The Eye of the World - Chapter 1 [#100Days, Day 2]

Chapter 1 

One of the trademarks for Jordan's series is its opening phrase:

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.
The Eye of the World, p.1   

    From the macro view, the events in this world are cyclical, as Elan Morin hinted: he and Lews Therin have clashed a "thousand times a thousand" times.  Faces,  names, places - all may have changed, but the core of the conflict always involved those two.  At the micro level, this phrase embodies what we leaders affectionately know as "tribal knowledge" - methods, processes, and procedures long unwritten and based purely on verbal pass downs. Tribal knowledge can be particularly vexing because it's often intertwined in the "That's how we've always done it" mentality once the "why" behind the method has long since faded to myth. 

    Leading often means inducing change, ideally for the better; stretching the teams to reach a new standard. It's a challenging endeavor, especially if the leader is in the job for a significantly shorter time frame than the rest of the work force.  There's a tension between the urgent need for change and the long-term impact. It's especially grueling for a workforce that's seen the cycle time and again: a new boss arrives, pitching big ideas for change; change starts gaining momentum; the boss gets promoted based on early results and a new boss shows up with different ideas. The clash begins anew. From the workforce perspective, there is a deep sense of frustration based on lack of complete follow-through.  A sales pitch was made, end state vision mapped out, tentative progress achieved, then broken faith when the champion departs.  Eventually, this degrades to a complete apathy towards change or, even more sinister, passive-aggressive resistance to change of the flavor "well, I'll just wait you out."

    Leaders will be quick to proclaim that it should be incumbent on the workforce to press towards change once the vision is provided and the order to move out given. And they're right, but only to the point that the next leader shares the same vision. Often, this is not the case.  It's critical to understand the method behind the apparent madness prior to jumping forward towards making a change.  This brings another cycle, made famous by Air Force Colonel John Boyd - the OODA loop

  • Observe the unfolding circumstances
  • Orient yourself based on previous experience and determine the options that can be done with the observed information
  • Decide upon a course of action
  • Act by taking the first steps on the course of action

Its core development was to provide concepts to enhance superiority in air-to-air combat; but the applicability can expand outward to more strategic aims, and even well beyond being constrained to military applications.  In the change management arena, it provides a framework to break through the tribal knowledge permafrost and finally begin to achieve results:

  • Observe and understand the method behind the madness
  • Orient based on previous experience, examine all the possibilities, find allies to the cause
  • Decide upon a course of action
  • Act by taking the first steps on the course of action

The cycle continues as results from the small changes are analyzed and compared to the desired path to the vision.  Critical to the success of this framework is to keep moving along the loop.  It's easy to freeze in the Observe stage, trying to gather as much information as possible in order to make the perfect decision to avoid making the wrong one.  In most cases, not making a decision is more costly than the possible negative outcomes of one made earlier on.  Incremental adjustments are far easier to make and navigate than large course corrections.

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