July 10, 2013
The word "Transformation" is a bit of a buzz word these days. It has come to mean many different things to many different organizations. However, at JMJ, we use the word to describe what it is we actually do—and our clients often attest that, after partnering with us, their organizations or projects actually are "transformed."
Still, the term is an abstract one. What does it actually mean?
I had the opportunity recently to speak with an expert on the matter. Dennis Percy is a Senior Consultant here at JMJ with, basically, a life-long career dedicated to the practices of Transformation. I do not exaggerate when I say that even a fifteen minute conversation with the man can dramatically alter one's perspective.
In this interview, Dennis discusses what we mean when we say a person, project or organization is "Transformed," how to achieve unpredictable results, and how what we say has the power to alter our reality.
JWF: If you met someone with no background of knowledge around the concept of Transformation, how would you explain what you mean when you say “Transformation?”
DP: I’d say we have a set of practices, a set of techniques, or a variety of approaches that let us create a contextual shift. The difference between moving the contents around and shifting the context is that when you shift the context, everything gets touched at the same time with no effort, no energy expended. It all looks different. It all feels different. It’s available in a different way.
Now, if I was talking to somebody who didn’t have that kind of vocabulary, I’d say we found a way to make something happen that usually happens to us as an accident or as a result of circumstances.
Take somebody who has been through a near-death experience. They may come out the other side with an entirely different view of life—whether that’s a brush with disease, some kind of an accident, being in a plane that almost crashes—where ever they have enough time to be right up against the real possibility of “game over.” The game looks completely different when they come back to it and it isn’t over.
A colleague of mine was just speaking with a client who had survived a recent hostage taking circumstance in Algeria. The client was one of the four people who came out of it while twenty-something of his colleagues died.
He was talking about the way life looks to him now, and it was a very profound conversation. As they were wrapping up the conversation, the guy said, “You know, it’s amazing: my golf game has improved so much.”
My JMJ colleague looked at him and went, “What?”
The guy looked back at him and said, “What have I got to worry about?”
This extraordinary new panorama of life had arisen in front of the guy as a result of this event and everything in his life was recontextualized.
Take my experience. I was there when my son was born and I supported Natalie in delivering him. There were just the two of us present at home when he arrived. After that experience everything in life looked and felt different.
Those are contextual shifts that I’m describing. Sometimes people talk about “paradigm shifts”—they are more or less the same thing. These shifts are profound. Most often, people have those shifts as a function of circumstances as I described.
What we actually have at the core of our business is a set of distinctions, a set of practices that make that kind of shift intentionally possible with a very precise focus. That is what allows the kind of performance on our projects, for instance in the realm of safety, to go far beyond what is business as usual, common practice predictable.
JWF: The stories that you were describing exemplify what you mean by a context shift as opposed to shifting content. You’re describing a total shift in perspective, is that right?
DP: Yes, context is what gives meaning to form. There is the form in front of you and the context is what gives this form its meaning.
For example, if I say to you, “Time flies like an arrow,” you are going to hear that and, most likely, you’re going to think, “Okay, what he’s saying is that time passes very quickly the same way an arrow passes,” right?
DP: But, if I then said, “No, no, no, I want you to go get a stopwatch, and I want you to find some flies. I want you to time those flies the same way you would time an arrow. Time flies like an arrow.” The content is exactly the same, “Time flies like an arrow.” However, the meaning is totally different because we are shifting context.
JWF: I see that.
DP: Here at JMJ, we are able to produce a contextual shift in partnership with our clients and then put structures in place that stabilize this shift. So, instead of it just being, “Oh, I had a fabulous insight,” and then we forget and nothing happens, what we are able to do is generate the conditions for the fabulous insight, for the discovery or the opening of a new panorama. And then we put the structures in that allow that new insight or discovery to be fulfilled, which is why we say we Make the Impossible Possible, and the Possible Real.
JWF: What does it look like when that happens? When you’re seeing this on an organizational level or a large team or a large project level, what would you say is actually occurring when this Transformation or contextual shift happens and the structures are put in place? What do you see?
DP: People talking to each other. It’s not mysterious. It’s people talking to each other. Have you heard the expression talk is cheap?
DP: Okay, well that expression is valid most of the time. But it was not valid when Gandhi said, “The British will leave India and it will be their own idea.” Talk wasn’t cheap when a group of physicians said, “We’re going to eliminate smallpox in the next 25 years.” It wasn’t cheap when John Kennedy said, “We’ll have a man on the moon and bring him back safely within ten years.”
So, talk isn’t always cheap and what we have at JMJ is the technology that makes speech, makes conversation, makes communication, makes interacting with your teammates something other than business as usual. It’s something that has the power to alter reality—definitely not cheap talk.
JWF: What is it that distinguishes a flippant comment from the sort of declarative statement that you’re pointing to?
DP: Well, it’s about walking your talk. I think it is someone saying something that isn’t simply words. What they say expresses who they are in their heart, in their head, in their gut, in their actions.
When we work with people in the workshops for Incident and Injury-Free® (IIF®) safety, we go through a journey. It’s one that you must go through to create a situation where people can commit, authentically, to no one being injured on a large capital project or inside an organization. That’s a very unpredictable result, to do a large capital project without seriously hurting somebody? That’s an unpredictable result.
These days it’s getting more and more predictable because JMJ’s approach is getting more and more present in the industry, but when we first started making the statement that we would have no incidents and no injuries back in the mid-90’s, people looked at us like we were nuts. Now it’s, “of course.”
JWF: And that’s a context shift.
DP: Exactly. It’s probably more accurate to say it’s a paradigm shift. And if JMJ wasn’t the source of it, we were certainly very, very much a part of it. A pivotal part of it.