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When It Comes to Change Management, Are You on the Bus?

Can a platitude become an attitude? Sure it can—climb aboard and see for yourself!

Whenever I hear people using some variation of an “on the bus” metaphor, I immediately think of Further, the ancient school bus author Ken Kesey bought to carry his Merry Pranksters across the U.S. in the 1960s. By the time I was a teenager, poor Further had already belched his last plume of smoke going to the Woodstock Festival after a five-year haul of notables including Beat legend Neal Cassady, members of the band the Grateful Dead, and of course counter-culture icons Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert.

But the phrase “on the bus” still resonated with some of us who came of age too late to ride on the actual bus (I’m sure much to our parents’ relief). Even though its origins were a throwback, the phrase itself meant change, adventure, new horizons—an attitude of exploration and openness. Of course, over the decades its morphed into just another piece of corporate-ese, a la “getting on board” with the latest strategy or plan while you’re “thinking outside the box” and grabbing for that “low-hanging fruit” and all those other business buzzword bingo phrases.

But I did get a bit of a déjà vu—dare I say flashback?—to the 1960s version at this year’s Pharma Forum, which MeetingsNet co-organizes with CBI every March.

No, it wasn’t the drug connection that got me thinking about Further, but rather a discussion during a closed-door session with senior life sciences meeting professionals of handling change in today’s era of globalization, mergers, acquisitions, and overall uncertainty. The planners used a bus as a change-management metaphor that grew increasingly strained—and funny—as the discussion went on.

First one planner said, “My philosophy is that you can either get on the bus, or get your arm stuck in the door and get dragged along.” Another planner countered that sometimes, the change comes so hard and fast that, “I’m just going to put myself in front of the bus!”

Another continued to massage the metaphor, saying, “With mergers and acquisitions, it’s important to consider how the different groups within the organization react. They may get on a bus, but it may be a different bus” than leadership intends.

No matter what we think about that bus’s décor, culture, road-worthiness, or direction, we live in times just as disrupted and chaotic—and exciting—as the 1960s. Big changes are happening in meeting formats, goals, design, and expectations. The road to the future likely will be bumpy and twisty. There probably will be pranksters in your midst, and your vehicle—whether it’s an ancient International Harvester school bus, or a self-driving van, or a Hyperloop mass transport—is already gassed up/plugged in and ready to roll.

So I have to ask: When it comes to change, are you being dragged along? Stuck in the headlights? At the wrong stop? On board sitting passively and staring out the window?

Or are you driving?

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