Only the Paranoid Survive

A colleague recently forwarded an email to me about an issue here at the College. In an effort to understand, I read through the attached lengthy email chain. Nestled at the bottom of the chain was a set of complaints about the President of Harold Washington College, written by another colleague, who I will for the purposes of this post pseudonymously name “Unrealist,” and specify the gender as female, although I am not ascribing these comments and descriptions to any identifiable person here at the College.

Upon reading the comments, I called upon my corporate training and enacted Habit 5 of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to “Seek First to Understand” and asked Unrealist to meet with me. She agreed.

I harbored no ill will against Unrealist. After all, complaining about the President seems to be one of the perks of working here at HWC. I was curious, though, about one of the underlying themes of Unrealist’s email; namely, that I was out to get her.

I asked Unrealist if that were, in fact, the case. “Not only do I think you are out to get me, I think District and significant forces in the world of academia are out to get me.” By ‘me,’ I clarified that Unrealist meant her department. And by “get her,” she meant cut or make obsolete her department and position. She had dreams of being at CCC forever, retiring with all of her friends at the College.

In my old career, change was a constant. Change drove a large part of our revenues – a client’s need to change often meant they needed consultants to help them navigate the change. As I said in my opening post, I have a bias toward action, born of a career spent figuring out how to change things for the better.

So I am always surprised when someone presents me with the idea that they expect things to stay the same forever – or at least until they retire. CCC has gone through many waves of change throughout the past century. As our society evolves, the demands and needs for our role in meeting societal needs will change, too. Technologies will change approaches. Funding sources (read, Federal, State and Local) may ask for change based on electoral demands.

I also understand change is scary. A part of us wants the good things we have today to continue forever. That hope, though, can get in the way of growth, development, and greater happiness with greater achievement.

I have met with a several departments at the college about our future. I have advised them the same way I advised Unrealist. You can wait for the changes to swamp you, or you can try to get in front of them and take control of your future. I advised Unrealist that while I did not want her to be defensive, I did want her to be a little paranoid. As Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel said, Only the Paranoid SurviveWorrying about what changes may overwhelm you is less productive, and less rewarding, than imagining a number of alternative futures and making plans for how to achieve them. Both the Art and Architecture and Business departments at HWC are now engaging in exercises to envision what their futures could look like, and coming up with proposals for me to consider.

I encourage all of our departments, as we enter our budget season, to take this opportunity to imagine potential futures. And while I don’t want people to be fearful, a little paranoia may spur some creative thinking.

Published by Don Laackman

Leader with higher education, non-profit and private-sector consulting experience.

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