Magic bullets and long-hauls

Published by Tony Quinlan on

Over the years, I’ve taken part in various personal development schemes and seminars.  [I’d like to think with positive results, but I’ll let other people be the judge of that.]  I’ve noticed that some friends and participants view these as the crux of transformations – and that if, months later, their lives haven’t changed dramatically then either a) the event/course was a failure or b) they need to do another one to get that hit/top-up again.

It’s similar thinking to New Year’s resolutions – the idea of a magic bullet to change a life.

The same often seems to apply in organisations looking to change.  Lots of focus on “the moment” or “the event”, and then an expectation that everything will be different having crossed some virtual Rubicon.

It’s possible – in rare cases – but I’m deeply suspicious of the approach.  If organisational culture is that conglomeration of habits and little things that allow people to make sense of their environment [and our lives are the accumulation of our habits and perceptions], a change in culture [life] requires a change in habits.

Organisations look for magic bullet solutions when greater results are likely to accrue from the long-haul of changing daily rituals and habits.  It’s just this approach tends to be less exciting, more arduous and impossible to hand over to some external partner/adviser.  It’s got to be done by people in the organisation on a daily basis – awareness of bad habits, persistence of good ones.

The same goes for those seminars and courses.  Most, if not all, have included long-term tools to be practised regularly to reinforce or embed initial shifts made at the time.  And, in conversation, I find that those whose changes were temporary have often chosen to ignore the tools and rely instead on the magic bullet.


I’ve had a tendency to look at how I operate and how Narrate operates and look for magic bullet solutions myself.  In December 2006 I made the conscious choice to stop looking to implement the one perfect solution (David Allen’s Getting Things Done was always the big one) and instead focus in 2007 on slowly, persistently building methodical habits instead.

Halfway through the year and some things have stuck and proved successful, others are being introduced (or re-introduced) now to continue the process for the remainder of the year.  It’s working – momentum building and new habits that are more productive than forever trying to re-engineer the perfect magic bullet.