By Ona Alston Dosunmu
2020 will be a year for the California Lawyers Association to innovate, adapt, change and grow. And I couldn’t be more excited. That said, change and growth can be hard and scary. To innovate, change and grow, we have to let go of things that no longer serve us. While most of us would like to pretend that we’re super-Zen about adapting to change, the truth of the matter is that most of us—whether consciously or subconsciously—resist it. We hold on to things—relationships, tangible objects, fantasies—that no longer serve us even in the face of abundant evidence that whatever we’re holding on to no longer serves us.
Organizations are no different. We say we want to smash silos but can’t imagine working outside of them. We say we want to be fresh and innovative but look to outdated, and in some cases, failed models to solve our organizational challenges. It’s not surprising—after all, no matter how miserable, the past is what we know and the uncertainty of trying something new requires a particular kind of courage. No matter how carefully calculated the risk may be, no matter how well supported by data, research and analysis a course of action is, doing something that hasn’t been done before inevitably entails risk.
The problem, however, with organizations, as with individual human beings, is that often the risk gets blown out of proportion. A recent book I’ve been reading, Start Here: Master the Lifelong Habit of Wellbeing by Eric Langshur and Nate Klemp, explains why. According to Langshur and Klemp, our brains are hard-wired to focus on the negative. It’s a survival technique that served our ancestors well. After all, if someone got eaten by a saber-toothed tiger after wandering into a particular part of the forest, that experience would be seared into your brain. Despite the fact that tasty, nutritious fruits could also be found in that part of the forest, you might associate the forest more with tigers than with delicious food. The challenge then, for us as individuals and for organizations, including CLA, is to acknowledge that ancestral memory of fear and nonetheless pursue the sweet fruit of change, innovation, adaption and growth.