These are four paintings by the artist Stephen Taylor. They are four of my favourite paintings, and I have copies of them hanging in my living room. I wrote about Stephen here. He spent most of two years in a wheat field in East Anglia painting the same oak tree. He painted it in a huge variety of weather, light, and detail. He painted when the wheat was ripe and blown by a late summer wind, when the snow was thick on the ground, when the earth was bare and cold. He painted in the early morning light just after sunrise, in the heat of a summer midday, and when the tree was lit only by moonlight. A whole series of paintings capturing the complexity of a single living thing and the living things that surround it. Alain De Botton devoted a chapter of his book on ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’ to Stephen describing how his approach to the painting of the tree was about the story not of each individual leaf but of the dynamic mass of the whole.
I've used this before now as an analogy for change, to make the point that, much like the tree through the seasons, change is a complex thing that is likely to have multiple dependencies that all influence and impact each other, but more than anything it is a process, not an event.
I have a personal example of this – in 2006, just when so-called 'Web 2.0' or the social web was beginning to take off, I was working for a large publishing company. I strongly believed that this new connected world was going to going to change everything about what that company did. But it felt like nobody was really taking it seriously enough. So I put together the most compelling presentation I could, full of unassailable facts about how this was going to change the world, and I went round and presented it to five operating boards that ran the different divisions of the business. I got to the end of that process and sat back, expecting a tidal wave of new ideas, innovation, changed thinking. But nothing happened.
I had forgotten that not everyone had been on the same journey that I had. I had wrongly assumed that one powerpoint deck would bring change. It was a valuable lesson for me in the importance of taking people on the journey with you. Change is a process, not an event.