On the Importance of Brushing Elbows

Early in the morning the other day, as I’m walking down the street taking a less-direct route to work,  a guy comes out of a tent and starts walking next to me, so that we’re almost brushing elbows. He asks me what my “occupation” is. I answer as if no pun was intended. Trainer.  I ask him the same question. Deckhand.  He does ropes, I do courses. He gets fresh air, I get fresh-faced analysts. Some brief banter and then I continue back on way to work for my financial markets-related client. He goes back into his tent to work for his financial markets-related cause.

Initial Reactions

I’m not a fan of categorizing people by their occupation, or by their previous year’s earned income before non-discretionary expenses, or worst of all, by their infantile-percentile “ranking” of earned income… but I do understand that’s the current meme…. 99% vs 1%…  I understand, too, that slogans are meant to be simple… simplicity sells… and finally, I know that I’m sensitive to scapegoating… “Ok, who else are we going to put up against the wall, street?”    To be sure, the authors of this slogan do not explicitly recommend a particular action or solution. The slogan is merely meant to engage emotion… and engage emotions it does… a bubbling cauldron of emotions such as anger, resentment, defensiveness, embarrassment, indignation and more.

Start with the Heart

In the book, The Heart of Change Field Guide, author Dan S. Cohen provides a guide for implementing John Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model, the “Systematic Approach to Leading Organizational Transformation.”   This is an iterative leadership model, whereby individuals who join a collective change initiative are lead through a series of steps. He summarizes the first step of leading collective change as follows:

“In this first step, change leaders must build a sense of urgency by heightening energy and motivation. To do this, they will need to reduce the fear, anger and complacency that may have built up in their organizations.”

What stands out for me in these two particular sentences is the emphasis on  human emotion (the “Heart of Change” ) as well as what the  author is saying should be heightened versus what should be reduced. I think many leaders ignore the emotional aspect of enabling organizational  change… or if they recognize it, they do it slightly differently than how Cohen, in this instance, is suggesting. Many leaders try to reduce complacency by  increasing fear — or in the cases of larger scale social or political movements — increasing anger. Fear and anger are, in  fact, powerful ways to heighten energy and motivation… yet the energy they create is often unpredictable, short-lived and destructive. A movement conceived in anger risks fizzling out before it can translate its broad complaints about the unevenness of reality into a coherent and realistic set of corrective measures. OWS is an open-source change initiative, a Kotter Model case study in progress. How will the anger within that urgency translate, as OWS continues through its iterations of the later steps of Kotter’s Model?  In step #2) Build Guiding Teams and #3) Get the Vision Right, a big element is the sorting out of values which inform the vision and which are exemplified by the guiding leadership’s behavior.  In OWS, openness seems to be a value which will hopefully trump anger.

Take a Stretch Break, Outside

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be.

There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing.

We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it.

And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

– from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (HT Wally C)

Political debate is uncomfortable, especially on issues where there aren’t very many comfort zones. Yet it’s so important for people to let themselves out of their boxes and tents… take a more exploratory path once in a while… break the routine… this is how discoveries are made. We create comfortable bubbles around ourselves, living inside ideological echo chambers, where we think we know everything we need to know… and we miss out. There’s a grand irony to the “death of mass media” and the rise of personalized information channels: The more control we’re given over what we get to see and hear, the more likely we are to becoming controlling personalities… we attempt to control what can or cannot be said in our presence… and we miss out. From time to time, when I see that I’m missing out, I turn off the Internet echo chamber, find the nearest exit and go for a walk… or better yet, go have a beer.


We’re standing at the window 320+ feet above the tents during a session break. They’re two months into the job, now going through the internal educational program within the IT department. They know they’re lucky and they know that they’ve worked hard to get to this place. They are all recent college graduates and about a third of them are recent immigrants, too. They are surprised by what they see. They say that these sorts of street protests could never happen where they come from, at least not without having dead bodies on the street. They ask me what I think. Be grateful for what you’ve got, improve wherever you can… and don’t let anyone’s statements or slogans make you feel less proud about who you are or what you do for a living. Today you’re a deckhand, tomorrow you’re a trainer… you never know. In the meantime, make some time to brush elbows with someone you think you disagree with. ..and if all this seems too trite and obvious to you, then consider that you might actually have something yet to learn.


About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on October 12, 2011, in Learning, Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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