My favourite news story of the last week has been the ship stuck in the Suez Canal.
What is so magical about the boat as a metaphor, is its power for meaning- the stuck ship, now famous, has become a collective experience.
We have all been in that boat. We have worked at that organization, worked with that person. The ship has been change. We've been the lone excavator tasked with "turning the ship around"
If the ship represents organizational change, resistance is the collective weight of the barge. The expectations, the results needed. The unrelenting pressure. And slowly resistance builds, the muddy bottom of the Suez Canal pulling and grinding against the hull, until the boat comes to a shuddering halt, run aground. That boat is not going to move. Resistance has brought this journey to a standstill.
But what happens if we dont change? Pressure builds. We ask why aren't things changing. Thousands of ships await passage in the Red Sea and the Great Bitter Lake growing in number day by day.
Our normal reaction is to throw as much effort and "push" as we can at the resistance. Deploy a fleet of excavators to dig it out. Rally tugboats to pull. Get cranes to lift off the cargo and raise the bottom. Drain the ballast. But progress is minimal. We feel like we are getting nowhere. The.boat.is.stuck.
How we need to manage resistance is not to push and pull at it, try to engineer it with the force of all of our attention. Rather, keep a focus on the long term goal: we will traverse this canal. And sometimes, waiting for the right circumstance, a shift in the environment is what is needed to raise the boat off the murky bottom.
In the end, the most powerful part of this story is that all of the contrived human effort to free the boat was at best, ineffective. What made the difference was the ancient science of gravity, our solar system and the tides. A supermoon brought about a spring tide that raised the boat just enough to clear the bottom and get underway. A few nudges by a tugboat and at last, after a riveting 6 day ordeal, the Ever Given was underway again.
The most powerful lesson here for anyone in the business of change (and these days, that's everyone!) Is that it is often futile to fight resistance. Because it seems like something standing in our way, we seek to dismantle it, remove it, fight it. But the better way is to stop, listen, and take stock of the situation. Finding a way to move forward, collectively when the momentum of change and the environment provide the right circumstances, a rising tide that makes it possible for the resistance to dissolve.
In the old seafarer's saying, a rising tide lifts all boats, even the most resistant ones.