Why is no-one on my map of the world? A clash of utopias!

“Change is hard.” The old cliché.

“Everyone wants what is best for the business.” Another tired cliché.

When you pause and compare and contrast these statements, there is some truth in what they say, but more importantly, there are some clues as to why we struggle with change so much in business.

A lot of our blogs focus on how hard change can be and how different each of our maps of the world can be. An often-quoted statistic is that “only 25% of change programmes are successful.” There are ways to significantly increase the chances of success, and the first of those is understanding each other’s maps of the world.

When engaging in a change programme, we might all think we know the perfect answer and we all have a dream state, a utopia if you will, of what the end goal might look like, but let us be honest, what is often best for the business is not always what is best for everyone in the business. Sometimes we are asking turkeys to vote for Christmas and wonder why they are not as keen as we are! When we identified the need for change, we most likely had the ‘to be’ state in our heads as a clear vision, maybe even what we were going to tell our people was clear in our heads. Maybe we even knew how to get turkeys to vote! Maybe we hadn’t even realised that’s what we were asking? Why? ….. because our vision was based on ‘what was best for the business,’ and as the cliché goes this is what everyone wants…. Right?

The images we project to ourselves are typically utopic, often unrealistic, and certainly are not the same pictures going through the peoples’ heads that we want or need to win over. Each of us has our own incomplete and imperfect perfect view of the current world. The biggest leap therefore is how we move from two incomplete and imperfect world views to a utopic new map of the world that we can both see and follow.

Why are we worlds apart

It normally comes down to a host of reasons, such as:

  • Each parties’ previous experiences.
  • Each parties’ psychological make up,
  • what we hear when we talk to each other,
  • what we want to hear,
  • what our underlying personal values are,
  • what we’ve told each other before.
  • our ‘anchors.’ The things that keep us grounded, the things we knew in the ‘as is’ world!

But most of all we need to know, we are not even looking at the same picture or map of the world.

Human nature means we are always comparing what we know with what is changing. If we can’t understand what is changing, it’s safer to stay where we are. Give me a compelling reason to change?

If we can understand comparison is key, then it is logical with any change conversation there are three perspectives in play. Your understanding of how it is now, my understanding of how it is now and your proposed perspective of how it will be. If we call these perspectives maps, we are looking at three different maps of the world. We know the future world map is going to be different what is often surprising is the ‘as is’ maps are so different.

Having three maps in play is hard enough. Multiply that across a team of people all with different perspectives and maps of the world. All of whom you need to get on to the same page.

When you explain the ‘new world’ plan to them they are not looking at your new map. They are looking at their own and comparing what is new and what’s different but most of all what they can steal for their own map and what flaws they can find in yours.

So, our starting point is to realise we are all looking at different ‘realities.’ The second part is to realise when a proposed change is introduced people are comparing this proposed map of the world to their own current maps. We have a clash of utopias!

Visionary entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs and business leaders are typically visionary and quite often single minded in the way forward. So clear in their own minds are they about what utopia looks like they are often surprised why others cannot see it the same way they do. For every successful entrepreneur with a clear vision that changes the world and blows people’s minds, there are a 1,000 would be entrepreneurs failing to make their utopic vision a reality.

Even the successful entrepreneurs have some visions that are realised and some that are not and even the successful ones have their doubters and detractors. As I often say to clients “It’s far easier to be a critic that it is to be a chef!”

For years people, businesses, governments, even families have been trying to build their utopias and they want everyone to get as excited about their vision as they are. This is why influencers have grown as a phenomenon in recent years. But are they really all that new? Don’t we all hang on to the people that can impact and influence what we want to achieve. Are modern influencers just a different version of what has gone before? In a business our influencers should be our people. Our advocates, our loyal ‘bought in to the vision’ colleagues. But in reality, we must understand their world, we must influence them to be advocates of what we are doing and increasingly we are realising the key to success is to first understand what is important to them and to understand what their utopias look like. Especially if this means a better outcome and we realise that often they will have their own utopic views, that will further enhance our own.

Every conversation that is focused on influencing or converting a person, a team, a partner, a buyer, another supplier etc. is just two parties with utopic visions looking for common ground, looking for how their worlds can align, overlay, or even become one. When we hear people talking about marriages made in heaven, what we are talking about is people’s worlds aligning. We are constantly looking for how we are the same. It’s human nature.

The hardest thing is getting people to believe you

A previous entrepreneurial friend of mine used to say that “the hardest thing is getting people to believe you.” I would spend hours trying to understand his map of the world. Trying to understand where and how others might object and working hard to become an advocate. The alternative was counter-productive and stopped the real value being added and the real challenges and issues from being spotted. In his business I saw a great example of people struggling to grasp a vision.

The entrepreneur was about to launch a new venture, completely different to the business and market they operated in, but on the same site as their current business. The owner of the business had a clear vision. He had fire in his belly. He was convinced his utopic vision was going to be an enormous success. He had no obvious or deep experience of the marketplace he was entering, other than being a consumer and other than knowing others who had ventured into this world before. Both successfully and unsuccessfully. He had a vision of what the new business venture could be and to say it was unique or a leftfield concept was an understatement.

Personally, I grasped the vision early and I was an advocate of what was an experiment but what was, in my opinion, a fantastic opportunity to explore from a stable platform with plenty of safeguards and opportunities to experiment. Failure was not going to be fatal and who was going to write off someone who had made so many other visions a reality before.

The key to whether it was a success or not, was that others understood it and got behind it. Some did and were incredibly supportive, but some did not get it; indeed, they could not understand why the CEO was investing in this venture at all. He already had a successful business. This was a distraction. One that was difficult to explain to the existing teams in place at the existing business. Some of his directors and some of his leadership teams were scratching their heads. He ploughed on regardless. Putting time, effort, resource, energy, commitment, anything required to making it a reality and in time a success.

An in-house event to test the concept took place and the Directors were invited. An incredible opportunity and a chance to understand the vision first hand. I remember clearly how successful the launch was and I remember clearly one of the Directors saying, “I didn’t get it, I didn’t know why we were doing this and now I’ve experienced it I love it and I can see how it is going to be an enormous success.”

Let us just pick that apart:

  • The CEO had a vision.
  • They pressed on despite doubters and detractors.
  • They shared their vision regularly.
  • The vision was not universally shared.
  • Some of his Directors and leadership team were not bought in and struggled to convince others in their existing teams,

……. and right up until the vision was a reality and tangible some people still did not get it.

They had to experience it for themselves to become a true advocate. Imagine if we had to do that with everyone, every single time for every single idea before it could become a reality. All parties had ‘what was best for the business in mind,’ but what they thought was best for the business was not aligned! Two utopias clashing!!

The frustration for the CEO is that they were certain it could work, they knew there were risks but they had faith and all they needed was for people to believe. I know this is the case for lots of other business visionaries and entrepreneurs, even those that have failed to make one of their visions a reality. They typically have a utopic vision; they know how to make it a success, but they cannot convince others to come with them for the ride. They could not convince others it was anything but a dystopia.

Mergers and acquisitions – finding marriages made in heaven?

It is even more prevalent when we are looking at a merger or an acquisition. It goes beyond what the vision is. When we are courting a new business to buy or to join forces with, we spend hours dancing the dance, we spend hours showing our best selves. If we can find synergies and ways to map our worlds that creates an even better and compelling vision, we have a way forward. At the same time though were looking for those imperfections, were looking for where the deal might go wrong. It is no different inside the business when we’re looking to make a change!

Look at the recent progress towards the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk:

  • A price was agreed,
  • a communication plan was put in place,
  • An announcement was made to the world,

….. then just as it looked like a done deal, due diligence became an issue……

  • Would Elon Musk have to compromise?
  • If he had to compromise would this enable the deal to be renegotiated?
  • or was the deal off?

On the surface it appeared to the casual observer to be a straight-forward statistical anomaly about the number of ‘fake accounts’ that both parties just need to work through but, it could be the difference between a multi-billion-pound acquisition completing or not.

In an ideal world when we find ourselves with different maps, we need to look to find the synergies, the common ground. When it does not work exactly as we wanted it to, we need to focus on other solutions. The ideal solutions are those that were better than the ones we had envisioned when we started the process.

Similarly, when we talk about marriage, we might talk about it taking hard work from both parties and we often here the cliché “it’s all about compromise.” That phrase has always struck me odd. When you look at Thomas Kilmann’s conflict management model, compromise has its place, but the best box for most scenarios is the top right-hand corner “Win-Win” or “Collaboration.” This is not a compromise. It is far more about synergy. The sum of the parts being greater than the whole.

Change management is about finding those synergies, those win-wins, about taking a great utopia, making it a collective utopia, and then letting the power of the newly formed collective supercharge it. Often it takes a third party to bring this together, someone who has no vested interest in developing their own utopic vision. Someone who can truly be independent. Someone who’s perfect future vision is not specifics about what will or won’t happen in the business, but what will make the partnership, new venture succeed.

Winning hearts and minds

The failure of so many businesses and indeed change programmes is how you win hearts and minds. It is how you bring people along for the ride. When you are acquiring businesses, whether as a trade buyer or as a venture capitalist you want 1+1 to equal at least 3 but ideally even more. If you do not bring the people with you, you are lucky if you get to 2!

I see so many businesses from afar failing in a change they are implementing because they did not consider culture, people, the impact of change at the start of the journey. I have been called in on so many occasions to fix this part. It is often easy to add value quickly and develop a plan that will make things work as they were intended. BUT … it is far easier if you are in from the start, have a positive view on what can be achieved, challenging when necessary but trusting, when necessary, too and when you know the biggest hurdle to overcome will be so many different maps of the world laid out on the table. Particularly when the change is a dramatic, far-reaching change with synergy being the key benefit for the change desired.

A crucial role in winning hearts and minds for any new business launch, any business change, restructure, acquisition, or merger is getting on to someone else’s map of the world, if you are working off two different maps (if not hundreds of different maps), as is often the case, you are guaranteed “a clash of the utopias.” Building a map, you can all explore together is by far the best way to enable a successful adventure.


At Connor we are about to celebrate our 30th anniversary. 30 years of experience in helping business take positive steps through change. Supporting businesses upscaling, downscaling, changing, redesigning their organisation, merging, or acquiring other businesses. If you want to talk to us about how you can successfully manage change, need support in managing momentous change programmes then we would love to hear from you. Contact one of our expert consultants on 01491 414010 to find out more, or complete the form below to request a call back.


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