Use words like ‘disruptor’ or ‘activist’ when talking about organisational development or business change and there will probably be a few eyebrows raised.

“Disruption! – we’ll have none of that round here thank you kindly, even though things need to change”

Well it’s been a year since seeing the sun go the other way across the sky showed me that being prepared to see things differently can make a huge difference to how we interact with others. 

Another penny dropped whilst on my travels about how what we value might be perceived as different to what others value or see, even when it’s the same thing. Similarly, that how we demonstrate what we value can say a lot about us.

Much as I like the time I spend with my family on holiday, I like to seek some time and space with a beer or coffee where take in sky and clouds and have a good think. I call it ‘holiday head space’.


I need to let thoughts come and go, see what sticks or what I can let go with the clouds. It’s partly how I relax.

This year I went to Zakopane in Poland and then had a few days in Krakow. What surprised me, and I acknowledge my ignorance here, I expected more information to be translated into English.

20140715_125441It wasn’t and we struggled. The odd picture didn’t do much to reduce the confusion either! Some folk in the service industries offered help but then they would as they wanted return visits. But some didn’t. That probably comes with the territory when you choose to go somewhere different. But should it? We found it odd, frustrating even, that people wanted to help but limited translation appeared not to help them help us. It’s what I now refer to as ‘devaluing friction’. There follows a more specific example.

When we were in Krakow we went to the Castle and Cathedral. There happened to be a Leonardo da Vinci on show; The Lady with an Ermine. This is a copy from the supporting exhibition.


It wasn’t on my bucket list but for 80p equivalent I thought why not?

Heavy security, dimmed lighting, humidifiers and restricted viewing meant the experience of how the painting was presented and accessed appeared more of a feature than the painting itself. There was also a mismatched value between the entry fee and the painting which was probably worth 10s of £millions.

How could something so potentially impactful have such a mismatched explanation, limited translation and promotion which then created something potentially less credible. Perhaps the entry fee was about bringing art to the masses which is fair enough but the limited promotion didn’t appear to help.

As there was little information in English prior to seeing the painting, I thought I’d do a bit of research and found this link to a post by Tim Rayner whose blog I follow.

Whilst it’s more about Leonardo da Vinci than the painting, what struck me were the following paragraphs which coincidentally touched on stuff that had been floating through my ‘holiday head’. I’ve copied the relevant parts below but you should read Tim’s post in full and his other stuff as it makes you think and is rather good!

“One lesson we might take from Leonardo’s story concerns cities as hubs of creative culture. Authors such as Richard Florida and Steven Johnson have explored how cities become hubs of knowledge-sharing and innovation, nurturing weak-tie networks that enable creative action. The lesson that I want to take from Leonardo’s story concerns how we should live in order to develop a creative personality.

No one bursts into the world aware of everything that they are capable of thinking, feeling, doing and being. If we know ourselves at all, it is only because we have discovered our powers in the course of engaging with others and experiencing life. We need to test ourselves against the world to see what we are made of. We need to throw ourselves into life, sensitive and vulnerable to the affects our encounters produce, and learn from the results.

Living from the heart doesn’t mean leaping into every project that comes your way. If you leap into every project, you’ll exhaust yourself. Before leaping into anything, you should find a fit. You need to engage with new people and projects experimentally, attending to how you feel as you negotiate the tasks and relationships – exhilarated, intrigued, encouraged, or scared.”

Tim goes on;

“When you open your heart to the people around you, treating them as friends and companions on a common journey, something magical occurs. The passions that you sense in others start to resonate in you. Left to our own devices, we tend to retreat into comfort zones. We fall back on familiar ways of thinking, feeling, acting, and living. We become existentially conservative, shying away from new, strange, or difficult tasks, and gravitating towards activities we know we do well. The result is that we fail to explore our full palette of powers.

Like mediocre artists, we paint the landscape of life out of primary colours, ignoring the vast array of alternatives that the colour spectrum presents and the thrilling task of discovering them through experiments in combination and mixture. It doesn’t have to be this way. The broader and more diverse the set of powers we have to draw on, the easier it is to tackle life productively and creatively. New challenges can be a learning experience. A new situation can be an opportunity to experiment with formative powers and to work them up in order to draw on them further down the line.”

Powerful stuff!

One of the things I’ve been trying to get my head round for a while, and which had also drifted into my ‘holiday head’ was about a conference I went to at work where the concept of Credible Activists was explained.



The above slide pretty much explains it and I suppose relates to something I’ve covered before about influence. We were being asked to look at ourselves and how we might adapt and nudge things by being both credible and an activist.

That now related to how I saw the da Vinci being promoted, creating what I saw as a less credible viewing experience.

Then coincidentally, I saw the following tweet from a colleague who is supporting me to explore how things are and might be and it all comes together.


The tweet links to another blog post by Tim Lloyd. (Popular name; Tim). My response refers to this post you are reading now. Tim’s piece is about being disruptive and feeling empowered. Again I’ve copied relevant paragraphs, but go read the full article and then come back!

The challenge for public sector organisations – any organisation for that matter – is to create an environment where those people who are on the front line can get stuck in to improving service design and digital engagement, without feeling they have to go rogue.”

So in effect the credible activist idea about creating value. Tim goes on;

“No amount of social media policies, digital transformation teams or changes to reporting lines will solve this completely – organisations need confident managers who are prepared to demand change, and let people do their job in the best way possible for the customer.” – Potential ‘devaluing friction’ that also links to Tim Rayner’s thinking.

Linking all the above, it seems to me that a lot of organisations and places aiming to do things differently, for whatever reason, are saying;

  • “we have process and how we do things”
  • “we have our values and how we want to be and seen to be”
  • “we want to embrace new ways of doing things”.

But sometimes, like my experience in Poland, they struggle to work these together or demonstrate their desired values and inadvertantly create this ‘devaluing friction’ by not providing time, space and permission to experiment, fail, learn or provide places where the ‘learning from the heart’ stuff that Tim Rayner mentions can be nurtured and can grow.

What if?

Maybe in the pursuit of something different, we sometimes aim for a masterpiece but we inadvertantly handcuff our artists with devaluing friction and they can’t paint freely or they end up painting by numbers. Letting people be how they naturally are – ‘being’ engaging or enterprising rather than ‘doing’ engaging or enterprising, might be what is needed.

Taking this further, I imagine in most places there are those folk that are natural engagers (for want of a better word); those who seem to get through/or round process and red tape, those who we identify as ‘people’ people. Why might that be? Could it be they have personal values that closely match their organisational values which make it easier for them to get stuff done? Are they more self confident, perhaps a bit rogue/activist? Are they more trusted or empowered? Is it a combination of all of these?  Tim Lloyd’s post suggests that front line staff need to be allowed to be those people too, led by those confident managers who get it.

I suppose what I’m suggesting is if we value getting stuff done in a way that really matters, reflects shared values and makes a real difference to those we are doing it for and with those who do it from the heart, then they need to be given credible support that matches their activist potential. It’s about reducing the devaluing friction.

I’ll probably ruminate on this some more.

Happy to hear others’ thoughts too.