Think Differently And Make Things Happen

Make things happen and create change by thinking differently.  
Think Differently And Make Things Happen

The world of work we know is increasingly chaotic, with many of our leaders sometimes unable to handle the numerous challenges. Worse, few seem to have the time to reflect and take stock.

As a result, many of us may feel confused and frustrated. We wish someone would give us clear directions and tell us how to work effectively in these conditions. Amid this growing sense of disillusionment and anxiety, some of us adopt what I call the “if only” mentality.

This mentality expresses a deep yearning that “if only certain conditions existed in this environment, would I be able to solve the problem”.

“IF ONLY” thoughts always start with sincere desires: “I am eager to do my best”, “I want to make a difference”, “I know what my leaders want”, “I know what our citizens want” – but “IF ONLY”:

  • I felt safe in this environment or the culture was conducive for me
  • I was given permission to do this or my boss empowered me
  • My colleagues would collaborate
  • I was clearer about the direction we are going in
  • The culture allowed us to think and dream
  • This place was not so hierarchical and my leaders were more accessible

The list could go on and on. I recently watched 250 public servants in another country during a future search conference. The sentiment expressed about the future was dominated by “IF ONLY” statements. To them, the future looked grim. Their human capital was imprisoned by their mindset.

The “IF ONLY” thinking comes from a very limiting mental model:

I need the world (and the people within it) to move towards me to create the conditions under which I can be successful; if only those conditions were fulfilled, then I’d be able to offer my best, be successful, and be satisfied.

People with such thinking let their environment drive their behaviour, believing they do not have the power to make their own choices. Over time, it has a negative impact on morale and motivation. If most knowledge workers in an organisation adopted the “IF ONLY” mentality, the wastage of human capital would be enormous.

What is an alternative mindset? It is that of “dominating the environment”, embodied in thoughts such as:

I know that in this fast-moving and turbulent workplace, the chances of the world moving towards me and offering me all the conditions I need to survive and thrive are limited. I will not use that as an excuse to underperform.

I will act “AS IF” I have been given the power to improve the quality of our public services. I will act “AS IF” my colleagues welcome me initiating collaboration across ministries to fix sticky issues. I will act “AS IF” my leader will be happy if my team delivers his/her agenda items.

The “AS IF” mentality requires one to focus on:

  • The greater good
  • The collective agenda for which we have a mandate
  • Expressing our values through our work
  • Our dreams and desires
  • Becoming more potent and innovative in solving problems and achieving results
  • The possibilities of leveraging improvements to services
  • Achieving a higher level of impact to make a difference in the lives of those we serve

To behave with an “AS IF” mentality requires stepping away from the “little me” syndrome of thinking “I cannot do this, in case...”, and from obsessing with safety.

With the “AS IF” mindset, we can make improvements to benefit citizens, increase respect for the government, improve working conditions, and release the amazing human capital we have within the Public Service.

It may be that in time, we shall not need a special change programme called Public Sector Transformation. That transformation will be happening continuously when every one of you reading this acts “AS IF” you have the power to make things better day by day.

May I encourage you to experiment with the “AS IF” approach, and cast off the “IF ONLY” mentality. We all need to own our performance output. I guarantee you will enjoy being with people who bring improvement daily to your work, and experience an increasing sense of being awesome. Being cool is easy, being awesome takes practice.

Dr Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge, an Organisational Development practitioner, is currently a Senior Fellow at the Civil Service College. She has more than three years’ experience working with Singapore’s public sector leaders and agencies.

    May 14, 2014
    Dr Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge
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