Simona Curci on the Dance of Change
“When you have a specific idea about how things should be done, you risk taking up space for yourself instead of allowing people to express themselves.” Simona Curci
Simona Curci is an organizational development practitioner who has honed a practical approach to managing change from many years of helping people, teams, and organizations. Simona believes that change is a dynamic process that resembles a dance requiring forward and backward movements. Simona points out that you can’t force everyone to move in the same direction with the same tempo. If you push too hard, you may end up creating more resistance.
Stephen Matini: I know quite a bit about you, but our listeners might not be familiar with your background. Would you mind sharing where you grew up?
Simona Curci: Certainly. I was born in Turin, in the northern part of Italy. Turin is a sizable city, but I spent my childhood in a working-class neighborhood, so I didn't get to experience the city center.
Growing up, I encountered a different reality because I was surrounded by many kids facing various challenges, coming from families struggling to make ends meet. Some of these children had parents who were incarcerated. It was a profound experience for me, and I believe it was educational in its own way. It taught me how to see the good in every person and how to find positivity even in difficult circumstances.
SM: One thing that you mentioned that really resonated with me is the fact that you had humble and simple parents. How were your parents with you?
SC: My parents are truly wonderful people. They are indeed humble and simple, as you mentioned. They continually instilled in me the idea that giving is far more rewarding than taking. Just the other day, I was having a conversation with my mother, and she said, "I find my greatest happiness in helping someone within our family or among our friends." They may not be wealthy, but whatever little they have, they use it to assist others. This, in itself, is a profound source of inspiration for me.
I recently read a book by Adam Grant about "givers" and "takers" and how, in the world of business, givers often achieve more success than takers. It's an intriguing phenomenon.
On the surface, takers seem to be focused on taking what life offers them, while givers prioritize helping others. Yet, paradoxically, givers often outperform takers. It makes you wonder what defines success in this context.
SM: I was wondering, do you believe that being a giver or a taker is something inherent, a part of your nature, or can it be learned?
SC: I believe it can be learned. Life has a way of teaching us these lessons. It also depends on how you choose to interpret and respond to the various situations life presents to you. It's important to acknowledge that, while there may be a genetic component, every individual is a complex amalgamation of various influences. These influences include your heritage, your upbringing, and even the environment you find yourself in.
As I mentioned earlier, my experiences with the kids I grew up with played a significant role in teaching me how to be a giver. It's almost like a magical transformation, where you discover the joy and well-being that comes from knowing others are thriving because of your actions. This kind of magic, I think, can only be learned through experience.
SM: Has your definition of success for yourself remained consistent over time, or has it evolved?
SC: When I contemplate my future, I recall my younger self, and I must admit, I changed my perspective numerous times. As "Alice in Wonderland" once quipped, I've changed myself six times before breakfast. However, if I were to distill the essence of my aspirations, it has always been quite simple: to be happy and to love.
I believe that true success isn't determined by one's occupation, financial status, or accomplishments. It's about feeling content with oneself and fostering genuine connections with loved ones. I realize this may sound overly simplistic, but I consider it the foundation of all success.
SM: I'd like to ask you, as a catalyst for change, it's a beautiful role, but it must be quite demanding. How do you preserve your energy? Working with people is rewarding, but it can also be draining. What's your strategy for maintaining your energy?
SC: That's a great question, and it's not an easy one because I'm naturally enthusiastic and have a lot of energy.
I genuinely enjoy this line of work, bringing people together and creating something new. I also enjoy driving organizational changes aimed at fostering environments where individuals can thrive, express their ideas and opinions, and be themselves.
However, this effort demands a considerable amount of energy because when you attempt to instigate change or unite diverse groups, you inevitably encounter resistance – it's a common theme in change management literature.
In such situations, you often find yourself taking one step forward and two steps back. It can feel like you're expending energy with little progress.
Imagine entering a ballroom, wanting to get a drink. The drink table is at the far end of the room. It's pointless to march through the dancers, pushing and shoving, as it will irritate them, and you'll end up alone and in a bad mood. Start to twirl instead, taking one step forward and two steps back. Keep your eye on the drink table, and you'll toast with company.
My first strategy is to view this back-and-forth not as wasted time or energy but as a dance. When you dance, you take steps forward and backward to the rhythm of the music. You must find the right rhythm; otherwise, you're not dancing but merely marching.
Of course, in the corporate world, we have objectives to meet, and we must strive to achieve them. However, when it comes to cultural change and working with people, a one-size-fits-all, forward-marching approach doesn't work. You can't force everyone to move in the same direction, at the same pace. You need to find the right rhythm.
Another strategy I've developed, especially in recent years, is to avoid pushing too hard. I've learned that pushing too forcefully often results in increased resistance. Sometimes, you need to go with the flow and let things unfold naturally.
People may sense your different perspective and challenge you, asking if you think there's a better way to do things. In those moments, you must remain composed and patient. I call this "The Opossum Strategy" – it's like playing dead.
When faced with questions or challenges, you don't react immediately; instead, you pause, breathe, and let them reach their own conclusions. Even if they believe you've given up, it's a matter of conserving your energy and maintaining a positive outlook.
Constant frustration and resistance can be toxic if not managed properly. By using the Opossum Strategy, you can retain your positivity and energy, allowing you to stay focused on the future.
SM: If I understand the "Opossum Strategy" correctly, it also involves giving people space.
SC: Yes, absolutely. This is very important because when you have a specific idea about how things should be done, you risk taking up space for yourself instead of allowing people to express themselves.
Moreover, even if what people are saying doesn't align with your idea or direction, it doesn't matter. It's crucial to leave space and let them live their experience in the moment, while you experience it too. You should also accept that sometimes you may not be able to make changes.
I came across a Japanese word last week, "shikata ga nai," which means "let go." It teaches us to acknowledge that there are things beyond our control, and that's okay. Let go and focus your energy on what you can change. Choosing the right time for it is essential. In my opinion, this is very important. What I've also learned is that if you give people time and space, they will surprise you.
Another thing that's very important to me is how people constantly surprise me. It's not just about organization; it applies to family, marriage, and relationships in general. If you believe you can always anticipate people's actions or thoughts, you miss out on valuable insights. If you approach people as if they were children, you will constantly be surprised by their behavior.
However, this can also be somewhat dangerous because in the past, some colleagues labeled me as "Alice in Wonderland" because I always found things fascinating and intriguing. They argued that reality is not that simple and that people often act inconsistently or aggressively to gain an advantage, for example.
SM: Every organization is unique, ranging from task-oriented to people-oriented, from control-focused to trust-based. How do you find the balance between focusing on people and tasks?
SC: This is a typical dilemma in all organizations, regardless of their type. Take, for example, the military, which is an organization that emphasizes control and tasks. In such a setting, individuals are expected to follow orders without question.
On the opposite extreme, you have anarchy, where people have complete freedom, trust each other, and can do as they please. However, neither of these extremes is the recipe for a successful organization.
I believe each company should reflect on its position on this continuum—where it currently stands and where it wants to be in the future. Because along this continuum, there's a dance where you can move back and forth. Companies are dynamic and can't remain static.
When I think about finding the right balance, it's a dynamic equilibrium where you integrate these aspects. Current studies emphasize the importance of trust and transparency in the workplace. I truly believe it's crucial to incorporate these elements into the organization because they create the conditions for people to combine their tools and ideas and be creative.
In organizations that emphasize only control and tasks, there's a lack of trust, and people aren't comfortable sharing their ideas or disagreements with decisions. Of course, we should acknowledge that organizations are hierarchical systems. This is important. I'm not advocating for an organization where everyone can decide how to behave. Fundamental values, a clear direction, and hierarchy are essential. However, you should trust your employees and treat them as adults.
I often use this metaphor with my colleagues: When we think about our company's people, do we see them as children or as adults? This is the question. If you treat them as children, you'll need to control them, dictate their time management, decide when they should be in the office, or when they can take vacations. But if you treat them as adults, you can involve them more, gather their ideas, and, of course, there should be someone who makes the final decisions.
SM: In your experience, do you find that change is more challenging at work or at home, in our professional lives or in our personal lives?
SC: I haven't found a significant difference between change in my personal life and change in my job. Firstly, because I see my job as an integral part of my life, so I don't make a clear separation between the two. I have a holistic view of being a human, of myself, and my life.
Therefore, I believe that whether it's a job change or a family change, it's somewhat easier in the workplace. At work, you have a clear vision. You can define projects, you can persuade others using presentations, and you can even bring in consultants if needed.
In life, especially within the family, it's more challenging because I can't convince my husband or my daughter to change something by using a PowerPoint presentation, for example.
Instead, it always boils down to a genuine exchange of ideas and a sincere interest in understanding what others are experiencing, feeling, and thinking. Even within the family, it's crucial sometimes to adopt what I call the "Opossum Strategy" – a term I coined from the idea of playing dead. This approach is about defusing situations or conflicts that lack constructive value. In such cases, it's better to deactivate them.
SM: So, you mean "deactivate" conflicts?
SC: Yes, exactly. Deactivate conflicts. The ability to do so is essential not only in marriages but also in relationships with authors and within organizations.
SM: How do you strike a balance between deactivating conflicts and continuing to pursue what's important to you? Giving space and time is one thing, but not giving up is another. How do you find that balance?
SC: I don't think it's about finding the balance but constantly seeking it and taking action. It's about asking yourself if you're actively striving for the right integration and balance, as it's not something static that you can simply discover and then maintain. It also varies over different periods.
There are times when I need to recharge my energy, and there are times when I'm bursting with energy and need to act. I believe the key is to alternate between these approaches within the same day. It can be challenging and energy-consuming, but it's worthwhile.
SM: Simona, thank you so much for sharing your insights with me.
SC: Thank you, Stephen.
Simona Curci points out that change is like a dance; you must find the right rhythm, sometimes stepping forward and sometimes stepping back. Simona jokingly refers to the "Opossum Strategy" as the moment during the change in which you have to "play dead." Stillness does not mean giving up, but it's the opportunity to refine a more effective strategy, balance energy, and give people time to process change.
Listen to Simona Curci on the podcast Pity Party Over to find the perfect tempo to navigate change successfully.
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