The ‘Clean Slate’ Myth

by | Oct 11, 2021 | Change, Ideas |

clean slate myth

Sitting down beside me, my daughter takes a new piece of paper and begins drawing. While she draws a house with a panda bear on it, I begin to sketch out ideas and issues I’m working on improving. At one point, my daughter becomes upset, ‘Dad, I can’t get rid of these lines! Every time I colour over them, more appear.’

I notice it too, but on my drawings. The table we’re using is one I made from old scaffold boards and wood off cuts lying around. And they are not smooth, they all have a heavy wood grain. And the wood grain appears on the paper when we colour.

So it goes with change. We often believe we are starting ‘afresh’ with a ‘clean slate’ either in our own lives or with our teams and organisations. However, we are not. Even when we start a new venture or organisation, we, and those around us, bring stories. Stories of our lives, past experiences, and ideas of ‘how things should be’ all come with us. And as we create our new ventures or bring our new ideas to life, some of these stories shine through. Not all of them, but some do.

Sometimes the response is to try to rub out the stories, to sand the wood grain out. Denying that the stories are they, that we all have them. Other responses include listening to the stories as they come up, acknowledging them, and weaving them into the bigger story of what you are creating. It is often our stories – personal or organisational – that give us character. They shape us, but they do not need to control us.

Walking this fine line is the challenge of leadership and change makers. It is hard in organisations and even harder with a 5 year old who wants her panda to be smooth, not bumpy.

HT Pete James

Photo by Bernard Hermant

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