At an international conference on knowledge, culture, and change in organizations held recently in Germany, Dr Peter Kell, University Professorial Fellow from Charles Darwin University in Australia, spoke in a keynote about change being ‘ubiquitous’ and about the need for belonging. He described a world riddled with change crises and offered a vision of the future where change could potentially present opportunities.
First the bleak reality: there are no assumptions of stability or clear paths forward. The ‘good old days’ have become nostalgic, mystical stories of better times. People have lost faith in institutions and are disengaged from them. For Dr Kell, we are living in a world where the ‘ridiculous looks normal and normal looks ridiculous’ and our present leadership is more comical and ridiculous than any parody we could watch on TV.
He cited the example of an Australian election slogan from 2016 ‘Continuity with Change’ which derived from a season of the American sitcom, Veep. The show’s producer, Simon Blackwell, tweeted: “In S4 of Veep we came up with the most meaningless election slogan we could think of. Now adopted by Australian PM.”
The ridiculous on TV has become an election philosophy. No wonder people are cynical and negative in the face of change and the absurd. It reminds me of Eugène Ionesco’s play from 1950, La Cantatrice chauve (The Bald Soprano), with the lines:
“Comme c’est curieux, comme c’est bizarre, et quelle coïncidence !’
(‘How curious it is, how bizarre, and what a coincidence!’).
Perhaps this will become the next election campaign slogan, direct from the Théâtre de l'absurde (Theater of the absurd) – or life, as we normally refer to it.
But in a world where politics seemingly mirrors a TV sitcom or a decades-old French play, Dr Kell provides another vision of change that is positive, meaningful, and – most importantly – possible.
We just need to choose this version of change. We need to come together respectfully and willingly to build bridges over all that which currently divides us. Together, we can find innovative solutions to old problems without copying mistakes of the past nor resorting to the absurd.
In this new spirit of positive change, certain conditions would need to be met to change the existing paradigms in the world as we know it.
We would need to approach change in a collective manner where:
- Global conditions are built around mutual interests.
- Questions and problems are redefined in inclusive terms.
- Commonalities are recognized through authentic dialogues.
- Decisions are participatory, educative, and reflexive by nature.
Dr Kell went on to make some concrete suggestions on how we can approach future change.
The first step entails removing the ubiquitous borders and gates we have created to protect ourselves. He lauds openness, authentic connections, and positivity. More specifically, he suggests that we – as academics, change agents, lifelong learners, mothers, fathers, friends, colleagues and others – should:
- Seek networks and connections (not divisions and differences) to encourage global optimism
- Promote trust-building activities
- Reduce reliance on consultants and speak to those who are affected by change
- Engage entire communities in change activities
- Prepare people for the ‘unpredictable’
- Develop new types of education for all
Towards the end of his keynote speech, Dr Kell recounted the story of an indigenous man in Australia who spent his time in the bush. The man was asked what he does when he gets lost. He smiled and responded: “I just go home”. The idea of getting lost did not register as a concept nor translate into his language. For him, no one should ever be lost and no one should have the feeling of not belonging.
This sense of purpose and belonging not only summed up the philosophy of the indigenous man but summed up the spirit of the conference as well.
So remember the following words when faced with future uncertainty in a world where the ridiculous looks normal. ‘We are never lost … we are simply taking another route home. We belong … together’.
Ionesco, E. (1950). La Cantatrice Chauve. Gallimard Folio.
Jeffrey, J. (2016, March 24). Federal election 2016: Turnbull’s ‘meaningless’ slogan a sitcom steal. The Australian. Retrieved from https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/federal-election-2016-turnbulls-meaningless-slogan-a-sitcom-steal/news-story/815c9291a2597168ceace9712a007040
The 18th International Conference on Knowledge, Culture, and Change in Organizations was held at the University of Konstanz in Germany, March 15-16. The theme of the conference was ‘Navigating Change in Shifting Cultural Landscapes: Disruptive, Generative, Transformative?’