A Cherokee elder is out walking with his grandson. ‘There’s two wolves inside all of us’ says the old man, ‘one that is kind and trusting, one that is cruel and suspicious. The first is One Who Creates, the second, One Who Destroys, and every day they fight for control of your spirit’.
‘Who will win, Grandfather?’ asks the child.
‘The one you feed’ answers the old man.
I like that story because it neatly encapsulates most of the conversations I’ve had with companies and institutions over the years. They’ll say ‘We’re starting to realise that, in order to compete, we need to be courageous and innovative, open to new ideas and ready to explore unorthodox possibilities without knowing exactly where they might take us. But, we’re a very controlling, conservative culture that rewards uniformity and predictability and punishes deviation and failure.’
It’s an old story. After years of feeding the big bad wolf on a diet of fear, distrust and paranoia, organisations who had hoped to be inspired by the talent they have hired, find themselves paralysed instead, by the behaviours they have rewarded.
The key to getting the culture you want is deciding which wolf to feed and which one to starve.
Starve the bad wolf by cutting back on the micromanagement and giving people a little trust and freedom to ask ‘why not?’ Stop thinking of every variation from the plan as some kind of catastrophic ‘failure’ worthy of blame and ridicule and start seeing them for what they are; lessons at least, discoveries at best.
Feed the good wolf by encouraging fresh and courageous thoughts, words and deeds. Identify areas for improvement, no matter how small, and invite any and all ideas, no matter how crazy.
Want to change your culture? Change its diet.