Change Isn't a "Thing"

My wide-eyed 5-year-old found a new favorite movie a couple of months ago. And if you have young children you know that when a child likes a movie you’ll have the opportunity to see it more than a few times. A lot more than a few times! You also know that children’s movies often have positive foundational messages in them that we sometimes forget about as we get older. As a speaker and leadership coach I’m always half listening for those nuggets of metaphorical wisdom that might help me to simplify a subject or lighten a message I need to deliver. I received such a golden gift during one of the many viewings of the 2010, Tim Burton adaptation of Alice In Wonderland. Now, the original story of Alice is full of symbolism and popular quotes but after the nth viewing I found myself hung up on one simple, yet powerful, message that I couldn’t shake. Yes…it’s a “movie/leadership metaphor” but hang in there with me, it’s an idea worth sharing that might just change your perspective on change.

Curiouser and Curiouser

Shortly after the start of the movie Alice leaves her ‘normal’ world and falls through the rabbit hole where she sees bizarre and unexpected sights, experiences extreme changes in size and moves through considerable trial and error to free herself. When she emerges on the other side she utters those famous words “curiouser and curiouser.” I’ll admit it was the use of poor grammar that got my attention. I’m a word-nerd so I had to look up whether “curiouser” was really a word. It’s not. But what struck me is that Alice could have said anything after falling through a hole that defied gravity, turned her every which way and landed her in this new world that was unlike her own. She could have said ‘that hole should not have been there,’ or ‘I don’t belong here, someone get me out.’ I might have said something like ‘oh sh1&’ but it was a children’s story so that would have been completely inappropriate. But Alice chose to be “curiouser and curiouser” and KEEP GOING!

Here’s the metaphor…our experiences as leaders are not so different from Alice’s. Sometimes it can feel like we’ve fallen through a dark hole, been stretched, shrunk, turned every which way and dropped on our heads in a place that looks very different from where we started. Sometimes daily. We experience change at such an astronomical pace these days that I think we’ve actually changed change. I mean it is the new normal right? So it’s no wonder that we have to think differently about how we deal with it personally and how we lead our people through it. This is where I think Alice gets it right. In a strange new environment full of certain uncertainty, she had to have been frightened; but she was clearly more curious about what was before her than she was afraid. She demonstrated an active desire to learn and know more. Genius.

You Choose 

It has been my personal experience that it is very hard to be curious and stressed out at the same time. However, it is possible. I watch scary movies peering between my fingers because I am, in fact, both terrified and insatiably curious about what is going to happen next. So it is for us sometimes as leaders. There are so many things happening ‘to us’ that seem just beyond our control that it can feel as if we really have no control at all. And sometimes we don’t. But much like Alice in a world of fire-breathing dragons and self-proclaimed monarchs yelling “off with their heads;” you get to choose how you make your way through Wonderland. You get to choose whether you will approach each inevitable change as a victim of circumstance or as a curious and agile servant leader excitedly peering into the future between loosely laced fingers. In my 20+ years of working with leaders at every level, it is most often the excited, nervous, yet ridiculously curious leader with a “why not” mantra, who seems to glide through change with the least stress. They also tend to be the most respected leaders with the most committed teams.

New Perspective

I believe that when you choose to be genuinely curious and make a habit of asking more questions than making assumptions, you will gain a perspective not afforded those looking for blame or excuses. You will be able to see and evaluate a situation as it is and move others through seemingly impossible situations simply by being curious. Even better…as a leader…when you approach difficult situations with curiosity you give your peers and teams permission to do the same. You actually create a safe space for questioning the status quo and creative, out-of-the-box thinking that generates more possibilities than barriers to solving problems. You quite literally exchange stress and dread for excitement and possibility which are the golden currency in a knowledge economy.

The undeniable reality is that change isn’t a ‘thing’ that’s coming or an occurrence to be dealt with. Change IS the Wonderland within which we work and live. You get to choose how you will make your way and lead others through the certain uncertainty that you’ll face. So the next time you find yourself stretched, shrunk or dropped on your head in unfamiliar territory, take a cue from Alice; embrace the adventure, be open to possibility and stay “curiouser and curiouser.”

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