On ice cubes and hot soup

The Philosopher Developer

June 20, 2023

I was chatting with a colleague recently and we were sharing our experiences and perspectives working through recent organizational changes at our company—new leadership, new org structures, new ways of working. He said something like "Either we will change, or our new leaders will have to change."

I noted that both would surely change; the question was only a matter of degree on each side. The executives who had recently joined the company would inevitably find themselves adapting to the culture that existed before they arrived. And the rest of the company would likewise adapt to its new leadership. On this we agreed.

I don't believe that one-directional change is actually possible. You can't change a thing without changing yourself. In order to have an effect, you must also allow yourself to be affected.

The picture that always comes to mind for me is that of some ice cubes being dropped into a bowl of soup that's too hot. The purpose is to cool the soup down. We understand that in order for this to happen, the ice cubes have to melt.

In life, we often want to either drive or resist change. Sometimes we're the ice cubes, other times we're the soup.

It's natural for the soup to fear the ice cubes. They seem extreme. "If the rest of us came down to your temperature, this soup would be freezing cold!" But the ice cubes were not added to make the soup freezing cold, only to cool it down. By the time this has happened, an equilibrium has been reached.

Meanwhile, ice cubes often have their own ideas: "This soup should be cold! Gazpacho time!" But they can only influence the temperature of the soup so much. As they change the soup, they also start to melt into it.

I believe there are lessons to be learned on both sides of this interaction. When we see change coming from the outside, it isn't always as scary as it might seem. And when we're the ones bringing the change, we should remember that the degree of change we are able to bring will depend on the amount of change we can receive.