Topmind Blogs

2 beginnings that lead to big endings!

Today I had a conversation with an executive manager and former consultant. He is responsible for the organizational change in a big Dutch corporation (> 10,000 employees). We met twice on his initiative. A colleague and former client of TopMind recommended him to do a TopMind 100-day programme. This colleague had experienced a positive change in his life by adopting some new daily habits that increased his focus and boosted his well-being and productivity. The change manager had serious problems with his focus, as he often felt stuck in his own thinking, which put his body under stress. The TopMind practical hands-on training approach appealed to him. It contrasted well with his usual way of working, which is more conceptual and intellectual, something at which consultants excel. In our training, among other things, we use sports as a metaphor to illustrate that almost any skill can be developed through deliberate practice. The main objective is to adopt new habits which, when done consistently, sustainably change the way you work and perceive things.


After two TopMind sessions he told me he was still very interested in proceeding with the training, but at the same time told me he would have to postpone (or cancel?) it because he didn’t have time to work on his own change as he was so busy, being fully involved in the organizational change programmes. I was surprised, and wondered how change takes place in an organization like his. In the end an organization is nothing more than a collective of several individuals…


What would Gandhi have advised this consultant?


It is striking that managers in corporate organizations invest so much time and money in talking and thinking about change, but often de-prioritize their own individual change process. They seem to forget that big endings only start with very small and personal beginnings. I worked for almost 10 years in the corporate world, most of that time within Shell. The number of change initiatives and consultants were numerous in that period. But if you really want and need to improve something, where should you start?


Within the top sport arena it is rather simple, if athletes do not grow significantly they will loose their job rather sooner than later. Within businesses the call for individual growth seems less urgent.


A couple of months ago I attended a seminar given by Ricardo Semler. Semler is a successful entrepreneur from Brazil who changed almost all conventions in running a business. His philosophy is too extensive to explain here, but the common denominator is to TRUST the individual and get your own EGO as a business-owner out of the way. In his businesses employees appraise their bosses instead of the other way around and, with goals clearly set, they determine among themselves their own salary and when and how much they work. The whole idea is based on deep trust, a trust that all individuals have enough responsibility to make the right decisions when the collective goals and rules are clear. Semler has proved that change can only be realized by the change in himself in the first place.


Semler mentioned in his talk that he gives speeches to the most powerful and rich organizations in the world. He charges 100K $ for an hour’s talk. On the question from the audience: “Do you think that these organization have changed their ways of working as a result of your speeches. He clearly answered: “No, not a single thing, for the decades I’ve been doing this. And it is not that just I conclude that, the people that hire me simply openly say so. They tell me: ‘what you tell us is immensely inspiring, but at this point it will not work for our organization.’ What could be the reason that large organizations have difficulty to adopt different ways of working?


“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.” Napoleon Bonaparte

At least part of the answer has been illustrated by the consultant mentioned above. People are intellectually so involved with the process outside themselves and make it so complicated that they forget the importance of the process within. They themselves are not ready for the change in the first place. Both processes, internally and externally are intertwined,

How do the two parts inside and outside ourself merge towards sustainable change?


For over 4 years now I have been working with a professional golf player. He is a great young guy that has been through different cycles in the past few years, both positives and negatives. Indeed, he has become well acquainted with the ups and downs of a top sporting career. We started his TopMind training a couple of years ago as we always do with some self-awareness techniques (among other things the self-confrontation method) to find out the real drivers and barriers in his working life. This was a difficult and sometimes painful process in a period when things didn’t work out really well. But after a while he had the insight that the single-minded focus on just himself and his golf took a toll on his well-being. “Somehow it doesn’t give me fulfillment just being focussed on myself alone. I feel a strong need to contribute to the well-being of others too, and I want to find out a way to do so in combination with my sporting career.” We discussed a few options for activating this strong and valuable insight. We talked about starting a foundation to teach young Africans to play golf, but at that point this seemed to be too far fetched. We talked about doing some charity work in the off-tournament weeks, but this didn’t motivate him either. The issue dragged on for a while and we discussed it every now and than until a moment when he said he had read an interesting article. It was about a man who started an initiative with youngsters in the Bijlmer in Amsterdam. The Bijlmer is a part of Amsterdam with a relatively high occurrence of poverty and crime. This man voluntarily started to give golf lessons to youngsters in the so-called K-zone on a small field in between the flats. He became very enthusiastic about the article, but did not know what to do with it initially. We again started to think about a number of possibilities and the end of our conversation we came to the conclusion that it simply had to start with a phone call to this Bijlmer golf-pro. He said “OK a phone call: that I’ll be able to do”. He did so on the way home. The Bijlmer golf pro felt very honoured by his call and invited him to come and see his project. Since than he has been there a couple of times and really enjoyed giving the children lessons. He even managed to contact the golf federation and asked for a subsidy. The two of them got some materials, are on their way to get fully subsidized and are about to get access to the established golf clubs to train and practice on a real golf course. This year they will attend with a group of youngsters the two male and female international golf tournaments: The Ladies’ Open and the KLM Open. We can conclude that the initiative already is a great success, but has been catapulted after this single phone call.


He started with his own personal process that resulted in a profound insight, and he then had the courage to make just one phone call. Dozens of youngsters, and he himself, are benefiting from his ‘soul searching’ and having the courage to make a call.


I understand that you are in a different context and that the effects of change will fire off differently, but the principle is the same. Are you committed to your own internal change process and what is your ‘call’?

Keep your eye on the ball….


Cheers AJ


P.s. Reinier Saxton, the golfpro in above story won his second title of this season just yesterday, now being the #1 in the year ranking!