Ron J West (ronjwest.com) has been inspiring corporate transformation for more than 25 years, in in companies large and small. He wrote Corporate Caterpillars - How to Grow Wings to provide a kind of "blueprint" you can use to create your own individual and corporate transformation to move from limited to limitless. The book is not modeled on a single analogy like the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, nor does it reduce the concept to a set of simple steps. But it does strive to recognize the richness of reasons why we often seem to be left with few choices.
Everything shows up exactly when it is supposed to, just like this book! You are holding this book perhaps because you feel that either you or your company is stuck in some way. As an individual, maybe you have caught yourself repeating a pattern to sabotage your efforts to get to where you want to be. Perhaps you are a CEO, CFO, President, Vice President, Department Manager, or Project Leader. You are probably a business leader in a position to affect change in your organization; maybe your enterprise is a small family business or an international conglomerate. It matters not whether your company is a for-profit or a not-for profit, a public or a private enterprise, this book will show how to move from a world of limited options to a realm of limitless possibilities, transforming both you and your company.
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How to Grow Wings
By Ron J. West
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Ron J. West
All rights reserved.
Awareness: Waking Up from Automatic Habits
To know others is wisdom; To know yourself is enlightenment; To master others requires force; To master yourself requires true strength.
—Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching
Perhaps you believe your boss is incompetent and you are quite sure you could do a better job of running things. Maybe it is your own enterprise that seems to be stuck. Perhaps you would like to grow your business or take it in a completely new direction. Or you may have started something more grandiose like a personal quest to discover and live your truth. Perhaps you recognize it as a hero's journey. On the other hand, it could seem more like a sacred pilgrimage to you. You may simply think of this journey we are embarking on as a way to make some much-needed changes at work. However you view this journey, the very first step in any such undertaking is to develop awareness.
What is awareness? Awareness is a kind of unfolding akin to waking up. It is experiencing things in new and perhaps very different ways.
What we are waking up from are the unconscious habits we have formed. Driving is a simple analogy. For many people, learning to drive seems overwhelming at first. There are many things to think about in order to safely drive the car. Most people are keenly aware of these things when first learning to drive. We fasten our seatbelts, check our mirrors, pay careful attention to other drivers, and watch out for potential hazards. With new learning and practice we are able to perform most basic driving tasks in an automated way. Many of us more-experienced drivers have had the experience of arriving at our destination with little memory of the journey we took to get there. Once something has been practiced enough it is largely unconscious. It becomes a habit. In effect, tasks that we can perform from habit free our conscious minds to focus on other matters.
Corporations, like individuals, develop their own habits. By way of example, even if a process is not well defined and documented, most companies have accepted ways of doing things. If someone leaves an organization, that person's replacement invariably figures things out and "fits right in," as we say. To make these habits visible we need to shift them from being automatic (unconscious) to conscious. We need to develop awareness and look at these habits from different viewpoints so we can recognize what is happening automatically and determine if these automatic responses still serve as they once did. We might say that we must first climb out of our unconscious state, or reach a state of awareness, so that, good or bad, we might see things as they really are. Once this state of awareness is achieved, we must learn to preserve that awareness and put it to use.
In chapter 2 we will do just that—in effect, we will learn how to step out of ourselves to get a look at what is "real." But I get ahead of myself. First we must wake up.
In the field of learning, it is theorized that we must go through four stages of awareness to master something new. These four stages are helpful to us as a way of explaining why and how we form habits and where awareness fits into our journey. The stages are
consciously competent, and
The first stage is unconsciously incompetent or "We do not know what we do not know." I recall when INSOL acquired MICON from one of the mighty conglomerates. INSOL insisted that we simply extract the MICON business unit from the larger conglomerate and move it elsewhere. We were given less than sixty days and little more than our memories to use as a blueprint to complete the move. We found a suitable location and completed the necessary steps to get the new subsidiary started. INSOL was a public company based in London, and the new subsidiary was a hundred-person design and manufacturing firm in the United States. Neither INSOL nor the subsidiary had any prior experience with mergers and acquisitions. This became painfully obvious when, on the day the new subsidiary started operations, some bright spark (maybe it was the intern) asked how he was going to pay for the coffee he was sent to buy. Something as simple and necessary as having a bank account had been overlooked. We were unconsciously incompetent. It sounds foolish (and perhaps even a bit scary), but there are times when you really do not know what you do not know.
The second stage of learning is to become consciously incompetent, or "I now know what I do not know." LOFTON is a commercial real estate developer. As their senior vice president of change management, my role was to help orchestrate their growth and development. In just three years, construction volume grew by almost 1,000 percent, twelve regional offices were opened, and the staff expanded from eighty to over four hundred.
LOFTON had spent almost thirty years in the business of developing and building predominantly industrial and office buildings. When the company first seriously ventured into retail real estate, the level of frustration was huge until the whole leadership team realized that things are done differently in retail. Not wrong, just different. While the team was still not aware of exactly what had to be different, they understood clearly that, in order to be successful in retail, there would need to be some new learning. The habits and unconscious behaviors that were successful in industrial and office development did not produce the same results in the retail sector. They were now very much aware of what they did not know.
The third stage is called consciously competent or, "You know what you know when you remind yourself you know it." WIZARD was a cable test equipment provider. The company experienced huge demand as cable TV companies converted to digital and added Internet, phone, and digital TV to their service offerings. My role with the company was to completely transform the engineering department in WIZARD at a time when they were a year late with their latest software product and in total overload. In order to meet the demand and calm the chaos, every project had to go through an excruciating process to ensure that every milestone was being achieved and every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed. To implement the new process, a particular brand of project manager was hired from the large engineering contractors nearby that served the military. The new project managers constantly bullied and cajoled the design and development engineers to follow the process. This particular lesson in project management was the cornerstone of what became a huge success.
The final stage of learning is unconsciously competent, or "You know what you know without thinking about it." It sounds a little scary, but this is really the only way to handle the sheer volume and complexity of an enterprise. This is also where all the problems begin. To manage the complexity, we move to the stage where we are doing things in an automatic fashion. If the full learning model has been followed, then we have mastered a particular skill and now, through continual use, it has become a habit. Any action repeated becomes automatic. It becomes unconscious. We no longer need to think about how to do that action.
The way that these unconscious habits are learned is innocent enough. A business is faced with a problem or opportunity and finds a method of handling it that seems effective and, hopefully, efficient. The method gets practiced and passed on until it becomes "the way things are done around here." This is a perfectly reasonable way to manage the complexities of running a company, except, of course, when we attempt to use an established habit to handle a different requirement when circumstances have changed.
Before we can replace a habit we must first break it, and before we can break it we must be aware of it. The first step in our transformation journey is to move from unconsciously incompetent to consciously incompetent. It is to develop awareness. I have identified three ways to develop this awareness—through force, frustration, or inspiration.
Awareness through Force
One way an individual or a corporation can develop awareness is through what we will label trauma. Something happens internally or is caused by external factors that forces a response. I am being intentionally vague here because there are myriad ways that a person or a company can experience trauma and respond. For an individual, it is often a medical condition that prompts awareness and the changes that follow. For a corporation, it might be losing business to a competitor. The common element is that trauma and the resulting response shape the ways things are done from that point on.
A cash crisis is a particularly good way to demonstrate what happens when a business responds to trauma. The inability to meet payroll only has to happen once and most companies (at least those that plan to stay in business) adopt an unwritten rule to ensure that it will never happen again. Some companies have massive cash surpluses that, rather than being used to fuel the growth of the business, are kept in a bank, costing more in lost opportunities than they are earning in interest. This conservative approach could be the response of a CEO who was once scared by a mistyped number on a financial report. Maybe this last example is a little farfetched. Or maybe it's not. Trauma has a way of making an impression. See how this works?
AUTRON was a classic start-up company officially launched by Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom. Founded in an industrial incubator on the grounds of an English university, it used government grants and a little seed capital to develop, at that time, one of the world's fastest computers. On the bright and sunny day that I assumed responsibility as the new CEO, I was a little taken aback when the CFO handed me the keys, wished me luck, and promptly left. I understood that I was taking over to help grow the business.
On my first day with the company, it became apparent that I was left with a staff of twelve and no ways and means to pay salaries. I took a good look at our product. The world had passed it by. With such limited resources, even the ideas for a next-generation processor had missed the window of opportunity. A huge American corporation had spent a long time conducting due diligence with a view to an acquisition. When the acquisition fell through, AUTRON was left without a viable product for sale. It was all but doomed.
The company had been surviving on unauthorized bank debt. In hopes of figuring out how to get out of the mess the company was in, I turned to the consulting work in progress and found an equally sorry story. We had one development project valued at $5,000 and no other near-term prospects.
On my second day, the bailiffs, sent to collect anything of value to offset the company's unpaid electricity bills, visited me. Somehow I managed to convince them that everything was leased and there were no company-owned assets to take. The clock was ticking.
Within a week more vultures appeared in the form of an American distributor who had outlandish plans to distribute the rather specialized computer throughout North America. They explained that, after investing over $1 million in marketing, they had only managed to sell a handful of the computers. Per the terms of their copy of our agreement they were entitled to return the stock they had bought the previous year and receive a refund to offset their losses.
I checked our agreement and drew some comfort when I failed to find a return clause. By the time the executive from the American distributor had arrived from the States, I was ready to take him on. I learned fairly quickly that the AUTRON salesman at the time had deftly changed one page of the agreement after the AUTRON executives had signed it to appease the distributor. Of course, the salesman had long left AUTRON, commission check in hand.
My strategy was simple. I spent a week wearing the executive down. In the end, he agreed to allow us to pay him back as and when profits materialized. What else could he do? Anyway, he wanted to go home. It was almost Thanksgiving.
AUTRON had no viable products in which to invest but did have a handful of great engineers. It seemed the most likely option under the circumstances was bankruptcy. However, this was my new job and I had a mortgage and three children to support. Walking away was not an option for me. In many cases of personal and corporate transformation, trauma of any sort is one of the best motivators for change, especially when that trauma creates a situation where choices are few.
If a turnaround was to be possible, AUTRON needed to clearly identify its priorities. In a situation as dire as the one the company was facing, it does not take a genius to find the first priority—survival. A lack of cash will kill a company, so it was critical that we slow the outflow and quickly find a source of cash to keep things afloat while we figured out what to do. One solution to AUTRON's immediate cash flow problem was to approach the company that decided not to purchase AUTRON and ask them to feed consulting work to the fledgling software house. They agreed. Additionally, the bank to which AUTRON was indebted was persuaded that, with a small additional outlay from the bank, they would have a chance of recovering everything that AUTRON had borrowed. A year or so and lots of great engineering work later, the company that had been on the brink of failure was poised to become a well-known and respected software house serving the UK utility companies and others.
Awareness through Frustration
Another way that an individual or a company may develop awareness is through the frustration caused by an unbearable situation. SIPTON was a very long-standing family business and had built up a considerable amount of commercial real estate. The patriarch of the business had grown up in the Great Depression, so his prudent ways ensured there was little debt. The rents, from mostly mom-and-pop retailers, made the business a great cash generator. Financially it was a very successful business indeed. The work environment, however, was unbearable, a situation that manifested as high turnover—over 70 percent of the employees left each year.
On an individual level, an equivalent story of awareness developing from an unbearable situation is a very personal tale. I had had three marriages that ended in divorce and had been engaged a fourth time. All were truly wonderful women who essentially taught me everything I know. I had mastered the art of unconsciously developing relationships. The habits served me well, at least initially. Unfortunately these same habits would not allow me to sustain a relationship much beyond a couple of years. The pain I was causing others (and myself) simply became too much to bear. Something had to change.
In my first attempt to gain awareness, I enrolled in a year-long transformative program, during which I successfully showed up physically and hid out psychologically. Although I knew that the habits I had relied on in the past to forge a new relationship were not adequate to maintain a lasting one, I was not yet ready to become consciously incompetent. A remarkable teacher and mentor, Dr. Dale Townsend, told me not to worry. He would "install" everything I would need when the time was right. He went on to tell me that I had probably not made a single conscious decision my whole life and I would realize this when I was ready and not before. He was right.
It was some time later that I embarked on another transformative program. It was one of many such programs across the world that has achieved remarkable success in transforming individuals' lives. In one of the very first experiential exercises we participated in, we were asked to mill around the fifty or so participants and say one of only three different things:
I trust you.
I do not know if I trust you.
I do not trust you.
It took a little while for me to realize that I did not trust anyone who did not look me directly in the eye. This realization would not have been quite so scary if it was not followed by the realization that my boss at the time always looked away when he spoke to me. Imagine my surprise. I now knew that I didn't trust my boss. That was worrisome, and realizing that I did not have the trusting nature I thought I did was unsettling. Transformation had begun, driven by frustration.
Awareness through Inspiration
Perhaps the situation you or your business is in is neither traumatic nor frustrating but something more fundamental is occurring that would provoke awareness. Today more than ever corporations do business across political, geographic, cultural, and religious boundaries. If our businesses were to change the way they operate, the whole world would change. Sounds like a tall order, indeed, to change the world. Think about the effect your own company has, though, on the way your employees interact with others in your company, in other locations in your company, in their own communities, in the places they visit, in other companies and the employees in them whom they interact with.
Excerpted from Corporate Caterpillars by Ron J. West. Copyright © 2013 Ron J. West. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Jack Canfield.................... xiii
Introduction The Journey of Corporate Transformation.................... xix
Chapter One Awareness: Waking Up from Automatic Habits.................... 1
Chapter Two Getting Real: Seeing the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.......... 19
Chapter Three The Bare Necessities: Getting beyond Mere Survival.......... 40
Chapter Four On Purpose: A Sense of Meaning Makes Everything Easier....... 60
Chapter Five A Chunk at a Time: Achieving Uncommon Results................ 80
Chapter Six Removing Obstacles: Overcoming the Inevitable Sabotage........ 98
Chapter Seven Much-Needed Help: Vital Support to Get Where You Want to
Chapter Eight Transformation: Shifting Your Entire Corporate Culture...... 139
About the Author.................... 153
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As a C.I.O. in private equity with 23 years’ experience, Mr. West's book needs to be a "must read" for any corporate leadership team. Whether your organization is on a "steady state" and looking to improve corporate culture, or beginning the initial planning of a significant corporate project, Ron's book clearly brings a perspective and corporate truths that are often under looked, yet greatly impact success. The "human element" is a significant part of the success of any company or corporate project. Ron's work does an excellent job bring these to light.