The Guy in the Blue Shirt

by rthieme on June 11, 1998

The culture here in the upper Midwest might be characterized as mildly “conformist.”

Yesterday’s reflection discussed the anger of a CEO at the tendency of a Senior VP to generate new ideas. A fellow who works in the same organization gave me a call.

“Those rules that are unwritten but known,” he said. “I came here eight years ago and went to my first meeting wearing a blue shirt. Eight years later, even though I’ve never worn one since, they still call me “the guy in the blue shirt.”

A recent book by a bi-polar woman claimed that others like herself make up 4% of the gene pool for good reason. Nothing persists at such levels, she said, unless it significantly contributes. While her list of manic-depressives might be faulted for including too many long-dead greats, her contention that intensity and passion, even in extremes, often motivates genius can certainly be defended.

While simply wearing a blue shirt won’t get you into the Lifetime Contributor’s Club, it is also true that those whose security and identity derives from their uniforms are unlikely to welcome life-changing insights.

Organizations like organisms are systems of energy and information. They need to maintain a tenuous balance between stability of form and the inclusion of  new information from both inside and outside themselves. That new information often changes the structure. During stable times, there is a  premium on stable structures. During times of accelerated change, the emphasis shifts to the ability to build in frequent feedback, listen to the voices at the margins, and tack back and forth across that elusive destination called “our vision” while flexing along the way morphing into new forms … and rollicking in the old rainbow bus where wild-eyed dreamers sing their depth-charges under the hull of the let’s-not-rock-the-boaters.

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