Opposite where I live there is a running track and every other day I go for a run.
The running track is ideal; it’s flat, has a gentle rise but nothing more taxing than that. The sun rises over it early morning and sets on it early evening. It circulates two large inner city parks and has plenty of shade for those that run during the day.
Almost every runner that uses the track runs in an anticlockwise direction. There’s no discernible reason for this. There are no signs directing you which way to run, no obvious benefits from doing so and no obstacles or distractions to running clockwise.
It’s just that when you join the track, you invariably run the same way that everyone else is running and 99% of the time, that’s anticlockwise.
Every now and then — and this morning was a good example — someone is running clockwise. The immediate reaction is ‘that’s odd, why are they doing that when we’re all running the other way?’. You find yourself looking for that person as you go around the track to see whether they’re still running clockwise or whether they’ve come to their senses and turned around.
It’s a great metaphor for culture and the constant need for evolution to avoid stagnancy.
Culture, for most organisations, is an unwritten agreement between management and staff on the way we do things around here. And those ways will generally be one-way.
Every now and then, someone will go against the grain and do something different. They’ll start to run clockwise. Those within the culture will start by treating them with suspicion. They’re not curious as to why they’re running that way or the value that it brings, they’ll simply continue to run their own way, in the hope that the person will decide to change and thus stop making everyone else feel uncomfortable.
We’ll consider them to be a bit of a lone nut, always turning left when everyone else is turning right.
The people turning left however, usually have a reason for doing so. Yes, sometimes it’s a choice to be different, but for them it’s a different perspective, idea or chance for them to show others that there’s another way. One that offers the same or better outcomes, but with an opportunity for greater learning or greater innovation.
It’s tougher to run in the opposite direction to everyone else. It takes courage, determination and a willingness to stick at it in the hope that others see the value.
Those that do will start to run clockwise and encourage others to do likewise until such time as the culture changes course.
However, should the culture refuse to move or the the person running clockwise fail to convince others of the value of doing so, then either a) they will eventually give up trying to persuade everyone else to run their way and leave the organisation; or b) start running with the crowd and conform to their way of running.
If you see someone running the other way, take the time to understand why they are doing so. Embrace their ideas, their thoughts and their perspectives. Running clockwise while everyone else is running anticlockwise may seem risky, but stick with it. It will take resilience but there’s a good chance that you’ll be wiser and emotionally stronger as a result. And by running the other way, you get a much better perspective on all the other runners coming towards you!
If you are the runner, then take the time to sell the value of why you are running the other way so that people understand that you’re not just doing it to be different! Recognise that people will need to be continually encouraged. Embrace them as equals and help them as you go around the track.
Being consistently successful means changing course from time to time and this cultural evolution will always need a catalyst prepared to run in the other direction. Why not you?