Turn And Face The Strange

‘Oh jeez,’ I thought. ‘Here come the trust falls.’

The air was warm and unmoving. The conference room was ringed with tables and executives, all of whom stood and partnered off as directed.

“Take a good, hard look at one another,” the facilitator said, “And then turn around.”

I studied my colleague, a one-time studio head now launching dot com start ups, then made an about face.”

“Now I want you to take one minute to change five things about your appearance.”

‘Oy,’ I thought.’

I pulled my collar out my sport coat, untucked my shirt, removed my pocket square, tucked my glasses into my breast pocket, rolled up one pant leg, and then turned towards my partner. He quickly identified each change.

“Now turn around, and change five more things.”

I sighed.

I folded my collar underneath itself, lifted the collar on my sport coat, unlaced my shoes, took off my belt, then paused…

Another colleague, a bespectacled website project manager, whispered, “Let’s switch glasses.”

I turned towards my partner a second time. He quickly identified each change.

“Now I want you to return to your seats.”

I tied my shoes, fixed my collar, and returned my pocket square to its rightful place over my heart. The project manager and I returned one another’s glasses. I sat down, relieved the excercise was over.

“Ok,” the facilitator began, “What was your first thought when I told you to stand up and partner off?”

“Lame,” I blurted out. “Here come the trust falls.”

“And what about when I asked you to change five things?”

“Pain in the ass,” a biz dev head said.

“Difficult,” an ad sales director responded.

“And what about when I asked you to change five more things?”

“Impossible,” one producer said.

“Ok,” the facilitator said, grinning. “Show of hands. How many of you collaborated with someone else?”

Two of us raised our hands.

“And how many of you returned yourselves to the exact state in which you began the excercise when I told you to return to your seats?”

Every hand in the room went up.

“I’ve run this little excercise thousands of times for thousands of different groups,” he said, “And the response is always the same.”

The air grew thicker.

“This is how groups respond to change. The first response is to be annoyed. The second is to be afraid. Very few people collaborate. And when all is said and done, most return to exactly the same way they were before.”

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.

“This,” he said, “is what you have to overcome.”

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