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Friday, November 4, 2011

Reinforce or Reinvent

"What got you here won't get you there" - Dr Marshall Goldsmith



In the light of changing environments, entities can do one of two things. Reinforce who they are, or reinvent themselves. Which is more appropriate depends on a lot of things. It applies to individuals, organizations, artists...To see how it applies in software development, see this article.

Tomorrow I'm going to a Mauritian student event. I haven't attended their events for the past 3 years because I was usually too swamped with school work. It's probably also because I did not choose my inner circle to be primarily Mauritian, although it could easily have been. This is not to say that I do not appreciate them. They are a truly amazing bunch. Mauritians have the reputation of finding a way to figure it out, no matter what :)

The main reason why I hang out mostly with non-Mauritians is because I came here to experience different cultures and mindsets. If I spend all my time with people who have the same background, I will keep thinking that the way I perceive everything is "the normal way" and assume I know about other cultures just from what I can observe. But there's so much more that you can only pick up through constant interaction with people. I suppose I wanted to reinvent my perception of the world because there is no point in reinforcing lacking frameworks.

The same applies for organizations. The team I currently work on once had bad management and a not-so-good reputation in the organization. However, a change in leadership revived the team with ambition, focus on efficiency, initiative, and high standard expectations. Now, it seems like we are one of the most reputable teams in the organization. We are known for our fast turnover and quality of work. Speaking to some of the members, I can tell that they are constantly looking for ways to improve things. Our mantra is something along the lines of "great work is followed by more great work". I love it and I truly respect all these employees who work overtime of their own will to make things happen. Who would have thought federal government teams could be so productive? The team reinvented itself into something great and it's just awesome to be part of it.

Now that the team has established effective and efficient processes to ensure maximum productivity, I suppose that, going forward, we will be reinforcing more than reinventing for a bit. However, sooner or later, things change and call for reinvention again. This could be, for example, implementing AI techniques. It might seem far-fetched now, but now only lasts the blink of an eye.

In U2's documentary "From the Sky Down" (TIFF 2011), Bono said "You have to reinvent yourself. But in between, you have nothing". When I think about it, it sounds like a big risk. But it proved to be important to them in order to succeed again. Starting from scratch was part of what made them better. Pink started out as an R'N'B artist. Then she reinvented herself with a more rock-sounding album. I thought it was a weird shift at the time, but I loved both albums. Her latest "reinvention" was to align her skills as a gymnast and performer during her live shows. She blew everyone away at the grammys and has since earned much deserved respect worldwide.

I guess the lesson here is that, while reinforcement is good for a certain amount of time, one day, we will know and feel that we can't continue down that path. "What got you here won't get you there" . The arguably easy way is to ignore it and just keep reinforcing and "adding bandaids" as my team would call it. But there are clear indications that it is worth all our while to learn to change and adapt. Reinventing ourselves can be scary but so all the most rewarding things in life. Buying a house, falling in love, investing in stocks, starting your own business, letting your kids grow up.. So why not? Would you choose guaranteed failure over potiential hard-earned success? I know I wouldn't. Status quo is my long term enemy.

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