This is the image of an infamous headline printed on May 4th 1982 in a well known UK newspaper. It refers to the sinking of the General Belgrano in the Falklands war.
It is the clarion call of revenge – the payback for past grievances.
The full title is NIGYYSOB which stands for Now I Gotcha You Son Ofa B**** and is the name of one of Eric Berne’s Games that People Play. In this case it is a Level 4 Game – played out on the global stage by the armed forces of the protagonists and resulting in both destruction and death.
The NIGYYSOB game is played out much more frequently at Level 1 – in the everyday interactions between people – people who believe that revenge has a sweet taste.
The reason this is important to the world of Improvement Science is because sometimes a well-intentioned improvement can get unintentionally entangled in a game of NIGYYSOB.
Here is how the drama unfolds.
Someone complains frequently about something that is not working, a Niggle, that they believe that they are powerless to solve. Their complaints are either ignored, discounted or not acted upon because the person with the assumed authority to resolve it cannot do so because they do not know how and will not admit that. This stalemate can fester for a long time and can build up a Reservoir of Resentment. The Niggle persists and keeps irritating the emotional wound which remains an open cultural sore. It is not unusual for a well-intentioned third party to intervene to resolve the standoff but as they too are unable to resolve the underlying problem – and all that results is either meddling or diktat which can actually make the problem worse.
The outcome is a festering three-way stalemate with a history of failed expectations and a deepening Well of Cynicism.
Then someone with an understanding of Improvement Science appears on the scene – and the stage is set for a new chapter of the drama because they risk of being “hooked” into The Game. The newcomer knows how to resolve the problem and, with the grudging consent of the three protagonists, as if by magic, the Niggle is dissolved. Wow! The walls of the Well of Cynicism are breached by the new reality and the three protagonists suddenly realise that they may need to radically re-evaluate their worldviews. That was not expected!
What can happen next is an emotional backlash – rather like a tight elastic band being released at one end. Twang! Snap! Ouch!
We all have a the same psychological reaction to a sudden and surprising change in our reality – be it for the better or for the worse. It takes time to adjust to a new worldview and that transition phase is both fragile and unstable; so there is a risk of going off course.
Experience teaches us that it does not take much to knock the tentative improvement over.
The application of Improvement Science will generate transitions that need to be anticipated and proactively managed because if this is not done then there is a risk that the emotional backlash will upset the whole improvement apple-cart.
What appears to occur is: after reality shows that the improvement has worked then the realisation dawns that the festering problem was always solvable, and the chronic emotional pain was avoidable. This comes as a psychological shock that can trigger a reflex emotional response called anger: the emotion that signals the unconscious perception of sudden loss of the old, familiar, worldview. The anger is often directed externally and at the perceived obstruction that blocked the improvement; the person who “should” have known what to do; often the “boss”. This backlash, the emotional payoff, carries the implied message of “You are not OK because you hold the power, and you could not solve this, and you were too arrogant to ask for help and now I have proved you wrong and that I was right all the time!” Sweet-tasting revenge?
Unfortunately not. The problem is that this emotional backlash damages the fragile, emerging, respectful relationship and can effectively scupper any future tentative inclinations to improve. The chronic emotional pain returns even worse than before; the Well of Cynicism deepens; and the walls are strengthened and become less porous.
The improvement is not maintained and it dies of neglect.
The reality of the situation was that none of the three protagonists actually knew what to do – hence the stalemate – and the only way out of that situation is for them all to recognise and accept the reality of their collective ignorance – and then to learn together.
Managing the improvement transition is something that an experienced facilitator needs to understand. If there is a them-and-us cultural context; a frustrated standoff; a high pressure store of accumulated bad feeling; and a deep well of cynicism then that emotional abscess needs to diagnosed, incised and drained before any attempt at sustained improvement can be made.
If we apply direct pressure on an emotional abscess then it is likely to rupture and squirt you with cynicide; or worse still force the emotional toxin back into the organisation and poison the whole system. (Email is a common path-of-low-resistance for emotional toxic waste!).
One solution is to appreciate that the toxic emotional pressure needs to be released in a safe and controlled way before the healing process can start. Most of the pain goes away as soon as the abscess is lanced – the rest dissipates as the healing process engages.
One model that is helpful in proactively managing this dynamic is the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross model of grief which describes the five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Grief is the normal emotional reaction to a sudden change in reality – such as the loss of a loved one – and the same psychological process operates for all emotionally significant changes. The facilitator just needs to provide a game-free and constructive way to manage the anger by reinvesting the passion into the next cycle of improvement. A more recent framework for this is the Lewis-Parker model which has seven stages:
- Immobilisation – Shock. Overwhelmed mismatch: expectations vs reality.
- Denial of Change – Temporary retreat. False competence.
- Incompetence – Awareness and frustration.
- Acceptance of Reality – ‘Letting go’.
- Testing – New ways to deal with new reality.
- Search for Meaning – Internalisation and seeking to understand.
- Integration – Incorporation of meanings within behaviours.
An effective tool for getting the emotional rollercoaster moving is The 4N Chart® – it allows the emotional pressure and pain to be released in a safe way. The complementary tool for diagnosing and treating the cultural abscess is called AFPS (Argument Free Problem Solving) which is a version of Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats®.
The two are part of the improvement-by-design framework called 6M Design® which in turn is a rational, learnable, applicable and teachable manifestation of Improvement Science.