In England there is a central registry of births, deaths and marriages. The process for registration was established in 1837 and involves a visit to the local registry office. The joy of life and love, the sadness of parting, the humility we experience in the face of the immutable cycle of life, all converge in this one building.
Back in 2004 I was in the car park of the Winchester Registry Office. My wife and I were waiting for our appointment to record the birth of our daughter. The phone rang. It was work. I had a new role and would be moving to India the following month.
What followed was both a leap of faith and the adventure of our lives. For two years we had the privilege of working in the extraordinary city of Kolkata. We had experiences and made friends that will remain with us for the rest of our days.
But, at that time, it was also not an easy city in which to live for a Western expat and my wife and daughter spent a large amount of time back in the UK. Back in 2004, video calls weren’t as straightforward as now, but we found a mechanism that worked.
On one such call, my daughter (who must have been just over one) saw me on the screen and came toddling over. She kissed the screen, but on finding that it was not the real daddy but only an image, lost all interest and walked away.
It’s a memory that gives me hope for humanity. The virtual world is no substitute for the real. Whilst my teenage daughter may now have lost interest in her real father as well as her virtual one, seeing truly is believing.
Every day in every city tourists flock to see the famous sites. They could just as easily sit at home and look at images, but it’s just not the same. Our senses are hard wired into our brains. We need to experience for ourselves.
We also know this to be true in our business lives. All the talking in the world is no substitute for personal experience. It doesn’t matter if you have successfully implement the change project in 100 other clients across the world, or 100 other departments in my own organisation, what matters is that you have not implemented it with me.
My experience with ActiveOps began as a client. I was new into my role running operations for a bank in the Middle East and needed to do something to make a mark. A colleague had used ActiveOps in the past and made the connection. Demos were held, diagnostics conducted and a business case prepared.
My pen hovered above the signature line. Was it worth the risk? Get it right and I’d have made an impact, get it wrong and my first major action would be a failure. My colleague was confident, ActiveOps were confident, the case studies stood-up, the theory made sense. But and but and but, I had not seen with my own eyes.
The pen continued to hover.
I think you can guess the rest.
I signed. It was a great success leading 8 happy years in Abu Dhabi and on returning to the UK a move to a company I believed in. I’d made the leap of faith and then seen with my own eyes.
It’s the balance that we struggle with. Over cautious and we miss out on so much. Over optimistic and we fall flat on our faces. I think this is a particular tension for those of us running operations. We’re charged with the dual and sometimes conflicting objectives of running safely whilst constantly improving.
We need to be both open to the possibility of change but maintain a professional scepticism on the potential of change. Our due diligence should be thorough and challenging. Past track record really does matter. But we also know that we never get to see with our own eyes what is possible unless we make that leap of faith to try.