An Upside Down experience: the keys to kickstart and sustain change

This week, Servane meets with Patricia Cotton, a Daring Change specialist from Brazil, living between Rio and Germany. 

Through her experiences, she learnt that the path is also a place.

I love talking to Patricia because she can help you turn your eyes to a place, sometimes very close, that you can naturally and seamlessly focus on, and that will become the real trigger for change.  


How do you make waves, Patricia?

I make waves together with Rossana Giesteira (TEDxRio) through the Upside Down Experience project, in which participants are invited to surrender to the experience, being open and giving up control, overturning old priorities and hopefully seeing life & business from a new angle.

What is your own story of change?

I have always strived to discover who I am and mainly how can I become my best possible self. It may sound like a cliché, but my story of change is related to that.

For many years, I had what one can consider a “successful life”: precocious career growth, financial recognition, nice house etc. In this path, I signed up for the executive MBA of the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. Initially, I wanted to learn more quickly and effectively about business and innovation, in order to boost my career. 

However, since life is fortunately bigger than my plans, this experience was a massive turning point and led me afterwards to give up on my executive fast-track. 

So by travelling and studying in a deeper way, being inspired by global creative leaders and cities, I’ve concluded that I was missing a touch of madness in my life, since I’ve spent the past years simply fulfilling a pre-designed role in society, family, peer group, etc.

After several months of experiencing an intense personal and professional crisis, I decided to quit my job and invest all my savings on a global journey to explore the topic of change and what it means for organisations and leaders. I’ve also promoted an exciting yet painful self-change experiment, testing new forms of living and working.

Opening up your world: Upside Down Thinking

The research I’ve made is called “Upside Down Thinking: how to systemise audacious change” and the expression “Upside Down Thinking” came from a great story I’ve read from DDB’s chairman Keith Reinhard: a guy who loved his job but couldn’t stand his boss and decided to find a headhunter. Instead of presenting his CV, he recommended his boss’ CV. The boss got a job offer and the smart guy got promoted in the job he loved.

Most of the time, we look for obvious solutions, instead of investigating the vast potential of opportunities. Thus, “Upside Down Thinking” is about using inversion of ideas and narratives to promote audacious and sustainable change, starting with oneself. 

This is my story of change so far, but I enjoy believing that the biggest change is yet to come.

It’s very strong. It reminds me of this video The Overview Effect, where scientist realised the moon wasn’t so much the focus, but the earth was!

Can you give me 3 tips for someone to be able to give away what they think they can’t do without right now…

Once I’ve read a poster in Berlin that said:

“If you fall, I’ll be there for you.

The Floor”

Tip1: Thinking of the worst that can happen when you change something can bring somehow lightness and liberation, because you realise that things are not that serious in the end.

Tip 2: Don’t allow your need for acceptance to block what life is calling you to do. Social pressure can be as harmful as self-doubt in change moments.

Tip 3: Courage is the main ingredient of change, but only discipline and focus will bring sustainable and deep transformation in the end.

Why do large numbers of corporate/SME leaders still seem to disregard the crucial power of human emotions, and emotions management?

Unfortunately people rely too much on business plans and beautiful Power Point presentations, so that the companies’ environment can look more predictable and controllable for investors, employees and stakeholders in general. 

However, human emotions are always at the core of any business and disregarding emotions management can be a real threat in a relevant decision-making process. Many corporate change attempts, for instance, don’t take into account the invisible resistance of employees and the result of that is building passive-aggressive organisations.

Do you think that social entrepreneurs, who put empathy at the core of their business model, have a better chance to survive that rat race we impose upon us? 

I think anyone, including social entrepreneurs, can easily fall into the trap of urgency that makes us escape from what’s really important and takes time. As John Cleese said, “it’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things like thinking”. And it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.

Some people say that the only people unreluctant to change are babies, when it’s time to change their nappies.. What are the fundamental elements that one requires to enable change to happen?

First of all, the art of seeing new possibilities has to be learnt and practiced. Once there is a change vision, a high amount of courage and discipline is required.  And of course, an overdose of patience and perseverance!


What are your 5 change management takeaways?

1. Telling is not selling: To change business, it is vital to change people first, by dealing with doubts and managing emotions.

2. No brain, no gain: The more and the better you plan, the faster and more efficient the execution will be. 

3. Don’t be too greedy: Prioritise the change topics but don’t over-do them.

4. Focus, focus and focus: Discipline is the basis for audacious moves, since changing requires persistence and consistency over time.

5. People are always key: In order to be really effective, change management must engage with internal resistance and with external formal and informal institutional and structural constraints.

If you were to meet your future self today, what would she tell you? 

STOP trying to rush things and remember that everything happens in the velocity of 60 minutes per hour. Also, enjoy the ride, baby.

And if there was a question that nobody ever asked you but that you would be dying to answer right now, what would it be…

May I sponsor your daring work?


Patricia will be delivering an Upside Down workshop at Betahaus, Berlin, in Germany, on Feb. 14th, 2015. Click here for more information 

The 2nd Upside Down Thinking edition will take place at at Casa Ipanema, on March 10th in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Connect with Patricia here

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