Do you ever wonder whether the colour you call “blue” is the same as the colour other people call “blue”? I now understand that it may not be the case. Colour doesn’t really exist. Light exists and can be measured but colour is interpreted through the brain. It seems your mind has the capacity to create any colour from light. How you see an image will also be affected by your past experience.
In organisations we often talk about “improving performance” and “achieving success” and we blithely assume everyone around us has the same picture. I confess to having done this myself, speaking with great enthusiasm to a group of people, trying to motivate and unite them with my vision of success, only to discover they don’t have the same picture in their minds. Even if they do, it can be tempered by their past experience when, perhaps, something similar didn’t work out so well.
Improving performance or creating success is like going on a journey with a group. You have to agree a common understanding of where your starting point is and also where your destination is, and you can’t assume people will just know or that there will be a tacit agreement within the group. My experience of talking to organisations leads me to believe that creating a common picture of success or envisaging what good performance looks like isn’t as easy as it would seem. Just like the brain interpreting a colour from light, we often create a picture that suits our own view of the world. Difficult questions have to be asked, delving down so you can create as united a picture as possible. Once you have reached that understanding you can begin to decide how to achieve it.1