Picture the scene. A man is on his knees, arms spread wide and eyes cast skyward. People are seated in front of him, looking on attentively and listening intently to his words. A book lies open by his side.
This was the picture presented to us by Gareth Morgan, at a workshop on metaphor, paradox and change that he ran in London around ten years ago. "What is the man," he asked, "and what is he doing?"
"A preacher," many of us confidently responded, "and he's praying to God." "A clergyman" or "a minister," others echoed.
"So who are the other people in the picture?" Morgan asked.
"The congregation," we replied.
"And the book?"
"A prayerbook" (or, as some said, "a bible").
"What did the people do when the man finished what he was doing?" Morgan added.
"They said 'Amen'," we chorused.
"Great," said Morgan, "so what is he now?" (As he was posing this follow-up question, he projected a second image on the screen. This was identical to the first except that a long broomstick topped by a plantpot was now balanced on the man's forehead).
"He's a juggler," we asserted, "and he's performing a balancing act."
"And the crowd of people?"
"They are the audience," we agreed.
"And what about the book?" Morgan asked.
"A manual of balancing tricks," we suggested; before anticipating his final question by affirming our view that the people would have clapped when he had finished what he was doing.
Reframing people's perspectives
Morgan used this simple but effective exchange to challenge the view that "transformational change" inevitably requires large-scale interventions. Simply by adding a flowerpot to the picture transformed our view of the scene from that of a religious service to one of a theatrical performance. The addition of the flowerpot completely reframed the situation. It triggered new patterns of thought and opened up new avenues for potential exploration and action. In a very real sense, the introduction of the flowerpot provided new vision. It offered new insights and possibilities.
Morgan argued that significant change can often best be achieved (or stimulated) by introducing small, local 'plantpot-type solutions' rather than through the organization-wide imposition of macro-level change from the centre.
'Transformational change' - one conversation at a time
Morgan's argument is consistent with the dynamics of organizational change, and the nature of organizational vision, as set out in Informal Coalitions. Inviting people to reframe their prevailing view of a situation enables them to arrive at their own conclusions as to how best to respond. As they make different sense of what is going on around them, alone and in conversation with others, new possibilities are likely to open up for making progress in ways that resonate more closely with their own aims, aspirations and preferred ways or working.
Realising significant change is always brought about incrementally. It emerges from the multitude of everyday conversations and interactions through which new approaches are bought into and enacted on a day-to-day basis. Actively engaging with this process, by introducing or unearthing new 'plantpot solutions' to reframe people's perceptions and interpretations of emerging events, is a central aspect of 'visionary leadership' from an informal coalitions perspective.