It used to be that people worked hard to avoid accidents. Things got ruined and people got hurt. There were no advantages. We didn’t want bad things to happen.

As hard as people worked to avoid these moments of chaos there were things that many found interesting and mysterious about those accidents of timing, nature or luck. They found a beauty to the destruction, and a fascination with that moment of the unexpected.

We saw this happen when train travel revolutionized the way that people got from place to place in the late 1800’s. Trains were quicker and more convenient than anything else available at the time, but with speed came accidents, those unexpected moments of chaos. Train cars were destroyed and people were killed. As horrific as those accidents may have been, they were also interesting and intriguing. For the same reasons we may slow down when we drive by a car accident today, people couldn’t help but to look at the steel carnage back then with curiosity and fascination.

In fact, it was so interesting to so many many people that in 1896, an employee of the KATY train line dreamed up the idea to build 15 miles of track outside of Waco, TX and set two trains on either end of the tracks so they could speed up towards each other until they ultimately, eventually, and gloriously crashed into each other. Over 40,000 people attended the event, and although a few unfortunate spectators died after being struck by flying debris, the event was a huge success, and was repeated at other sites around the country.

The moment of collision Crush, TX 1896

Although the employee who dreamed up the train wreck event idea was immediately fired, the public reaction was so overwhelmingly positive that he was immediately hired back to repeat the event at locations around the country.

Something great happening out of something unexpected. Something great happening from interruption and conflict. Conflict serving a different, maybe larger purpose. Though we certainly don’t want people at work to be hurt by any flying debris from things colliding in the office, what lessons can we learn from the events of Crush, TX in 1896?

Think of your department or your team as a train track. Moving along uninhibited, with nothing to get in your way or impede your movement. Your team and your work travels in a straight, likely productive line. Your tracks will remain unimpeded.

But what will happen if something gets in your way? It may be that your work becomes completely derailed, but it may also be that something great and fascinating happens.

When we work with a specific group of people over a period of time, we begin to feel comfortable with the voices around us. We may not always agree with our colleagues, but they become familiar. We can anticipate the reply, the argument, the objection and the humor. It is almost as if the conversation itself is an exercise, because everyone can see the finish line.

Train tracks were designed to get people to their destination quickly and safely, and work teams are designed to get work done with a minimum of disagreement and frustration.

Just like introducing even the tiniest grain of sand to a smoothly operating machine can cause major disruption, so too can introducing a new, strange voice to an otherwise smoothly operating team, and yet the opportunities are exciting. Almost as exciting as a train wreck.

Why bring in a new voice?

  • To hear the unexpected
  • To challenge yourself, and your team
  • To think in a new way
  • To hear new perspectives, new humor (humor is important)
  • To bring the conversation to unexpected places
  • To be exposed to work and information from other areas of your organization
  • To explore unrealized creativity

Welcoming a new voice to a team, even a team that is running smoothly and getting work done, can provide meaningful benefit to all involved. Though there may be new opportunities for conflict or confusion, for false assumptions or mistaken intent, for hurt feelings and unintended results, the destruction can be exciting.

After the dust has settled, explore why people got upset, and why there assumptions were wrong. Why isn’t information being shared as well as it can be? Why aren’t your colleagues working with an adequate level of transparency and generosity? Why is your team working in a vacuum.

There is a reason we stare at accidents as we drive by. There is a reason that people like to smash trains into each other. There are reasons why it is good to introduce that strange voice to your well operating team. Embrace the conflict. Celebrate the destruction. Explore the creativity and do work you never even thought possible.

Come back next week for Part II where we will explore ways to make the destruction happen in the first place.

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