am yet to find one who does not recognize this in the workplace.

People, we can do better.


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