Keep Your Fish out of the Concrete Forest

by vernsanders on September 20, 2011


Well I was out on the net doing my search for interesting things (a longer, better, explanation can be found here) to write about, and I found this post on change by Sam Rainer: Leading a Transition Involves the Painful Process of Watching Concrete Dry. Rainer’s helpful observation is that in a transition involving a group of people (especially gathered around an institution, like a church), the change process can’t be constantly in motion. There are times when you have to wait. Let me allow him to put it more clearly:

Leading in this transition phase is like laying a foundation of concrete. Making the tactical/strategic/technical changes encompasses the work of putting the foundation in place. But in order for the transition to work, these changes must settle and solidify into the culture of the people. Technical changes come more easily. They are typically driven from the top. Cultural changes take time, and they come from the bottom. Like a worker laying the foundation of a house, leaders must watch and wait for the foundation of change to dry before building on it.

Yesterday, we put an article about change on Creator‘s website. In that article, originally published in the May/June issue of the magazine this year, Alan Brisco explained that in transitional change, you need to Keep Your Fish in the Water. Again, I’ll let Alan speak for himself:

For the sake of clear communication, let’s refer to ‘the change’ that’s being considered or implemented as ‘the fish’ and distinguish it from its context and its surrounding dynamics. We’ll refer to all that surrounds the fish and relates to making the change as ‘the water’.

Whether you want to move the coat racks (likely a guppy), introduce a new Christian Education curriculum (likely a trout), or build a new building on the other side of town (certainly a Bluefin tuna) – you’ve got a fish! Most people, including you, tend to focus mainly on the fish. After all, you and others have seen fish before. You’ve got ideas about what makes a fish good or bad, appealing or unappealing. Forgotten in the ruckus is that the fish has to be in the water to live! The fish by itself is a dead fish. And, in many places, people hold so many fish meetings where the fish is reviewed out of the water that the fish dies.  For change to be done well, both the fish and the water need to be handled carefully and monitored constantly.

What can we learn from these two bits of wisdom? At the risk of mixing in a new metaphor, you need to see the forest for the trees. Change without clear planning and a good foundation is a good way to get lost in the forest. Change without taking into account the trees will lead to a whole lot of bumps on the forehead as you run into the trees.

So keep your fish in the water, and let your concrete dry before you go off to clear cut the forest.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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