Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.Barack Obama
This week, while walking our dogs, I realized that I was always going the wrong way – against the grain. Every day, we circle our large suburban block to give our dogs their morning exercise in the neighbourhood. They get to sniff the news from all of the other dogs in our community. This time of the year is extra special since all of the maple leaves are clustered in piles dying on the ground (the foliage, not the hockey team).
Allow me to share an example from my dog world and how it directly relates to our business world. It is amplified by the affects of the coronavirus regarding the way we act and react to others.
Out of the Ashes
Since our four dogs are all rescue dogs that once lived in the mean streets of Serbia, they are all hyper aware of other dogs. So, by Canadian standards, they are deemed to be very poorly trained – absolutely out of control.
Their aggression is understandable when you consider:
- that Jack is blind, even though he is large by dog standards, his blindness places him at risk,
- little Grady has had both of his ears ripped off in past dog fights (see photos above when Grady lived on a piece of cardboard outside a gas station near Belgrade),
- Belle has a 5″ wound in her butt that healed open, along with a broken tail, we assume caused by the swing of an axe by some evildoer,
- and the youngest, Charlotte, is just absolutely spoiled rotten, which tends to be the case with the youngest child in every family.
Yet, they are all loving, loyal, grateful, and very friendly to us.
Group-Think or The Pack Mentality
This hodgepodge of rescue dogs from Serbia have formed a pack mentality with my wife as the Grand Fromage – or the big cheese in the family pack. She is the supreme leader. Sadly, I am on the lowest rung of this proverbial hierarchical pack ladder. Maybe this is why they ignore my commands?
After numerous serious efforts at trying to calm them and stop their unwanted aggressiveness towards other dogs – I simply gave up. It seemed futile. An impossible task.
Whenever we meet an oncoming dog walking with their owners, my dogs go wild, they are berserk, out of control with rage, in a mad frenzy, and barking incessantly, pulling with backbreaking strength on their leads, and displaying highly objectionable manners that typical Canadian-raised dogs rarely do. Our dogs were a nightmare to walk.
I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.Georg C. Lichtenberg
After exhausting all ideas to change them, to calm their untamed demeanor, and having watched more dog whisper YouTube videos than I can count, as well as seeking sage advice from all my dog-walking friends, and applying all of the best training practices, I decided to surrender to this uncontrolled behaviour and resigned to the idea that this is just the way it is going to be every morning.
Still, I did not want to fail my pets. As they say, “there is no such thing as a bad dog, just bad owners”. I was convinced that it was all my fault for their irrational behaviour.
So, I sucked it up and persisted again. In business we have several approaches to mitigate risks so I thought about what other business approaches might work here beyond the obvious dog training strategies? I tried a few new strategies.
Change the Game
First, I walked very early in the morning. Thinking to avoid other dogs. Who else walks dogs at 5:00 am anyway? Surely no one else was so silly? However, now that it is ultra dark and dog’s visibility is impaired, when we do come upon an oncoming early morning pooch, the warning time is reduced by the darkness and the excessive noise in these wee hours creates an even grander disturbance.
Second, I tried shortening their leads with a tighter grip, but this strategy just earned me flaming red hands and serious back strains. Going against the flow is physically and mentally exhausting.
Gentle Persuasion and Kindness
Third, I would stop them dead in their tracks as soon as I sensed it was all about to start. I tried gently and softly talking to them, saying the simple command, “no”. It worked a little bit with one of the smarter pups, but the younger doggies heard nothing and persisted to bully the invading marauders out of our defined turf.
In order to change the world, you have to get your head together first.Jimi Hendrix
Still No Joy, Then a Realization
Having just given up again, suddenly I realized a new idea. I was meeting all of the friends walking their dogs head-on. I was walking around the block counter clockwise. Everyone else was circumnavigating the block clockwise. Wow.
So, I tried to rotate around the block just like everyone else. While it did not train the dogs, now we moved in an easy sequence and progressed inline with some walkers ahead of us and others behind us. As long as the distancing was sufficient, the outrage was contained. Keeping the correct spacing is still a key imperative to define our success. But, this infinitesimal change has had a seriously dramatic and positive effect.
Now, the transition from counter clockwise to clockwise was at first a huge challenge. From the dogs perspective, whenever we depart the end of our driveway, we ‘always’ turned left. Now, I want the dogs to turn right. This concept was very foreign to the dogs. They resist the right turn, pulling mightily to the normal leftward direction. Once we get three to eight metres along our new way, they accept the newfangled direction.
To the dogs, it is like a brand new path for them. One that has never been explored before with amazing new ‘pee-mail’ scents to experience. Even though it is the exact same path, just reversed, it was all an epiphany to them.
While not exactly a perfect solution to the dilemma, it worked nonetheless. This radical realignment with everyone else’s direction certainly went a long way to silence the unabated noise and bring some peace to the dog walks.
Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.Arnold Bennett
The Human Condition
All of this dog walking chaos had me pondering the parallel effects within the human condition that we see in our daily business lives. Conflict seems to be pronounced now with COVID.
People fight the norms. They go their own way. They push hard against the grain. They go counter clockwise when everyone else is going clockwise. This upstream struggle is exhausting and can be damaging and explosive at both work and home. It seems to parallel the dog’s natural ‘fight or flight’ instincts.
Like the dogs, we have more than our fair share of physical and emotional damaged to contend with – simply the result of living our daily lives. Everyone is carrying around a lot of personal baggage and some people have 10 lbs in a 5 lb bag. These personal burdens shape our lives and the way that we react to situations. We are hardened by life. Our personal past history sways our responses to new experiences.
So, as business leaders we do what we can to solve these human problems, we try to train our employees. Force them to conform. Make them adhere to the common definition of what is right or wrong, exactly as our society demands. So, to the rebels, it is often unnatural and heavily resisted.
Am I the Problem?
In retrospect, I must wonder why did we ever go counter clockwise to begin with? Why did we not go the same way as everyone else? It is a puzzle. It must be instinctive. At least it is instinctive for those of us who tend to go against the grain – against whatever everyone else is doing. To be fair, it was my influence that caused us to go against the grain and not a dog requirement. Therefore, can we call it cultural leadership within the environment that started it all in the first place. Do we see this same issue at work?
In business, being different – being contrary to the norms – can be a clever strategy. For individual events or transactions, it can derive brilliant outcomes. But, to do it everyday, and repeatedly live in a life of conflict, it is utterly arduous and even torturous mentally.
You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.Jimi Rohn
Sure, it is likely instinctive to go our own way. Even if it is not the same way as others. But, noticing this collision course and then making a simple correction results in tremendous benefits. In reality, there are no grave negative affects and only unexpected rewards from the functional relief aimed at congruence. The price paid to make this change is insignificant. Why did we not see it before? Why did we suffer all of this daily drama when such a minor adjustment could exponentially improve our lives? We were not born this way.
Now, some will argue that not following our own paths is a bad approach. We need to be exactly who we are. And, for big topics, I will not debate this logic. However, for small issues, is it worth the battles? If the cost is not personally meaningful or financially material, is it not smarter to be flexible and adaptable. Beside, shaking up the little things can lead to major changes that can be fascinating and powerful. Change needs to be embraced and welcomed, after all it is said to be the only constant in the universe. To fight changes creates entropy and the quality of life declines.
Change is Hard
The transitional change to going in a new direction was hard at first for the dogs. And, it is equally difficult for humans too. It is a serious struggle to adopt new ways. It is often vehemently opposed. But, slowly, when persistence is applied, the new direction becomes the new normal.
Adapt or Die
Just as we are all fighting against the great changes in education, work, friendships, and lifestyle due to the harsh impacts of COVID, eventually it will all become the new normal and become accepted as simply the way we do it all now – conventional and adopted. So, be agile. This is the way!
The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.Nathaniel Branden
The Hero’s Journey
The adventure that I have been challenged by feels like The Hero’s Journey as written about by Joseph Campbell.
Hands up if you’ve heard this story before: A lonely hero who is trying to find himself. A sudden and unexpected journey, promising adventure, and peril. A test of character, strength, and skill. An ultimate battle that tests the hero’s resolve. A triumphant return home.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because this exact narrative template has inspired countless stories from ancient myths to modern television shows and movies. This template is known as the “monomyth”—or, colloquially, The Hero’s Journey.
Okay, I am perhaps allowing my imagination to get away from me here. But, it has been a life-changing adventure nonetheless and for me and my doggie posse, we have endured it all together. We have evolved, and come out stronger than before. We are all richer for the experience now, better then when we began this adventure. So, I think I will embrace this ideal after all. lol
Written for my lifelong best friend, the divine D. Love you sweetie. Life will be better after the adventure, trust me. There is much more of your story to come….
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He offers his services on a contracting basis. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.