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Ingrid Martine and Rick Maurer - The Un-Game Book Interview

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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Why Our Change Efforts Often Fail Part 2

Why Our Change Efforts Often Fail Part 2

Un-Game Principle: Doubts, worries, and fears are rich sources of data that we must use to effect sustainable change.

OK.  So we have this improvement goal. For example, we want to have more face to face contact with our team, yet it’s not happening. We notice all the behaviors that obstruct this goal of more personalized contact. We slip out of the office without popping our head into Rob’s office. We consistently communicate by email, including feedback or saying thank you.  We find excuses not to go to the office party. Whatever. We vow then to stop this obstructive behavior, and alas, like a New Year’s Resolution it doesn’t last long, and we notice we’re back at square one.

In Part 1 of “Why Our Change Efforts Often Fail” we went a bit further and explored the worries we have if we did the OPPOSITE of those obstructive behaviors and learned that they are not only obstructive but also brilliant in assuring that what we fear won’t happen. We also learned that those worries are not just passive but actually active and hidden-to-us commitments that compete with our genuine commitment to have more face to face contact with our team.

We then suggested that we ask the question “Given these formerly hidden, now visible commitments, what assumptions must a person who has these commitments be making? What big, bad, awful thing must they assume will happen if they don’t do exactly what they’re currently doing?” So, for example, if you had this worry turned into active commitment…

“I worry my team would disrespect me if I didn’t put some distance between them and me” (equals “I’m committed to NOT being disrespected”)

… then the assumption might be:

“I assume if I acted like a team member, I would lose my authority as a team leader, and the work we have to do would get done poorly or not at all.”

That’s a big bad awful thing for the person holding that assumption, isn’t it? How well does it work to tell him or her “Oh, that’s silly! Don’t worry about it.”?

So what to do? Since it makes sense that these obstructive behaviors are also brilliant, we see ourselves as stuck. Seeing this scenario has us say…excuse the language… “We’re screwed.” But this is where Part 2 comes in. We’re NOT helpless once we see our brilliant anxiety-management system (aka our immunity to change as per Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey in their book Immunity to Change). But we can’t do what we’ve always done (try to change the obstructive behaviors), because we would take our brilliant self-protection system away. We’d be crazy to give it up. Unless….

Here’s our way out. Now that we have some big assumptions that drive those formerly hidden commitments, which are designed to manage our multiple worries, we can do what we’ve never done before. WE CAN TEST OUR BIG ASSUMPTIONS TO SEE IF THEY’RE VALID OR NOT. Yes, you heard it. We can test the assumptions. And not just once, but repeatedly, because those assumptions are about big, bad things happening to us, and they’re not dismissed with one test. But here are the criteria for designing a S.M.A.R.T. test of your big assumptions.

  1. The test needs to be SAFE
  2. The test needs to be MODEST
  3. The test needs to be ACHIEVABLE
  4. The test needs to be RESEARCH-INTENDED
  5. The test needs to be TIME-BOUND

Safe means you wouldn’t test one of your assumptions that says if you find out it’s true you’re gonna die, get fired. Test one in which, even if the worst happened, you see yourself surviving.

Modest means you wouldn’t decide on your first test to climb a Mount Everest. Maybe the first thing you do is tell Mary and Claude “thank you” for the good work they did on their last project. Notice their reaction. Notice your reaction. You’re doing research.

Achievable. See number 2. That seems achievable. But don’t let the test be something you already would do anyway. There needs to be some tension for you. But the tension needs to be like a rubber band not stretched too tight. Just right is a creative tension that moves you forward rather than paralyzing you.

Research-intended is very tricky for most people, especially results-driven people. They forget that the test is supposed to give them data to test the validity of their assumption, NOT to solve a perceived problem. If passing the test were the prize, then the research would stop, and that would defeat the purpose. We’ll keep on doing what we’ve always done hoping in vain for a different result if we forget that we’re doing research, NOT seeing whether we pass this one test we designed.

Time-bound means that you design your test with one week or so of going through the process described in Parts 1 and 2 of “Why Our Change Efforts Often Fail.”

There’s a lot more to this than I describe here. Contact me if you’d like to go through the process. Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey trained me to present this. I also recommend their book The Immunity to Change. My own book, The Un-Game: Four-Play to Business As Unusual demonstrates in story form a different but related process for creating sustainable change in your life.

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, author of The Un-Game and mind-ZENgineering coach works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:, or connect with Ingrid at: and


Why Our Change Efforts Often Fail

Un-Game Principle: Doubts, worries, and fears are rich sources of data that we must use to effect sustainable change.

counseling imageI ran across a joke today. A client on a psychiatrist’s couch says “Call it denial or whatever, but I think what goes on in my personal life is none of my own damn business.” For a leader or manager, that stance is costly, financially and psychically. I can’t quantify the financial cost, but we can see its psychic cost. What we do with great regularity is make selective thinking so invisible to ourselves that we don’t even notice it.  Let’s take Congress as an example although this applies to you, me, and everybody else.

I think there are many good people in Congress. Stop wincing. Let’s simply assume they really are committed to producing results for the common good.

Commitment: Produce results for the common good

However, the actions of our representatives show the observer (us) that they’re actually working hard against that commitment.

Actions that go against the genuine commitment

  1. don’t approach opposing views with genuine curiosity
  2. spend inordinate amount of time fund-raising and getting reelected
  3. blame others for cooperation and collaboration not happening.

I could go on. Our representatives may even see these actions but have an explanation for them that seems reasonable (to them). If we were to ask what they worry about IF THEY DID THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT THEY’RE DOING NOW, they probably wouldn’t be able to come up to that level of honesty and transparency (leadership skills) to tell us. Besides, they may be proponents of the thinking of the person on the psychiatrist’s couch “What I really think is none of my damn business.” However, I’m going to pretend I’m your rep. My worries might be something like this:


  1. I worry about my side pressuring, even ostracizing me.
  2. I worry about campaign contributors withholding contributions.
  3. I worry about losing credibility with the players who matter and who could further my career.
  4.  I worry about losing power.

I could go on. However, what folks don’t know is that these aren’t just worries but really active commitments to assure that the worrier never ever has to experience what he or she is afraid of. And that these commitments are in direct opposition to the genuine commitment of producing results for the common good. So here’s how we could state my worries as hidden-to-me and competing commitments that function as the brakes to my stated and genuine commitment.

Hidden and competing commitments

  1. I’m committed to NOT being ostracized.
  2. I’m committed to NOT alienating contributors to my campaign.
  3. I’m committed to NOT losing credibility and power

If I use the metaphor of a car, my hidden commitments represent the brake to the genuine expressed goal (and commitment) of producing results for the common good, which in the car metaphor would be the accelerator. I’m not moving, right? Right.

Looks pretty hopeless, you say? But it’s not hopeless.  First of all, look at the behaviors now. Can you see in light of the competing hidden commitments why our change efforts usually fail? Those behaviors may be obstructive (e.g. blaming others, not being curious about opposing views, etc), but they’re also brilliant in keeping the person’s worst fears from coming true. That information alone could save us millions of training dollars in the corporate world. We could stop trying to change the obstructive behaviors. It doesn’t work because they serve such an important purpose!

We don’t have to change or fix people. But we do have to have a process for showing how they are walking on the blind side. But let’s assume that I, as your congressional rep, have gone this far. I now see what’s up, am wide-eyed and actually interested in taking my lead foot off the brakes. So what’s next?

There are hidden assumptions of some big, awful things that would happen, which I treat as truth, not assumptions if I stop doing what I’m doing. Therefore my foot stays on the brakes.  If I manage, however, to surface those assumptions, that can change everything. Here are examples of some big and hidden assumptions that keep my lead-foot in place until I see them.

Big Assumptions

  1.  I assume there’s absolutely nothing positive that could come out of going against the norm of my cohorts. I assume I would never be supported and I’d wind up sidelined and powerless.
  2. I assume if I weren’t adversarial, I’d be humiliated.
  3. I assume if I displeased financial contributors, I’d have to venture into unknown and very scary territory where I wouldn’t know who I am.

The big assumptions are as different as the people enthralled by them.  But this is where the whole system could be shaken up. This is the opportunity to take the foot off the brake and accelerate toward the other also real commitment to produce results for the common good (Your family, employees, we as citizen would be grateful, yes? Maybe then we and Congress could take on the big, well-organized lobbying machines together!).

The actions that are appropriate here may seem counter-intuitive, but they move us toward the desired change without the unbearable inner conflict of giving up our hidden anxiety-management system.  The actions we design are not direct actions to counter the behaviors we’ve identified. It should be clear now why that doesn’t work. No. They are actions that allow us to SAFELY TEST our big assumptions to see if they’re actually valid or not.

In the next post I’ll detail how we can test our big assumptions once we see them. When we know how to test them safely and reliably, we’ll be in a much better position to realize our improvement goal rather than being captive of the system that keeps us stuck. Imagine a CEO or a manager who has tried unsuccessfully to handle conflict –without resorting to avoidance and emotional outbursts—now being competent with resolving conflict.  I bet s/he’d love being able to stop walking on the blind side.  Do you think his or her team would be relieved too?

Continue the conversation by leaving your comment or question below.

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, author of The Un-Game and mind-ZENgineering coach works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:, or connect with Ingrid at: and

Do You find it Difficult to Enjoy the Holidays?

To Do List Image

If time usually feels scarce to us, it feels even scarcer around important holidays. There’s so much to do. All the people I know use or are familiar with the ”to do” list. But how many of us have ever created a “to NOT do” list? Do you even dare consider such a thing even as life’s pace accelerates at meteoric speed?

When might be the right time for a “to NOT do” list? The right time may be when our old way of doing things begins to give us limited satisfaction. We’re too tired /worried/distracted to enjoy life… in this case the holidays. We feel compelled to fill every waking hour with an item on our “to do” list.

Does this sound like you? The right time for a “to NOT do” list may be when you notice a lot of repetition in your life. You think or do something over and over even if it causes you stress, needless effort, or doesn’t move you forward.  Most of us think we can hide our stress, but we can’t. The very people we want to please notice it, even if they can’t or won’t speak about it.

Or, the right time for a “to NOT do” list may be when you notice the appearance of the ugly head of perfectionism. Perfectionists often feel they haven’t done anything well enough, and it’s never good enough. They commonly want to add “just one more finishing touch.” Don’t! Instead, breathe deeply. Then offer the perfect gift of a serene mind and an open heart. They connect you effortlessly to the people you love.

Ask yourself: “What’s really important to me?”  “What’s in my control?” “What do I need to let go of that’s not in my control?” “Would a ‘to NOT do’ list give me some breathing room and ease some stress in my life?” “What would be the first thing on it?  The second?”  Are you willing to create such a list even though you hear screams of protest from that pesky chatter that tells you in no uncertain terms what you should and shouldn’t do?” I did, and it was revealing. Two weeks later, as I “accidentally” reviewed the list, some things were still on my ‘to NOT do’ list but…imagine this… I was still doing them!

What I noticed is that the pesky little voice that protested against my ‘to NOT do’ list had a lot of smart strategies to try to overpower my decision to enjoy the holidays…among them making the list and then placing it where I wouldn’t find it.

I invite you to be interested in that pesky little voice. Not why it’s there and will it ever go away? That won’t make a difference. But if it’s telling you what is guaranteed to be a lie such as…“You gotta do it perfectly or some big fat awful thing will happen.” Or, “You’re only lovable if you perform well.” Or, “If you don’t do it, no one will.”… challenge those thoughts. They are designed to keep you doing what you’ve always done getting the same results. They “feel” true but trust me, they are not. They are designed to have you lose your ‘to NOT do’ list. Decide that you are more interested in thoughts like these: “How can I do this not conveniently or efficiently, but how can I do this with clarity, focus, ease, and grace?” No one but you has the power to decide what to be interested in. What will it be? Your drama or your life? Would it be all right with you if life were easier and you enjoyed the holidays more?

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, author of The Un-Game and mind-ZENgineering coach works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:, or connect with Ingrid at: and