Forced Adversity: Why Would You Honour A Pest?

The Change Leader Weekly

To Action: The $23 Billion Pest and Missing Guidebooks

Throughout the early 20th century the boll weevil decimated the American cotton industry. The destructive pest snuck up from Mexico and very quickly jumped from farm to farm, town to town creating an estimated $23 Billion in economic destruction (inflation adjusted). Within 5 years of contact, total cotton production declined by 50 percent.

Livelihoods were destroyed.

So why in the world would a town in Alabama erect a monument in this pest’s honour?

The answer: The power of Forced Adversity.

You see the town of Enterprise in Coffee County, Alabama had primarily grown cotton - as it was a crop that handled difficult conditions and drew large profit margins. Growing cotton was entrenched in the township’s culture. It was likely an identity for them. …That was until the boll weevil. In just one year the town lost almost 70% of its crop yield to the pest.

So one farmer decided to break the long-standing cotton tradition and went looking for something different to grow. Ideally one with similar growing resilience, high profit margins and ultimately something that those boll weevils wouldn’t bother with.

And he found one: Peanuts.

In just one year this farmer’s peanut yield paid off all his previous debts and the rest of the town paid attention. Within a few years, and at the peak of the boll weevil’s decimation across the southern states of the USA - Coffee County had become the largest producer of peanuts in the country and the first region to produce peanut oil.

The boll weevil forced this town out of its longstanding traditions and the pivot ultimately brought them greater wealth and prosperity.

Chatting with a Government leader this week, he shared with me a similar story of forced adversity - however this time it was orchestrated. A group of his staff were stuck in a ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ mentality and he wanted to break that. So he temporarily ‘borrowed’ their process guidebook. Without the guidebook to rely on, this group were forced to come up with answers using the tools and knowledge they had. Modern tools. Modern knowledge.

When the guidebook eventually ‘reappeared’ - it was time for a process overhaul.

What traditions in your organisation need to be decimated? Might be time to consider a controlled dose of forced adversity.

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To Ponder: Forced Trust

Can you force trust?

Overwhelmingly your answer to that is likely to be in the negative. “Trust must be earned” is the old adage.

Yet - this is exactly what COVID19 has done to the vast majority of our workplaces - especially ones with a conservative culture where trust was previously low. The mass-shift to work from home meant that organisations now had to trust employees that it previously didn’t. Or more specifically, leaders had to trust employees that they previously didn’t.

Trust them to work.

Trust them to be maintain professionalism.

Trust them to manage themselves.

And while there are most certainly exceptions to this, on the whole the result has been what anyone with faith in humans would expect.

The jobs still got done.

So can you force trust? No. I don’t think you can.

However, can you grow trust be forcing it to be tested?

Yes.

To revisit the old adage here, perhaps it would be more apt if it were:

Trust must be earned - but you have to give them the chance to earn it”.

So for those of you operating in low trust environments (pro-tip if your area is focused on administration or governance then it’s highly likely that you may be) - consider: how can you create an opportunity to test and grow collective trust?

There’s a massive caveat here though. Trust is just one axis towards high value. The other is support. Don’t test trust unless you have support in place.

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To Reflect: Learning From Adversity

Welcome back to my imaginary reflection office. This is a safe place to sit down, relax and take a moment to delve into your mind.

Last week I asked you to reflect on your own internal messaging on failure. This week I want to issue you a reflection challenge.

Bring to mind a recent experience of work adversity.

Have you reflected on the learnings of the adversity yet?

Have you shared those learnings with others?

If not, why not?

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Podcast Updates - Brendon will be on the Remarkable Leadership Podcast on Feb 16th.

This week I recorded an episode on Kevin Eikenberry’s Remarkable Leadership podcast - an honour considering Kevin has interviewed world leading professors and tech start-up centimillionaires.

During the interview I covered many crucial concepts for change leaders while making entirely new connections between the Valuable Change concepts.

The episode releases 16th February 2022.

Now if by chance you don’t yet have your copy of Valuable Change yet - you can order your copy of Valuable Change here. Shipping is FREE Aus-wide.

Get Your Copy of Valuable Change


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Have a fabulous weekend. See you next week.

Brendon