Throttled By Seminar: Why Outside-In® Has Me Pacing the Floor At Night

Beth Bunting Arnhholt
Beth Bunting Arnhholt, Vice President of Integrated Talent Management for Comcast/NBC Universal

I went to a pretty great seminar last week on Thursday, 29Jan 2015, put on by Outside-In®. Seminar: Influencing Cultural Transformation – One Small Step at a Time. The guest speaker, Beth Bunting Arnholt, vice president of Integrated Talent Management for Comcast/NBC Universal, was captivating in the way of most big thinkers.

There is a seminar axiom I always keep in mind when listening to big thinkers like Ms. Arnholt, “Take the best and leave the rest.” And although there was very little to leave behind from her presentation, there were some pearls shinier than others.

Either her second or third slide haunts me a bit. It was a quote from Edgar H. Schein former professor at MIT and leadership and organizational culture authority – another big thinker to note. The slide defined organizational culture as, “A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way you perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”

Boy, that’s something. The phrase, “that has worked well enough to be considered valid,” is – while undoubtedly true – enough to keep leaders pacing the floor at night and start smoking and drinking again.

It’s not that something worked well, or is a preferred method, or even a good idea, but rather that it works well enough. Hokey smokes Bullwinkle, that’s terrifying!

I imagine smoke-filled rooms where a bunch ne’er do wells, spend their time collectively dodging proverbial bullets, patting themselves on the back and saying, “Yep, good one! That worked well enough!”

I want to cry when I think of the enormity and truth of the definition. It is so obvious now after listening to Ms. Arnholt why organizational change is the dominion of Hercules and Sisyphus – it’s hard and there is good chance you’ll be run over by a boulder along the way.

Though she only talked for a while, she made some good points about boulder avoidance. There were several points, but as I cut through it all, a lot comes back to the “vision thing.”

Ms. Arnholt said:

  1. You have to define the future, by knowing what you want and why you want it.
  2. You have to spark the fire, by dealing with a present day situation that will get you toward your vison.
  3. You have to fan the flame, by connecting the dots and helping the future grow.

But more than that, I took away from her presentation the same things I learned at the Infantry Officers Basic Course so many years ago:

  1. Identify the end state – what does success look like?
  2. Begin with the end in mind – what are our small steps along the way and how do we measure the journey?
  3. Lead enthusiastically.
  4. Take blame, never credit.
  5. And remember no plan survives first contact with reality.

After having my psyche rattled by her second slide, one of her final slides put it back into perspective. “It’s not getting one person to go a mile; it’s getting a thousand people to go one step.”


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