Building windmills

When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills – Chinese proverb

I’ve more normally heard the proverb above as ‘In a hurricane, build windmills’. For me, I use this in times of change to make me consider whether I’m trying to harness the energy and direction created by momentum, or whether I’m trying to stop and control things.

I’ve been involved in a lot of enterprise change initiatives. Most of these within large companies are controlled centrally. People try to make sure only moves are made that are under the watchful eye of a central group ensuring compliance and alignment. If not careful, the central group starts to ‘build walls’ in the name of control and compliance which can create unnecessary tension and actually harm momentum.

It’s not always possible (or desirable) to control things centrally. If there is a strong sense of direction, a mandate and momentum, it can be far more effective to ‘build windmills’. By this, I mean create advice, guidance, principles and tools that allow people to move forward themselves. Basically, putting some scaffolding in place that gives just enough guidance for general alignment. It doesn’t mean everyone goes off carte blanche and chaos ensues. But, it does mean you might learn things about how the change might happen, innovations might arise and you will get stories of change that can help continue to build momentum.


Is there any ‘scaffolding’ you can build to harness the current direction and momentum in your company?

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