You’re probably familiar with the image above: it’s pretty simple. What we have is a pipe, and a caption in French below that tells us that, well, that this actually isn’t a pipe.
So is it or isn’t it?
The thing is, there’s no easy way around this. Even if you think it is, or isn’t a pipe, you’ll always have a lingering doubt. Even if someone gave you an elegant explanation, you’d never really be comfortable about whether there is a pipe or not, or what the point of all this was in the first place.
In fact, it would have been a lot easier if Magritte had just told us it was or wasn’t a pipe, wouldn’t it? Some of the more cynical among you might even think it would have been easier if he just hadn’t shared this painting with us at all.
This is the frustrating point that Magritte makes so eloquently: sometimes, words and images can betray each other… and then life can get pretty confusing. This may or may not be a pipe, but what we can certainly say is that Magritte’s painting is a cautionary tale: it’s no accident that this painting is called “The treachery of images”. This is a story of the terrible things that happen when you get the messages absolutely right… but forget to make sure that the fine words are reflected everywhere else.
So, what does this have to do with accelerating change? Unlike the painting itself, it’s actually quite simple:
When it comes to inspiring and accelerating change, just getting the words right is not enough.
Leading change is never a question of just telling people what you want to happen: if you really want to accelerate change, inspiring belief is crucial… and the only way to do this is to make the message come alive in an utterly consistent and complete way.
It’s a set of visuals that make an audience’s pupils dilate in wonder, as they realise someone has listened and understood. It’s seeing the same new consistent branding across everything you touch, the penny dropping that change is happening. It’s feeling the electricity in a room when a leader walks out on stage, lifting everyone onto the same hymn sheet.
It’s the dawning feeling you get when everything you see, hear and feel over an extended period of time clicks into the same place and tells you that this change is for real.
So the next time you want to make things happen, remember Magritte’s exasperating painting of a pipe. It’s not enough to tell people, it’s not enough to show them – make sure your change lives everywhere, in everything, and for everyone.