Surprised People React Poorly.

15 Feb

One of the first things I learned in ministry is that surprised people react poorly.  A corollary to this is that people who feel left out of the process also react poorly.  Combine the two, surprised people who feel left out of the process, and you get the recent burst of energy around the new UUA logo.

UUALogoA little background: On Thursday, the UUA announced and unveiled a new logo as the first step of what seems to be a multistep process to update our image.  You can read about it in this UU World article.  Needless to say, the blogosphere and social media exploded with critique.

I want to take a number of steps back, one at a time, in order to better understand the critique.  I am not going to get into the value or design of the new logo – I want to look at process.

0 Steps back:  This was a surprise.  Most of my clergy colleagues had no idea this was underway.  In addition, the announcement indicates more changes are ahead but, other than an upgrade to the website, does not indicate what those changes may be, or even what the nature of those changes may be.  Surprised people who felt left out of the process reacted poorly.

1 Step back: This is the second surprise in two weeks.  Just 10 days earlier, the UU World reported on the UUA Trustees meeting where the UUA Administration urged a change in how we think of the role of the Association, moving toward being a “religious movement focused on cultural transformation.” Unfortunately, it sounded as though congregations were being left behind in this transformation, and this made many people very upset.

2 Steps back: Many of us are mourning the loss of the historical Beacon Street location as we move to a new building.  Even as we understand the reasoning, we grieve.  Change is hard, as it requires losing something.  It can be hard to focus on what we might gain.  From here, the level of anxiety in the UU system is already  high due to the nature of this identity change.

3 Steps back: Increasing the anxiety in the system is the awareness that the President and previous Moderator had such conflict within the last few years that the UUA Board brought in a paid mediator.

A view from the balcony:  Combine the anxiety in the system with our love/hate relationship with authority (whether it be in the form of a minister or in the form of “the UUA”) recently highlighted in the Commission on Appraisal report “Who’s in Charge Here?” and one could probably predict this reaction.

Towards a 2-part solution: Trust is a 2-way street. I encourage those of us on the sidelines to recognize our own reactivity, our own distrust of authority, and remember that we are the UUA.  The people we tend to point fingers at care very, very deeply about our faith tradition and are hard at work trying to ensure our future.   We do a thorough job of holding them accountable, but can we practice occasionally cutting them some slack? Apparently, this new logo wasn’t a whim and wasn’t created out of thin air, but has been a year-long process of dialogue with 50 different UU stakeholders (according to the recent VUU episode available here, particularly at 30:49).

And, for the UUA Administration, it would be much easier to cut some slack if we had confidence in where we are going.  I am reminded of a GPS I use which won’t ever give me the whole map of where I am going, but only shares one turn at a time. I hate it because I never really know if it is directing me to my desired destination.  Give me the whole map at once (rather than just pieces at a time) and then I will be more likely to trust each individual turn. I want the same from my UUA Administration. You seem to have been working from a plan – please share it in more detail. If it concerns the future direction of our Association, publish it beyond the Board.  The recent Presidents report to the Board mentioned this change in “branding” but if someone isn’t on the Board, or isn’t a geek that goes to read the Board reports and minutes, s/he would not have known this turn was coming up. All of the info I have read about the new logo focuses on how we engaged consultants to come up with this logo, but what matters to me is that UU stakeholders were involved.  Trust us enough to give us information that will better enable us to trust you.

The anxiety in our UU system is quite high right now.  Just as surprised people who feel left out of the process tend to react poorly, so also is the inverse true: Informed people who are brought along in the process tend to be more invested in the outcome.

26 Responses to “Surprised People React Poorly.”

  1. David Lott February 15, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    Transparency, honesty, engagement, participation, communication – all qualities and concepts that are involved across the board. Lessons can be learned from the UU example.

  2. Elz Curtiss February 15, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

    Well said. But it is also true that this design fails the Rorschach test, which is, “Does it always and instantly remind people of only one thing, and is that one thing the one thing you want it to remind them of?”

    • Elz Curtiss February 15, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

      I see you are commenting on process. So am I, here. When a congregation to which I belonged hired a graphic artist to give us a logo, that was what they told us was the objective standard. It’s objective because if a roomful of people start shouting out different images immediately, the thing has failed. It doesn’t matter if they DON’T know what it is, as long as they immediately know they don’t know.

  3. Rev. Renee Ruchotzke February 15, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

    Thank you, Dawn, for a very thoughtful post.

    From where I stand (in the middle of the system) we are facing a huge challenge where no amount of expertise can provide a clear solution. The UUA leadership can’t provide clear roadmaps because the future of religion in America itself is unclear, and we are off into the place where “beyond here be dragons.”

    In an adaptive challenge we first have to frame the challenge into a powerful question (or several powerful questions). We know that UU values are in alignment with where the shift in wider cultural values (thanks to the Millennials) is heading. Yet we have many inconsistencies in how we “present” to the wider culture. (Garrison Keillor is a painful reminder of this.) The conversations about the new logo and other branding issues were framed with powerful questions.

    We also know we need to make low-risk, high-learning experiments when facing an adaptive challenge. We on UUA staff are working to model a change our presence and message from being “here we are, join us (but don’t ask us to change)” to “who are you? this is us! what can we do together that will be awesome?” and “we are trying to build your capacity, not be your capacity.” That shift is a little more subtle than a flashy logo and doesn’t make for a juicy press release, but it’s happening.

    Because of other changes that are happening now (the move, the migration of the website to a less-expensive server) we need to re-do a lot of the letterhead/business cards, webpages, etc. anyway so I’m guessing the logo rollout needed to be sooner than some of the other results of these conversations. I don’t know that the timing could have been helped.

    • Rev. Dawn February 15, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

      Hi Renee, I understand your point but still think there is a lot that needs to be better communicated. For instance, the branding process was begun last year. With the push for the new building it would have been easy to also communicate “This is an ideal time to be evaluating our logo and brand!” Along the way, we could have gotten updates: “The team has been assembled” or “Dialogue is occurring” or “We have engaged with a consultant” – I think you see what I mean. The administration did know those turns well before they were communicated to the broader population. This breeds distrust. The timing is fine – the lack of “we are in this together” spirit, which is what is being communicated, is not. A system can withstand a few foibles like this along the way and absorb the anxiety but they seem to be increasing in frequency.

      • Donald O'Bloggin' February 15, 2014 at 11:42 pm #

        Yes. This was started last year. That’s why it was published by UU World that the company was being hired to assist. Likewise, it was talked about at GA (And I wasn’t even AT GA, I was just watching from home).

        If your congregation didn’t know about this, ask your GA delegates why they didn’t think it important to bring this back to your.

      • Jo H Victoria February 16, 2014 at 1:39 am #

        I appreciate how you framed this reply in particular. It helped me clarify some of my thoughts. We’ve been introduced to this branding idea through rolling out a new logo, which makes many of us have a cynical gut response, especially given how recently we switched to the last logo. It feels like a band-aid when what they say is needed is surgery, and the fact that the chalice is less obvious in this logo (and it seems like the chalice is really our identifiable symbol), that it doesn’t look so great in black and white, and that it isn’t easy to draw, makes it seem like a Barbie band-aid. I’ve not heard anything about who they are talking with and about what, and that lack of transparency isn’t helping at all, and I’m fairly UU nerdy. Bring us on board, UUAC leadership folks! (And yes, I use UUAC because I like the reminder that we are an association of congregations.)

  4. Mark Christian February 15, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    Thank you for your post. I do believe that with the size of the UUA board shrinking and the change in the process of nominating and electing moderator and president that extra diligence is called for to bring people to the table. It feels like fewer people, or just the same people over and over, are being brought into the conversation.

  5. Erika Hewitt February 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    Thank you, Dawn! I particularly applaud your comment in response to Renee regarding how poorly the UUA rolled out the logo. As Vicki Weinstein blogged on her own site, it appears that nobody on the UUA’s logo development team bothered to discuss a strategic, media-savvy approach to unveiling the logo (appearing on “The VUU” *involves* media; I wouldn’t call it “media-savvy”). Did it occur to no one that the unveiling would go viral, within hours, reaching thousands of unprepared people? Why didn’t anyone advise the UUA to adopt a media-friendly approach that would roll the logo out more strategically, with supporters and a backstory? It was a badly bungled unveiling, regardless of the logo itself (which is growing on me) — and that’s the source of my distrust.

  6. Kathy Burek February 15, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

    Dawn, once again, you have captured the essence of the issue.

  7. Bailey Whiteman February 15, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

    Rev. Dawn: great post. The question I’d ask is: why does anyone think we need a new logo? When did any recognizable religious group change their symbol last? The Jewish Star? The Episcopalian or Methodist symbols? Friends I have who aren’t UU like the 2 circles around the flame that we left a few years ago, and it’s the symbol on our signs, our buildings, and it is a powerful one. Symbols have strength, logos are just marketing. I choose the former and I wish the UUA would do so as well.

    • Jo H Victoria February 16, 2014 at 1:41 am #

      I agree. Seems that part of the identity issue is that we change the symbol so often.

  8. PeaceBang February 15, 2014 at 10:39 pm #

    Dawn, thanks for a great post. And I think it says a lot that reading Renee’s response, I got absolutely lost in the lingo. And I’m pretty “up” on the lingo. “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.”

  9. C. Wike February 16, 2014 at 12:49 am #

    Well done post and thank you for taking the time to write it. Thanks also to Bailey Whiteman and with Mark Christian for expressing my opinion so clearly.

  10. Jim Sechrest February 16, 2014 at 1:08 am #

    I think Bailey Whiteman’s comment strikes a chord with me in that this feels a lot like marketing to me. The UUA should be involved in marketing. But, the idea that we should be “branding” (or rebranding) our deeply meaningful values is an anathema to me as a UU. I recognize the dilemma that any UU leaders are in if they try to plot a course for the laity. So many of the laity think that THEY are in charge and that through the GA plenary their representatives plot the course for the denomination. With moves like cutting ties with over thirty UU affiliate organizations, ridding the denomination of a continental UU youth organization, and defunding our continental young adult organization, while citing the need to become a religious movement focused on cultural transformation, the UUA administration seems to be about throwing out the baby with the bath water, especially since the continental youth and young adults have long been in the forefront of our efforts of cultural transformation, including precipitating the merger of Unitarians and Universalists, resistance to the undeclared war in Vietnam, anti-racism, prison reform, and GLBT acceptance. The continental youth and young adults were also very developed in worship services that moved the spirit within you. By moving UUA headquarters, the UUA seems to be moving away from our hearth and home physically, which is what they seem to be up to administratively. Redesigning the logo is a common way to make a break from the past for any group. The UUA staff is trying hard to execute change but is relatively quiet about why. Ministers are taking a “wait and see” approach, while some Unitarian Universalists are upset and leaving the denomination in response to the UUA’s heavy handedness, while some embrace it and seek a place in the new order. But, as usual, the vast majority of UUs are oblivious to most UUA level politics. What is happening in our denomination has been described as the normal growing pains of a grass roots organization becoming a corporation. But, I belong to the long history of folks who grew up UU and have long been marginalized within the denomination, unless we become ministers or staff. From here it seems obvious that the corporate headquarters is intensifying corporate control over the denomination and most UUs are just letting it happen. Meanwhile, most ministers are are backing the UUA. The UUA is ignoring whatever the GA plenary is focused on if they decide on another course. But, most importantly, what the UUA is up to is against the UU values of inclusiveness, democracy, and diverse religious beliefs. The UUA focus on cultural transformation does not include a focus on what it means to grow up UU which includes being aware and supportive of diversity of religious beliefs. By moving forward exclusively on social justice issues, the UUA has already, very purposefully, destroyed the religious culture of our continental youth. See the Summer 2008 issue of the UU World online. The UUA is now in the process of removing the focus on religious diversity that is depicted in displays of the symbols of the religions of the world in our local churches and replacing it with bad, corporate-led social justice programming. Many ministers are very supportive of what the UUA is up to, in general. Most UUs don’t care. But, many UUs have already been hurt by the new “one true way” of the UUA. This sense of alienation triggered by the symbol change is just a sample of what UUs in local churches across the continent are just beginning to experience on many more central issues.

  11. Michael hart February 16, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    I think the folks at the top should have been more open about this and should be more open about the next steps, where we are going. I don’t think we needed a new logo. I don’t see how the new logo will cause anyone to join us. It may even confuse people who might know us by the old logo. I think the concept of rebranding is a marketing buzz word that has little connection to the real world. Yes, changes should be made to how we present ourselves but let’s discuss openly what they might be and how we might accomplish them. I’m not leaving my beloved community over this but I am disappointed in out professional administration.

  12. Carrie Stewart February 16, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    Great post! This current example underlies the problematic nature of doing what we say – to be in covenant.

  13. Ryan Novosielski February 16, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    I’m in the “don’t like the logo” camp. I think it is nuts to change our slowly-becoming-recognizable symbol to something that doesn’t look like the original. I am not, however, in the crowd that is anxious about the change because I don’t feel that it was run by me. I will say that if I didn’t know about it, it probably wasn’t announced prominently enough because I do pay attention. So while unveiling something in this manner shows a lack of understanding of human nature, I think, it doesn’t change the problems I have with the actual design. I find myself wondering if the process involved people who were raised UU, as it doesn’t always seem that this administration remembers us. But I think in general, UU’s have a mistrust of “Boston” that I find thoroughly played out.

  14. Rev. Dawn February 17, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    Thank you all so much for your comments. For what it is worth (which is not much, really) I actually like the new logo much better than the previous one. I love the color, and the lines, and the sense of movement.

    But as most of you caught, this post was about the process and about a more systemic view – looking at some of what is underneath the reactivity around the logo. At least, what of it I am aware of. Becuase I believe the reactivity is symptomatic of deeper issues.

    My post also comes out of a deep sense of optimism and gratitude. Optimism that what anxiety and distrust we have is repairable. Optimism becuase so many people are still engaged in the conversation, even (especially) when they feel left out. And gratitude that we have so many folks at so many levels of our faith tradition that care so deeply. Gratitude that we have a tradition where we can question and encourage and, fundamentally, change.

    Again thank you for your thoughts, your sharing, your responses.

  15. Heather February 17, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    Has anyone here canvassed any teens on the logo?

    My teen (16, male, very involved, OWL-experienced) saw it, recoiled (literally took a step away), turned red, and said, ‘Hmm, and well, hmmm!’ then gave me a pained look. Yeah. Guarantee you he won’t be asking me to get him anything with the logo in red on anything. Granted, sample size = 1. So I am interested in other youth opinions.

    From the UUA management and process perspective, I assume our organization is like the rest of us – human. And learning. And that means sometimes what seems like it was enough communication won’t have been. I am totally okay with listening to where this came from, and how we got here, and what needs were met and were not, where we’re headed as we try to figure this out without a crystal ball. We do this at work, too. What wave do we need to catch that is still so small nobody else sees it either? How to we let people know who we are and how awesome we are when everyone else says the same things about themselves…. it isn’t easy even for a small organization to figure this out. A larger one is orders of magnitude more difficult. I would generally say that logos come last, even if that means you just port over the website and leave it mainly as-is until the rest gets figured out. It is hard to let go of the timeline, speaking as an IT project manager. Being expedient on timeline in a complex move seems so rational until your users let you know you forgot to ask them for usability input. Sometimes you have to stop and rearrange the plan.

  16. Shawna Foster February 20, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    Dawn, I do appreciate the part of your post in which you talk about a way moving forward to establish trust, that we are the UUA and need to cut slack and talk about accountability as much as we do grace.

    However, it is hard for the UUA to give a map that completely gives a lay of the land when the religious landscape is moving like sand under our feet in the ocean. Again, they are who we are in engagement with them, as you point out. Do we know where we want to go? Here is what I think about the kinds of people who take surprises poorly:

    Beyonce dropped her new album with no warning before the end of the year. A huge surprise that made her fans love her even more and people rave about it endlessly.

    When we get surprised by the bad news that our plane has been canceled due to inclement weather, there is a little grumbling, sure. Most people side-eye the fellow who is shouting at the ticketing agent that he’s got to get on his flight now, as if the agent was Zeus and personally causing the weather.

    People who can’t roll with the punches, in my experience, are people who’ve always been able to control what’s going on in their little universe, and expect it at all times to be secure. People who can’t afford that kind of security and know they’re not the ones in control of their lives are able to handle surprises, good and bad ones, in a mature way.

    How you handle it, is again, a reflection of your character, not of the surprising event itself.

  17. Rev Suzanne February 20, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    Thanks for this post and all the thoughtful responses. I am not a fan of the new logo but I am much more not a fan of the way it was rolled out. My lived experience resonates with Dawn’s, surprised people rarely behave well. That may not be how we all should behave, but it is the way we do. Many folks are able to recover and adapt, given time to think, which is why jumping out from behind the door and yelling: Surprise, here’s your new logo! is not a good way to begin any adaptive process.

  18. Gary Roberts February 20, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    Speaking as someone who was LRY many decades past and about to rejoin a UUA fellowship, as well as speaking as an independent publisher, my first reaction to the new logo was: Oh! This is a logo for a Sikh organization of some sort! How interesting! Followed by; what happened to the Chalice? Branding is just that, Branding. Change a logo or name with trepidation lest you lose your identity during the transition or worse, become identified with someone or something unexpected. I’m also chair of a web committee tasked with creating a new website for a non-profit history organization. Our choice was not to mess with certain brands, colors, identifiers but to change those parts that people would not recognize as being part of the ‘being’ of the group that was founded in 1933. I’m simply sorry to hear of such turmoil at this time.

  19. Rev. Roger March 7, 2014 at 7:37 pm #

    Reblogged this on Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog and commented:
    well said. I like the comparison with the GPS and directions


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