Mar 1, 05
I read Robert Fritz’s book, “The Path of Least Resistance” sometime last year. I found his book truly path breaking and was actually contemplating attending one of his programmes in the US. It is not something I easily do (even the contemplation!). As chance, luck, serendipity would have it; Robert Fritz was in Singapore to do some public workshops last month (His first time in Asia!) and I grabbed the opportunity to attend the session.
Robert Fritz is an accomplished composer, producer, filmmaker and writer. His work has great applications not only to our development as individuals, in creating the life we want but also in organizational development and growth. Peter Senge, author of “The Fifth Discipline” says “Robert Fritz is one of the most original thinkers today on the creative process in business, the arts, science, and life in general. His work has deeply impacted my life.”
This month’s issue is an interview with him that he graciously accepted. I hope you enjoy reading it and of course go on to read his books and perhaps even attend his workshops. Details are available in the resources section.
This month’s suggestion is my take way from his workshop.
An Interview with Robert Fritz where he talks about the principles behind “The path of Least Resistance”, its application in organizations and his latest book.
Deepa: What are the principles behind the “Path of Least Resistance”?
Robert Fritz: The opening principles are that energy moves where it is easiest for it to go, it is a principle we understand from nature. And secondly that the underlying structure of anything will determine that path of least resistance. It is the river bed that determines where the water goes. So, we see a relationship between energy moving where it is easiest for it to go and the underlying structure determining where it is easiest for it to go. The third principle is that we can change the underlying structures. That means that if we do change the underlying structures, we’ve actually changed the tendencies of behaviour, we’ve changed how the energy moves or where energy flows.
Deepa: Are people aware of these underlying structures? How can they change these underlying structures?
Robert Fritz: Well most of the people are not aware of the underlying structure because when we are in the structure, it is very hard to see the structure. So, one of the disciplines that we teach is to enable people in a sense to get out of the structure, to get a broader perspective, to create a different vantage point. From having the advantage of a different perspective, they then begin to see what the elements are in relationship to each other. We call them “causing predictive patterns of behaviour”.
If we look at the change efforts within organizations, for example, if the underlying structure of the organization oscillates, then you can try to put in a very good change effort, but the organization will reject the change effort in the same way a body will reject an implanted organ. So the questions of structure are very profound when it comes to understanding organizational change. This sounds very abstract for a moment but if we just look at the oscillating behaviour of organizations, you see organizations typically invest in capacity, downsize, invest in capacity and then downsize again. They might centralize decision making and then decentralize decision making, recentralize and then decentralise again. They cut costs, invest in themselves, cut costs and then invest again. These are oscillating behaviour which comes from the underlying structures within the organization.
When you are in the actual behaviour, you don’t know realize you are in the broader pattern. You’ve actually ended up in the opposite direction from where you’ve started. But if you back up, you can actually see this pattern of behaviour.
Sometimes people say change is difficult but actually change when it is well motivated is not difficult. That is the key. People did not have trouble moving to the word processors from typewriters. People were not clamouring to go back to type writers. Word processors were a well motivated change. Within organizations, when change is well motivated, not only that it can happen, there is an inevitability that it will happen and happen well.
Deepa: Could you share with the readers the work you have been doing at Blue Shields, where you have enabled a well motivated change and helped change the underlying structures?
Robert Fritz: We’ve been working with Blue Shields for last four years. First of all, Blue Shield has an amazing visionary as CEO in Bruce Bodaken. He is one of the best CEOs I have ever seen. Funnily enough his background is philosophy but he is a very hard nosed business guy too. He has a good combination of really good common sense and philosophical nature. When I first went to work with Blue Shields, Bruce had just become CEO and at that time it was a 3 billion dollar company, still pretty much a legacy company. A bureaucratic company, where people had been there for years and years and were hard to move. Four years later, at 7 billion dollars, it is the fastest growing health care provider in California. It is a model company of the kind of underlying change that we were talking about, it is outcome oriented rather than problem solving oriented. It trains all of its senior managers. In fact, Bruce Bodaken himself attends training as a student and will sometimes co-lead training. HR is very important in that company. They have a very strong HR leader named Marianne Jackson. We have instituted a number of programmes around training and leadership that have completely turned that company from a very bureaucratic, legacy company to a very flexible, professional and accomplished organization.
Deepa: What are some of the resistances that the organization needed to overcome to achieve the desired results?
Robert Fritz: Well, remember the thing that we talked about is understanding the outcome you want and current reality. In other words, where you are in relation to where you want to be and then taking action to move from where you are to where you want to be. It actually sounds very simple but it’s not quite simple when you are doing it around an entire organization because people tend to fall into problem solving rather than creating outcomes.
Secondly, there has to be a real accommodation for truth telling within the company. We have to look at all the incentives. Do the incentives encourage people to tell the truth to each other or to distort reality? Sometimes in organizations, the incentives are to encourage people not to admit mistakes because the penalties are really high or it is not acceptable to make mistakes and so people hide their mistakes rather than focus on them. The attitude should change to let’s also learn from the failures. Let’s learn how to be better able at acting in ways that will help us create what we want, improve our performance, our execution and our design. Only then the company becomes a learning organization. In other words, the actual organization then begins to learn. Not simply individuals within the organization learning. That always happens but that doesn’t make a learning organization. What actually begins to happen in the organization as a whole, as an entity begins to have a capacity for self correction, for a sense of direction for alignment and that makes all the difference
Deepa: What have been some of the specific areas that enabled the breakthroughs to happen?
Robert Fritz: It has been evolutionary. What happened was that Bruce Bodaken himself created a process around Leadership. He had certain Leadership ideas. He particularly likes the notion of “Good to Great”, as in Jim Collins book. The company was a good company but he really wanted it to fulfil its potential for greatness. He then set up certain Leadership principles. Over a period of time, we had over a 1000 people trained in various forms of Leadership.
The formal Leadership process had three major components. One, what we called, “Managerial moment of truth”, that I created for Blue Shields. Blue Shields is filled with very nice people who often avoided telling each other the truth when they made a mistake or when quality wasn’t right. So what they did instead was when ever they had any work to do, they would give it to the highest performers on their team and would underutilize the people who weren’t so good and so we figured that they were underutilizing about between 25%- 40% of the capacity of the company. So we had an idea of how we could teach those managers how to put in corrections at very early stage so it didn’t get to be a big deal, it didn’t get be a big confrontation. So that’s what we did. In that sense we did training on how to acknowledge what current reality was, find out what the managers thought process was that produced the outcome, point out a better scenario for the next time and then follow that scenario. In other words, have a feedback system to find out whether the manager had support the next time out, to see if the changes that were designed in fact happened. And that’s been a very powerful force within the company.
We also had a very Outcome oriented management. This was really to get the people away from problem solving to decide on desired outcomes. The outcomes where they are in relationship to their outcome, move from where you are to where you want to be. It is a very profound shift when you move a company from a problem orientation to an outcome orientation. It is really very important. You can get rid of all your problems and still not have what you want. Managers tend to self organize around problems so then they don’t have to think. It is much more demanding to think about the strategic objectives of the company than to just solve problems. So that was a major shift. It was also to increase the level of enquiry. People could communicate better, to talk with each other, have a sense of the relationship, look at all the parts around the company and see how they impacted each other. It’s an ongoing process but they have been very inspired as a company, in terms of the changes that they have had.
Deepa: What can the HR department of a company do to become outcome focussed?
Robert Fritz: It is really important to know why you are doing what you are doing, particularly for HR. How do you make HR relevant? How does HR directly support the strategic focus of the organization? Otherwise it does not become very useful.
I say this to all HR folks. Make sure that your training, consulting, support, mentoring and coaching and all HR activities are tied in directly with the strategic aims of the company. Ask yourself this question how does it help our cause? How does it support the business? Why is it meaningful? Why is it relevant? If you find that only the problem children go to HR then you can conclude that HR is considered a therapist rather than as a strategic partner. The solution is Then what we do if that is the case is to shift it from a problem solving orientation to a much more strategic focused orientation, one where HR becomes a way of building needed capacity that supports the aims of the company.
Deepa: How can organizations build innovation as the underlying foundation of an organization?
Robert Fritz: First of all innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Like change, it has to be well motivated. If you are trying to do innovation for the sake of doing innovation, it is probably not going to be successful. What is the point of innovation? If we for example say, we want to accomplish a certain goal. But if we look at current reality, we don’t have enough time or money or resources. What we really mean is we don’t have enough money or resources to get there in traditional, conventional ways. If we need to get there from these set of circumstances, what do we need to do to get there? What do we need to invent and in that sense it is a very motivated process of innovation because we are trying to find new ways to accomplish what we are trying to do by understanding what we are trying to create and by understanding what is our relationship to them.
Deepa: You are a composer, writer, and filmmaker? What has been your personal journey?
Robert Fritz: I love to create. I create in a lot of different mediums and each creation is in itself its own cause as it were. I recently wrote a children’s story about a pinecone that wants to become a Christmas tree. While I was writing that story, I was writing it with as much dedication and using all the skills that I have available to me and with as much aspiration as I would if I am writing a book that would change the lives of many people. If I make music, I am totally in that music. If I make a film, I am totally in that film while I am making it. That becomes the cause. Robert Frost said, “All the great things are done for their own sake”, and I agree with him. When one creates, rather than look for return on investment, what one should work for is the creation itself. Now, there might be a return on investment. That’s great but that is simply not the point of it.
I am at that point in life where I do pretty much what I want. What I want to do is to develop the ideas that I’ve been working with, I want to work with organizations that I like, I like to make art. I have made a few movies, full length feature films. I have done a lot of television shows. My wife and I did a TV series for a year for a Canadian Network. If I am interested, I go and do it.
Deepa: How can people pursue their aspirations, make those choices without getting tied down by various constraints?
Robert Fritz: You organize your life around what matters most to you. For me what is personally important is freedom and so we basically make sure our cost structure is such that we can live the way we want to but really be free to do what we want to do. With a lot of people, what happens is they basically create a very burdensome economic structure and we call it “feeding the beast”. The next thing they know is they have got a job that they don’t particularly like anymore but they have to do it because they have to pay for the house, the kids in school, etc. what happens is they get trapped by the circumstances. We try to encourage people to try to organize their lives around their deepest values and their highest aspirations. Sometimes it might mean that they actually govern their economic circumstances accordingly. You might migrate or make a transition from a cost structure where you really have to do a lot of things to support the cost structure to moving to do what you really want and still make more money than you spend. Have the ability to be viable in life.
Deepa: What is your new book “Your Life as Art” all about?
Robert Fritz: The book addresses a lot of things that I am talking about right now. Your life itself can be the subject matter of your creative process. As you would create a work of art, you can also create your life in the same way. It lays down all the principles of how one can go about creating his or her own life in using the principles of the creative process rather than simply reacting or responding to circumstances. This book provides real insights about the underlying structures people are in and how they can go about changing those underlying structures. The insights are workable in terms of you creating what you want. I really think its kind of a good read. I work hard to write well. I am always trying to improve my writing, so, actually it’s my best from the writing point of view.
Check out Robert Fritz’s site and subscribe to his newsletter at www.robertfritz.com
Start with his book, “The Path of Least Resistance”. You can have a look at the list of books he has written on his site at www.robertfritz.com/index.php?content=books&PHPSESSID=
If you are interested in finding about future programmes by Robert Fritz in Asia, you can find out at www.msosingapore.org
Suggestion of the Month
The under two-minute rule: I find this a great tool to avoid procrastination. If there is any task or activity that can be done under two minutes for example forwarding a mail, making a call or just filing a paper, do it then and there.
From Getting things done: mastering the art of stress-free productivity, David Allen
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