A company of smart and talented people are walking through the dark and bumping into barriers. They’ve figured out their own individual ways to adapt to the dark and navigate around these barriers as best as they can. But, this is negatively affecting the company as a whole, as reflected by the numbers. So in attempt to fix things, the company brings in a director to help with the numbers who has a history and reputation of navigating through the dark. The people look to her with the hope that maybe she’ll be able to remove some barriers that they keep bumping into. But she isn’t able to, because she can’t see them either. In fact, she has spent so much of her career adapting to the dark that she has managed to convince herself that the darkness is not the real problem.
She cheers her people on to “try harder,” pointing to the numbers to “motivate” them. People understand they need to improve their numbers in order to look good. But they still can’t see how to get around the barriers, besides the methods they’ve already developed. They feel demoralized. The manager assumes that the people are at the root of the problem. So she focuses on personnel issues, holding weekly 1-1’s.
The company has also brought in a bright young guy from an outside environment to manage day-to-day traffic and workflow. The director tells him, “Your job is to keep us from bumping into barriers on a day to day basis.” He has the benefit of a broader perspective because he has not yet adapted to being in the dark. So he does some research and learns about a light switch on the OUTSIDE of the door (an innovation) that would help people to see the barriers they are having trouble with, and empower them to find their own light switches and methods of improvement.
He realizes that turning on the light too soon would be too much of a shock. In the meantime, he asks “why” questions, shining a flashlight around and giving people glimpses of what they keep running into. The people who are really comfortable with the darkness–those who have become accustomed to their own individualized processes that have helped them survive–tell him, “Turn that flashlight off! You need to find your own ways to adapt to the dark just like the rest of us!”
The director sits back and watches this young guy shining a flashlight around, and doesn’t know what to do with him because she doesn’t think the darkness is problematic. Her senses tell her that shining the flashlight must be contradictory to her own manage-by-the-budget techniques. What she doesn’t realize is that if people could see their own barriers in the light, they could tell her the answer of HOW to move them out of the way. Then her job of driving down costs would become a lot easier.
Preferring to stay in the dark, she decides it would be best if he took his flashlight somewhere else. The reason she gives him for letting him go? “You’re really good at shining that light. But in this position, we need someone who can help keep us from bumping into things.”