Is it a train?

by our Design Partner, Greg Hart (March 2021)

That is the question we ask as our eyes probe the darkened tunnel and sense the flickering light at the other end.

Do we bother stepping into the tunnel or stay where we are? Where we are is often not exactly where we want to be, but it is familiar and there is a certain comfort in that. As Bruce Springsteen once sang, ‘You can get used to anything, sooner or later it becomes your life.’ We can bargain with and adapt to a decaying situation. Until we can’t.

We’ve certainly had our share of this repeating uncertainty of the pandemic story - something over which we have limited influence. We have been dragged into the tunnel by an unseen force and it emphasizes how much we don’t like the darkness and how badly we all want to get out - back to where we started or maybe forward to something new. We see and feel all of this personally and at the community level everyday. Could we really get used to anything? Even this? Think about all the things you’ve almost automatically done just today compared to the routine 14 months ago. It is why there is an expectation that we will never return to completely full offices. We’ve experienced remote work and it works for many of us. The pandemic, while putting us in a tunnel at the macro level, has hurled many organizations through the digital transformation tunnel and they are now on the other side.

"It isn’t so much the change that concerns us as the transition between our current state and the new one. " --- Greg Hart, Design Partner

This highlights an important fact about human nature. It isn’t so much the change that concerns us as the transition between our current state and the new one. The tunnel. It represents ambiguity and uncertainty with whatever promise we might imagine. So how do we make this better? By marketing all the cool features of being stuck in a tunnel? Running courses so people intellectually understand how much they should love the tunnel? Probably not.

One way we get around this is to first paint a picture of the future that people have trouble imagining from where we are standing - this gets us curious about what’s at the other end and let’s us feel how it meets with the things we want. We can try it on in our minds, see if we like it.

The second is to build examples of life after the tunnel on this side so that we can actually live in the change as an experiment or demonstration. This effectively shortens or eliminates the tunnel of transition. Then we can know that it is not a train and step confidently into the light. The pandemic reminds us about how ugly it is to be stuck in the tunnel wondering what is around the corner feeling the pull of rushing back to the ‘way things were.’

Let’s start building examples and invite people in so that we can move more quickly to what’s next.