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The Panhandler's Paradox


Amy and I are standing on a brick platform, waiting for the Ringstrasse tram that will carry us to the other side of Vienna. We are on a mission.

My front pants pockets bulge with almost seventeen Euro in small change. I collected this change by begging, which is illegal in Vienna. I shook a Starbuck's coffee cup—just having a Starbucks cup is, all by itself, a significant social sin in this birthplace of the coffeehouse—jingling with small change in the direction of the delegates to a professional conference. I stood near the top of the grand marble staircase in the historic Haus der Industrie, where every attendee except those who chose to ride the ancient lift had to pass. Few chose to ride the ancient lift.

“Got any spare change?” I pestered.

I was trying to learn about change. This conference was titled Changing Change Management, and Amy and I had been invited to convene two sessions. We'd traveled a long way to speak about the future, only to discover that the conference was being held in a marble mausoleum to the past. In the main auditorium, Emperor Franz Josef beamed beneficently from his portrait hung between gilded statuary. The furniture in the break-out rooms could not be arranged in circles, the shape that everyone who's anyone working on the cutting edge of change management, ourselves included, would certainly require.

Vienna, the source of modern bureaucracy, was hosting a conference aimed at reconsidering organizational change. Sonja Raditz, who's company, ISCT, was hosting the conference, had chosen well. The change masters were in a quiet uproar, unable to manipulate this infrastructure to create the proper context for change. Just like in the real world, we visited our meeting room and found it wholly inadequate for the purpose for which we intended to use it.

Our long, rectangular room featured a huge canoe-shaped conference table and a few more chairs than would comfortably fit around it. There was no obvious space front or back for us to ‘hold forth’ from. A huge projection screen dominated the far inside wall. We’d have to work with what we found there, not what we’d imagined finding there. How we’d do that, we didn’t yet know.

The change masters would have to change.

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