Coping with your former heroes

Change by taking care


This weekend I watched “The Artist“, a phenomenal movie! Being produced in 2011, it earned director Michel Hazanavicius five Oscars and lots of other awards. Not unfairly: it’s a magnificent creation that shows us how impactful innovation can be on a personal level. The story takes place between 1927 and 1932 as silent cinema falls out of fashion and is replaced by the “talkies”. It focuses on the relationship of an older silent film star, George Valentin, and a rising young actress, Peppy.

Technical innovation can have a huge impact on people working in a specific industry. That’s why the movie touched me. It gives an impressive view of this impact. Especially how it manages to illustrate the way people are treated when they dare to express some doubts about new technological advances. Many are treated indifferently or even unpleasantly.

When the first rumors of introducing sound into movies appeared, Valentin laughs it off, calling it “just a fad.” But audio is what the audience wants. To his surprise, Valentin’s production company announces the end of production of silent films. That means a dramatic and abrupt end of his career, which – not entirely coincidental – took place at the same time as the 1929 Stock Market Crash. Overwhelmed by nightmares of this new technology, the bankrupted Valentin gets dismissed, depressed, and divorced. He hardly survives a fire in his house, caused by his own attempt to burn the private collection of his earlier films. There seems to be no way out.

But Hollywood rules, so in the end love helps out! His girlfriend Peppy, meanwhile a successful ‘new time’ actress, arranges a job for him as co-star tap-dancer in a musical. He can continue his career in silence! The director of the musical loves their performance, Valentin and Peppy love each other: a happy end at last!

What about the George Valentins’ in your organization? How to deal with those who are bright and shining…, until that moment a new trend disrupts the status quo? How will you be able to keep their spirit, their enthusiasm alive? To keep them engaged? How can you prevent them to be left on their own, to stand aside? To be called ‘old-fashioned’? To disperse their worries?

We often see management teams eagerly focus on the opportunities a new technology provides. They are so opportunity driven that they tend to neglect the more preserved but legitimate counterforces in their firm. They ignore the sound arguments of the skeptical minds, the well intended critics or doubters.

Any change process requires a careful approach. An open and honest dialogue in which everyone feels comfortable to express expectations, opinions or ideas. You can’t just wash deviating opinions away by ignoring them. Discomfort or fear to be labeled ‘outdated’ or ‘stubborn’ are obviously not the best motivators to involve people.

Forward driven change demands having a keen eye for traditions. Cherish what works instead of only pointing to what is going wrong. So the heroes of the past will shift their focus from a fearful mindset for the future towards one that is more promising. Rituals that synthesize the old with the new will be cherished and celebrated. It provides new confidence and comfort that is so desperately needed in the confusing ‘in limbo’ stages.

George Valentin’s story happened a century ago. Now let’s make our modern time organizational change have a happy end for everyone, or even better: reframe it as a happy restart. Launch positive perspectives in order to gain support for change.


Written by

Marriette van Muijen

Marriette van Muijen

Creative Consultant, Design Thinker


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