Stories are all about change. The books and movies we enjoy the most are those that show people becoming stronger or happier or more connected with others.
The British movie Kinky Boots, for example, has all of those elements woven together like a beautiful huarache. There are the parallel stories of two people who felt they disappointed their fathers, there’s romance, redemption and healing. Above all, there’s change: disasters that trigger personal growth that leads to business moves….
According to David Noer’s book Breaking Free, there are four basic character types when it comes to changeability in the workplace.
At the beginning of Kinky Boots, Charlie seems to be a classic Overwhelmed: when his world falls apart he is incapable of seeing any solutions, let alone implementing them.
“What can I do?” he hopelessly asks each factory worker as he lays them off, one after another.
Lauren is the only one who has an answer.
Change your product, she snaps at him. Find a new market.
Lauren is a Learner. She’s innovative, thinks outside the shoebox, and has enough optimism to draw others along with her.
Lola is Entrenched in her life as a very successful drag queen; we can see she’s no longer happy in her rut but she isn’t even trying to climb out of it. When Charlie and Lauren present her with a chance to try something new, though, she is more than capable of shoehorning herself into the job.
These three characters show the basics of Noer’s model.
The Overwhelmed need to be given projects in which their old skills are useful, and to work with optimists whose energy can carry them along. The Entrenched are more able to adapt, so they benefit from practicing new behaviors in safe situations, especially if they’re surrounded by creative optimists. Learners are already creative, optimistic and energetic; they need to protect themselves from burnout, from being drained by others. Lauren, for example, didn’t change much in the course of Kinky Boots – she didn’t need to. The journey was Charlie’s and Lola’s – Lauren’s role was to be a catalyst and guide.
Although Charlie’s fiancée Nicola also remains the same throughout the movie, she isn’t a Learner. She is what Noer calls a BSer: comfortable with change, but not truly capable of it. She was happy to move to a new city and a different job, but she didn’t grow as a person.
“I can’t change what I want,” she told Charlie bluntly.
By the end of the film Charlie has stepped from the old sneakers of the apparently Overwhelmed into the brogues of a Learner, and Lola has climbed from her singin’and dancin’ rut to creative heights – wearing four-inch heels.
But, you say, it’s just a story.
Not entirely. Kinky Boots is based on real events and you know what they say: the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.
That doesn’t make it any less true.