Every Interaction Matters

Tom GibbonsChange, Leadership, Organization Development, Social ConstructionLeave a Comment

Perhaps one of the most important things that the complexity sciences have taught us is that very small disturbances can, at times, create dramatic, significant and unforeseen changes.  Perhaps an even more significant lesson that unfortunately doesn’t get nearly as much air time is that it is not predictable which small disturbances might create what kind of changes.  The impact is not unimaginable but it is also not predictable to any degree of detail.

The weather is likely the most common example of this in nature.  There are countless examples in the realm of human nature as well, one relatively recent example being the economic downturn virtually worldwide over the past couple of years or so.

In many of our posts here we have said that nothing happens in organizations outside of the interactions we have.  Organizations ARE the patterns of interactions that exist and are made up of countless day to day interactions, most of which we take for granted and often don’t take seriously.  We tend to place far more emphasis on certain, often structured interactions, such as the communication of the strategic plan, the creation of the budget, the performance management meeting, or the communication of the change management plan.

When we actually look at how much real time these structured interactions take up in terms of the time we spend at work, the percentage is typically quite low.  Often less than 10% of the time we really spend interacting with others and this tends to hold true even for the most senior of managers.

So if we were to apply the lesson of the complexity sciences noted above about the potential of small disturbances creating significant change, would it not make sense to pay serious attention to 90% of the interactions we have in our organizations where that potential exists?  Certainly the math would say yes, but unfortunately the math is not certain, and we have an aversion to uncertainty it seems.

However, we have convinced ourselves that the 10% of the interactions we deem as more significant, must create a more certain outcome.  And yet the more subtle lesson from the complexity sciences noted above, that it is not predictable (certain) which disturbances will create what changes apply to these 10% of our interactions as well.  In fact there is very little proof that a well crafted strategy or thought out budget will create a more certain future at all!

These activities certainly can have value, but perhaps it is time to take more seriously the more numerous interactions we have day to day through which our organizations emerge.  Those hallway conversations that are as much about strategy as the plan, those interactions in the midst of a crisis that are as much about performance as the list of objectives and that off hand remark that captures the values of what you stand for as much as any values statement or list.

Each interaction we have holds the potential for significant impact, or it may not have any impact at all, we simply cannot know.  But if you imagined that your next interaction with someone just might create a change that was important and significant, would you not take that interaction seriously?

Seriously does not mean well planned out and structured, although it may.  It means that we understand our interactions are creating our organizations and the future of our organizations is uncertain.  And in the midst of that uncertainty we will move forward together and the interactions we are having right now are part of that moving forward, together.

Today, think of all those interactions that just seem to make up our day and seem so uneventful.  Think of that 90% that just happen.

One of them might change tomorrow in a big way.

Author – Tom

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