Problems and admitting unmanageability

As I noted in an earlier post (here), while many people believe that the first step to a solution is “knowing that you have a problem,” we also need to admit exactly what our problem is.  However, even that is just part of the first step:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable. [Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 5, page 59

Admitting the unmanageability of one’s circumstances is the prerequisite for believing that one faces a problem that requires massive displacements and rearrangements.   In other words, it is the foundation of the “sense of urgency” required for successful change, which John Kotter discusses below. 

Know exactly what your problem is…

Before we explore the personal transformation theme, I want to introduce my approach.  On my post on Toyota (here), you may have noticed that I included “12 steps” as a tag.   That’s because I plan to use the 12 Steps — the original steps as laid out in the book Alcoholics Anonymous (aka, the “Big Book) — to frame some of the challenges in personal change.

Commonly, people refer to the first step in recovery as “knowing one has a problem.” Well, that’s a start, but many of us have difficulty admitting exactly what our problem is.  For example, according to the Big Book, the definition of an alcoholic is straightforward:

We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control their drinking.  (Chapter 3, page 30).

Admitting this loss of control is a huge barrier, for if it is a really tough problem, then we likely can’t fully control it. How many of us share the alcoholic’s delusion that control is in reach?  How many times do we try to tweak our circumstances — work more, work less, change companies — instead smashing through that delusion?  Do we see any of our tactics in the litany of methods alcoholics use to try to drink like other people?

Drinking beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never drinking in the morning, drinking only at home, never having it in the house, never drinking during business hours, drinking only at parties, switching from scotch to brandy, drinking only natural wines, agreeing to resign if ever drunk on the job, taking a trip, not taking a trip, swearing off forever (with and without a solemn oath), taking more physical exercise, reading inspirational books, going to health farms and sanitariums, accepting voluntary commitment to asylums… (Chapter 3, page 31)

It’s a start to know you have a problem…

Good to be back from break.  Over the years, I’ve found that the paradox of a really good vacation is that by the end I’m raring to get back home and off to work.

Yesterday, I saw a great WSJ article on the travails of Toyota (here) that shows even great companies stumble — the company is facing its first operating loss in 70 years.  The author highlights recent quality issues and strategic missteps, especially over-expansion of capacity.  Toyota is taking steps to fix these issues, though

[t]he best news for Toyota is that [President Katsuaki] Watanabe seems worried.  As he told the Reuters news agency last February, before the current crisis struck: “I’m constantly trying to drive home the message that long-lasting success is elusive.”

Earlier in the article, Mr. Watanabe laid out the challenge in starker terms: “It’s a kind of emergency that we’ve never experienced before.”  The same challenge lays ahead for me and many of our firms.  We will need to make wrenching personal and organizational changes to survive and thrive. 

To that end, I expect to spend much of 2009 exploring how to prepare ourselves for the needed changes.

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