Reinvention. It’s the buzzword of Boomers who aren’t done just because they’ve reached or are approaching traditional retirement age.
A Predictable Conundrum
It’s also a popular topic among speakers and authors, many of whom have impressive resumes and great insight and advice to give. Their message is largely based on the success of others, including themselves. But when the rubber hits the road, their audiences are left with little of substance that they can apply to their reality. A few ‘get it’, but most feel it’s a nice idea that loses traction in time.
‘’Reinvention thought leaders”’ are committed to the belief that stories of inspiration, possibility and adventure that others have experienced in reinventing themselves will somehow rub off on the audience. If this doesn’t happen, the implication is that the listener/reader hasn’t paid close enough attention. In reality, we are all surrounded by stories of success (and failure), but as long as these are someone else’s story, we remain relatively indifferent to them, appreciating them at best for their entertainment value. Regardless of the audience’s enthusiasm, the lasting impact of all that motivational advice by charismatic reinvention leaders is negligible, and the Boomer is left adrift, pretty much in the same boat he sailed in on. The information he has been exposed to is good, maybe even great, but the bottom line is the same for everyone: “So what?” It’s a predictable conundrum.
Reinventing A Life
“So what?” is the question Nicholas Bizony and Charles Loewenberg tackled. They each bring four decades of consulting/coaching experience with corporate clients and individuals. Their up-close involvement with change has shown them that when presented with desirable goals like becoming more effective and influential leaders, improving labor-management relations or generally improving productivity, even Fortune 500 clients tend to revert to their old ways of thinking and behaving once a workshop, seminar or training event is over. So here, dealing with the challenging issue of ‘reinventing’ a life, they apply a process for turning smoke and mirrors into meat and potatoes: a 3-day, highly personalized workshop, initially for Boomer men, who face the question “What’s next?”
In keeping with all great innovations, their approach works because it starts with a simple, universal premise: you can’t tell people what to do. In order for someone to change their attitude and behavior, the problem, and the effective solution, must be defined and designed by the client. Bizony and Loewenberg’s work focuses on precisely this process. It’s called ownership.
The process of generating ownership by the client requires taking the presenter out of the limelight. When my 3-year-old son started swimming lessons, the instructor had the group of children enter the water, each one with a square of Styrofoam. To my surprise, he stayed out of the water for the entire lesson, giving directions as the kids paddled back and forth in the pool. From the first moment, they were learning to swim on their own under the instructor’s guidance.
I taught Italian for years at two local colleges. In my classroom, test day was the most dynamic part of the course. The students could either present a dialogue in front of the class, write ten questions and answers based on a dialogue that was presented, or write a composition from memory using single-word notes. There was only one rule: no English. These students had never been allowed to take charge of their newly-acquired knowledge, and came up with very creative and entertaining material. The room was abuzz with activity and conversation on test day, and I was merely an interested observer. The results initially took me aback until I realized what had transpired: they had applied the material they had learned in a way that was personally meaningful. They had internalized it and given it their own context, and as a result, they owned the hell out of it.
ReInvention UnLtd on Coaching
Some may think that coaching is about advising people, telling them what to do. From years of experience, we have concluded that advice and exhortation, although interesting and relevant, are the least effective forms of intervention, and are unlikely to produce action.
In fact, coaching is about asking and listening – because most people have a pretty good idea what’s best for them. The value is in the process of defining issues, developing ideas, creating an action plan…and making it happen.
That’s exactly what this workshop is all about.
As all highly-effective problem-solvers do, Bizony and Loewenberg provide tools, not answers, to facilitate the definition of each participant’s personal goals and the means to achieve them. The key to their approach is showing participants how to choose their own path, create their own plan of action, call upon key figures in their lives to support their endeavors and how to overcome the hurdles they will inevitably encounter in their new direction. Client ownership moves the focus from passive to active from the outset, allowing Bizony and Loewenberg to intervene from the sidelines as the participants in the workshop assume the role of “thought leader” in the process of reinventing themselves.
The workshop Bizony and Loewenberg have developed enables the participants to craft a new direction, identify exactly where they’re stuck, and then use their own vision and reality to develop a workable plan of action that includes practical first steps to be taken immediately, and a personal support system – people in their lives (including some newly met) able to recognize and encourage their conviction, direction and progress.
A Matter Of Context
So how do you make material meaningful to someone? That’s just it…you don’t. Until the participant (student, audience member or reader) provides the context, the content they are exposed to is regarded as little more than mildly interesting junk mail. Take a common concern of our over-fed nation: losing weight. Everyone knows that all it takes is diet and exercise, but if the solution is so simple, why is there such a problem? It’s a matter of context. Until you have a deeply personal reason to change your lifestyle, no statistics, medical advice, shame or threats mean anything. If you don’t have your own plan to follow, it’s unlikely you’ll successfully follow someone else’s, no matter how smart and charismatic the group leader is.
A Three-Step Process
Lasting change is a three-step process: personalization, creative development and application. The facilitators’ primary function is not to teach anything the participants don’t yet know: it’s to help create a solid foundation for change by showing them how to tap into their own vision, relying on their own resources, drive and discipline to sustain their efforts and their action. The facilitator’s job is just what the name says: to facilitate these steps, allowing the end user to embrace and own the responsibility for his own success. Invention and ownership by the client is fundamental.