This article is the first of a two-part discussion that explores the new book Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez. In this first part, we explore the application of the book to organization design and transformation. In the second part, we will explore the continual transformation of Duarte, Inc. We begin with the concept of the “torch-bearer” and then explore three phases of a transformation.
When we think of leaders, we often think of those who have official titles and positions in leadership. However, in the context of organization design and transformation, leaders are found not only in the formal positions but also informal positions as change agents, subject matter experts, facilitators, etc. In the book Illuminate, there is a quote,
Leaders aren’t just the people at the top of the org chart. A leader is anyone who can see a better future and rally people to reach it, whether you’re an executive, entrepreneur, or individual contributor, you have the potential to motivate people through your words and actions.”
Regardless of title and official responsibilities, organization architects have to lead the [re]design the organization or any part of it. This often requires a collaborative approach to leadership that crosses the functional boundaries. Good news, taking a collaborative approach means you don’t have to have ALL the answers. The torch-bearer in the book doesn’t have all the answers to the transformation in the beginning. They have a vision for the future, and they know the first steps that need to be taken. As Nancy put it in the interview,
We really liked the concept of bearing a torch, because, in situations where you need a torch, usually, it’s dark and damp and scary and not well-lit and unknown. You don’t know where you’re going, and you need a torch. We didn’t say search-light, where you can see for miles. A torch basically illuminates enough right in front of you to make the next few steps bearable and understandable. That’s what communication does. It casts just enough light for people to be like, oh! I could go there, that’s not that scary.
This is consistent with our CEO research where they knew they had to change which was not negotiable, but they used their team to figure out what and how to change. While the journey is difficult to plan in detail in the beginning, there is a predictable path of three phases that include five key components.
Illuminate uses the word “venture scape” to describe the journey of transformation. The book provides many tools and techniques to help leaders at all levels help their followers, (travelers) navigate the trip. The five stages are dream, leap, fight, climb, and arrive. These five stages are organized into three phases or “Acts.”
Dream and Leap
In the dream phase you need to create a moment of inspiration and to do that, you would use speeches, stories, ceremonies and symbols to inspire people. If you think about it, it’s hard to point to a movement that didn’t start with some sort of an impassioned plea.
If the dream or vision is compelling AND communicated in ways that are compelling, people will make the Leap and join the movement. The Leap can be a scary proposition, and it is often met with resistance. This is the leveraging of the Forces for Change in the LFOA. Understanding the roots of the resistance then developing and delivering messages to help reduce the resistance and inspire the people to join is a key element in Illuminate. As Nancy proposes in the interview,
I think leaders, in a sense, are prophetic in the sense that they understand and can see something in the future, and what happens when the voice of a prophet, say, rises up, the heretic lashes out against it. So we have all these archetypes for each phase, too, that you really need to understand—who readily embraces the future and who really loves stasis and status quo.
Once onboard, the journey is a winding and often unpredictable sequence of fight and climb episodes.
Fight and Climb (a.k.a. Messy Middle)
Transformations often require many individual initiatives or [re]design projects. Illuminate calls this the “messy middle.” The number and scale of projects depend on the scale of the transformation. In some cases, organizations are changing the “DNA” of the culture and systems and in other instances, they are remodeling a part of the organization or individual process. Regardless of scale, a “venture” often requires many fight and climb episodes. In the interview, Nancy compares this phase to an adventure movie.
So just like in story-telling, in a really exciting adventure movie, there’s the high-speed chase, the shooting of the aliens getting all clawed up along the way, usually some sort of mortal or seemingly mortal wound, like Frodo got the arrow in his shoulder, and then you still have to climb this vast mountain. It’s like the most exciting and you know you’re on the edge of your seat, but it is not fun to be the one going through it.
When creating management models and methods we often simplify things to a point where there are a few easy steps. The message that some people get from the simple model is the implementation is supposed to be just as easy, which is clearly not the case. I really liked Nancy’s description of how it is often many iterations or as she calls them, “switchbacks.”
If you can picture the face of a very steep mountain, now there’re some people that can climb the face of a mountain, but there’s not very many. Usually, what happens is you go on switchbacks, right? So really it’s kind of fight, climb, then you have to go back and fight, climb, and then it’s fight, fight, fight, climb, climb, climb, fight, climb, climb, fight, climb, right? It’s really kind of switchbacks for a while until ultimately the third chapter starts, and that’s when you arrive.
Arrive (a.k.a. Reflection)
In the last phase, you arrive at the destination. Which as Nancy points out in the interview is only a temporary respite until the next venture. I am reminded of a phrase in performance/sustainable excellence circles that it is a “journey without an end.” While not encouraging to some people, it is life. And, there is a corollary to that phrase that says, “when you think your excellence journey is over, it is!” I found it interested that Nancy and Patti Sanchez didn’t use words like “victory” to describe this phase. Instead, Nancy calls it a “moment of reflection, because, in reality, you don’t always win.”
We often categorize the results as either win or lose, succeed or fail, etc. There are two problems with the concept of “learning from failure.” First, it is a blunt instrument. We take rich data and context information and classified it into nominal category data using what is often arbitrary “made up” definitions of success and failure. Second, “failure” is an emotionally laden word. No one wants to be a failure so they will protect themselves from objectively exploring the facts. As Nancy points out,
Even in a victory, there were lessons learned, there were hard things and lessons learned, and so you need to reflect back, cull out the stories, the warning stories, the motivating stories.
Learn and Improve is a key component of the leadership system and essential to any transformation to sustainable excellence. Nancy also offers some tools for assisting in the reflection stage including what she calls a “folklorist.” Sustaining the gains made during a transformation requires that these changes become a habit, which requires both formal systems or process changes AND culture changes. Illuminate offers several tools and techniques (e.g., stories, ceremonies, symbols) that help solidify these changes and embed them in the culture. Illuminate helps fill a gap in the literature regarding how to integrate communication into the change process, not as a “veneer layer” or “afterthought” but rather as an integral part of the change process. ILLUMINATE is a MUST READ for anyone interested in truly transforming their organization and achieving sustainable excellence!
In the first half of The Everyday Innovator podcast hosted by Dr. Chad McAllister, Nancy addresses the key elements in the book Illuminate. As you listen to the first half of the interview, think about how you can apply this to your work and organization. In part two yours truly, Dr. John Latham hosts the discussion where we explore with Nancy what it is was like transforming Duarte, Inc. See you next week with my thoughts on Part 2.
Enjoy the journey!
P. S. For more on what I have learned from Nancy Duarte & Co. regarding presentations see my article where I discuss how I used Nancy Duarte & Co. resources to develop a keynote presentation and eBooks.