Book Review-The Disruption Mindset: Why Some Organizations Transform While Others Fail

Disruption isn’t the goal.  Growth and success are.  However, the path to growth often leads through disruption.  Charlene Li explains in The Disruption Mindset: Why Some Organizations Transform While Others Fail how to navigate the disruption and even encourage the right disruption to lead to the desired exponential growth.

Anyone can be disruptive; it takes a powerful person to be the right kind of disruptive at the right time to achieve the exponential results which investors often expect – whether you’re a startup or a large organization.

Unmet Needs

The fuel that drives disruption is the willingness to find and address the unmet needs of the customer.  Whether you’re disrupting the home movie business like Netflix or you’re a wireless carrier trying to capture new subscribers like T-Mobile, you’ve got to find the needs the customer has that you can meet and your competitors can’t.  If you do it right, you can leapfrog the competition.

There are lots of ways that people pursue understanding the unmet customer needs.  For instance, Business Model Generation proposes a business model canvas.  Clayton Christensen in Competing Against Luck proposes a model of jobs to be done.  Tom Kelley’s The Art of Innovation proposes a human-centered design process that is also a discovery process.

My experience is that this process of discovering the unmet needs of the customer is the most prone to error and ultimately failure.  Time and time again, I’ve seen technology companies propose that they know what the customer’s needs are only to discover that they didn’t really understand the problems – but no one else in the process could see the failure to fully understand before it became a problem.  The future planners, focus group leaders, researchers, and marketers weren’t able to make a coherent picture from the signals they were receiving, and as a result, they made something up that they thought would be “cool” or interesting, and no one else realized that it was fiction until way too late.

Make a Manifesto

If you’re going to disrupt an organization, you need a rallying cry.  You need something that people can get behind.  There’s a shared delusion that many corporate leaders subscribe to.  They believe they can control a disruption or transformation.  They believe it’s possible to architect, design, and deploy a plan that’s so perfect that it will fit every member of the organization in every situation.  Since the Agile Manifesto, we’ve realized that this isn’t truth, but it’s comforting to believe that we’re in control.  (See Compelled to Control for more about the illusion of control.)  Li suggests that anyone can write a manifesto to inspire the disruption that the organization wants and needs.  It has these components:

  • Start with a rant
  • Flip the rant into a belief
  • Add what you are going to do to act on that belief
  • Use a collective and active voice
  • Write a blog post about each statement
  • Test with customers
  • Keep it to a page

The key is to help everyone believe that the leader isn’t thinking about the disruption alone.  They’ve got an inclusive approach where everyone will benefit from the changes.  In Li’s words, “leadership is a mindset, not a title.”  Joseph Rost in Leadership for the Twenty-First Century agrees.  He even goes further to say that it’s a relationship towards the end of meaningful change.  In short, you can’t be a leader if you don’t intend to change – and improve – with others.

Consensus and Trust

Many organizations have fallen into the trap that they need consensus.  Thomas and Kilmann created a conflict mode instrument that places five options: avoiding, accommodating, competing, collaborating, and compromising on two dimensions: assertive and cooperative.  The interesting aspect of their instrument is that the best answer isn’t in the upper-right corner, as one might expect.  Collaborating to the extreme is consensus.  Their model (and research) focuses on the best answer as compromising.  They don’t mean it in a pejorative way; instead, it’s a recognition that consensus-driven approaches often take too long.  Sometimes, we have to just trust others even when we can’t defend the decision.

We see this echoed in the work of Patrick Lencioni in The Advantage, in Crucial Conversations, and in William Issacs’ work, Dialogue.  Consensus can take too long.  We need to build and reinforce trust when we can so that we can lean on it when it’s necessary to move faster than a consensus-based approach would allow.  (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited for more.)

Cultivating Constructive Criticism

Some cultures invite constructive criticism.  Some even require it.  On the outside, the cultures may seem harsh.  In Radical Candor, Kim Scott explains that “it’s not cruel, it’s clear” when speaking directly to other people.  Cultivating these conversations requires work.  It’s a step beyond the psychological safety that Amy Edmondson proposes in The Fearless Organization.  It’s imperative to share concerns and to speak up.  Back in 1977, Irving Janis and Leon Mann first wrote about “groupthink” and the challenges that occur in groups in their book Decision Making.  Since then, Richard Hackman revisited the challenges of sharing the truth in Collaborative Intelligence.  They recommend that someone be assigned the role of the devil’s advocate – that is, someone should be tasked (temporarily) with trying to poke holes in the proposed direction.  Even John F. Kennedy took this approach with the Cuban Missile Crisis after the fiasco that was the Bay of Pigs invasion.  In One Minute to Midnight, there are details about how dissent wasn’t a problem, it was required.

Dave Snowden, of Cynefin fame, describes this process as ritualized dissent, something that he often teaches at workshops.  By making it an explicit part of the process, it’s often possible to avoid someone being singled out as the naysayer.

Structure and Lore

Organizational charts and organizational structure aren’t something new or interesting to anyone involved in a corporation.  The tree-view charts, with who reports to whom, have been a part of the corporate landscape for decades.  Structure is part and parcel for corporate life.

Organizational policies, procedures, and processes are common as well as everything that can be done can be turned into a collection of policies, procedures, and processes.  It’s standard corporate fare – that startups often sidestep in the interest of expediency.  However, there’s another component that’s important to organizational health: the lore.

Li describes organizational structure as the spine, process the lifeblood, and lore as the soul of organizational culture.  Lore are the stories that are told.  They can be the origin stories – stories that are about how the organization was formed or transformed.  These stories form employee opinions about how the organization is to behave.  They’re stories of heroic customer service.  They’re stories of how the organization treats employees.

If you want to radically disrupt the culture of an organization, you need the stories to be different.  It means replacing the stories that no longer match the desired culture and supplementing the stories in places where the culture won’t grow as you desire it to.  While this can be tricky, confusing work, it’s work that needs to be done if you want to change the hearts and not just the minds of everyone involved.

To make the kinds of changes that our world needs today, you may just find that it takes The Disruption Mindset.

Apogy Change Leader Speaker Series

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with Apogy Founder Jessica Crow to talk about change. In it, I discuss the concept of wicked problems and how to think about them in the context of organizational change. From there, we discuss everything from the impact our values have on our resistance (or resilience) to change, the importance of hardship, and more.

You can watch the full interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlj6xgGY-Sw

Book Review-Change: Principles of Problem Formulation and Problem Resolution

My first highlight in Change: Principles of Problem Formulation and Problem Resolution is “… persistence and change need to be considered together, in spite of their apparently opposite nature.”  It is a fundamental truth of change that too often is left trampled on in the rush to push through as much change as possible in the shortest period of time.  We’ve lost the value of persistence and stability as if we could make a boat with a sail and no keel.

The Opposite of Bad Isn’t Always Good

I hated geometry class.  Logical proofs were mind numbingly boring and detailed.  However, I did salvage some learning from my time.  I learned that the opposite of bad isn’t always good.  Or rather I learned that, in logic, you’ve got to be careful.  Sets, subsets, negation, and all sorts of operations can lead intuitively to incorrect conclusions.  However, this is a lesson that I, and others, must continue to relearn.  All too often, we believe that any change is a positive change when something is bad.

We’ve got a bias towards action that leads us to believe that we should be doing something.  However, sometimes the wiser approach is to wait to make sure that the thing we’re doing is the right thing.  Einstein once remarked that if he had an hour to solve a problem, he’d spend the first 55 minutes understanding the problem and the remaining five solving the problem.  Too often, we jump to conclusions and action when what we need is more effort to understand the problem.  (See Antifragile for more.)

Changing the System

Donella Meadows in Thinking in Systems explains how you can get different results by changing the system.  Often, we go about change by attempting to manipulate low-leverage factors.  Change explains that we need to be looking for the second-order, system-level changes that make a lasting impact and change.  As Change the Culture, Change the Game indicates, if you don’t focus on the experiences and beliefs, then the actions and results can’t be changed persistently.

They propose that there are three ways to mishandle any problem:

  • Deny that the problem is a problem
  • Attempt a change regardless of difficulty
  • Attempt a solution which doesn’t match the level of interaction required (i.e. first level change to a persistent problem or vice versa.)

Two Tragedies: Getting Your Heart’s Desire, and Not

When we’re looking at change resistance or Immunity to Change, the causes aren’t always clear.  Some call it fear of success; others look at it as a fear of failure.  (See The Gift of Failure for more on fear of failure.)  The truth is that getting your heart’s desire – achieving your goals – can be as confusing and disorienting as losing hope and deciding that you’ll never reach your goals.  (See The Hope Circuit for more on losing hope.)

What can sometimes help is to realize that there are options on both sides – whether you get what you want or you don’t.

Reframing

One of the most powerful techniques that are used to shape conversations is reframing.  Reframing doesn’t change the actual situation or consequences but changes the way that you view them.  Reframing change as an opportunity – rather than a solution to a problem that people aren’t aware of – can get people to support the change.  Children that reframed the marshmallow in front of them to something more abstract like the means to an end were more likely to “pass” The Marshmallow Test and were rewarded with more sweets.  (See also Coachbook for more on reframing.)

The Quid Pro Quo of Marriage Relationships

Even John Gottman would admit that marriage relationships are formed on the tradeoffs that each member of the couple makes.  Some of those tradeoffs are easy and some are less easy. but it’s about giving what you’re comfortable with and getting what you believe you need.  (See The Science of Trust for more on Gottman’s work.)  Change says that much of what appears in couple’s counseling is a disruption of the quid pro quo on which the relationship is formed.

Truth Is Not What We Discover but What We Create

We believe that there should be some objective truth to all things.  The personality of a historical figure should match some accounts.  However, the deeper that we probe into things, the more we realize that we’re not capable of handling the entire truth.  We see only fragmented pieces of the whole – and, invariably, our perspectives fall well short of the bar for truth.  In realizing that we’re incapable of perceiving the whole truth, we must endeavor to create a consistent truth.  It should be a truth that interfaces with others’ perceptions of truth and doesn’t leave us on the wrong side of a psychological diagnosis – but at the same time recognizes a consistency around our experience.

If we want to develop a truth about change, we’ll want to ensure that we’re not looking just to discover it but rather that we’re approaching it with the real understanding that we create our truth as much as we discover the truth that is “out there.”

Fear of Making Mistakes

Fear is a powerful, if unpredictable, motivator.  Too often in our quest for perfection, we fear that we’ll make mistakes, and those mistakes will be held against us.  In terms of Richard Lazarus’ observations in Emotion and Adaptation, we believe the consequence of a mistake to be high and our ability to cope to be low.  Whenever we’re looking to improve our chances at change as well as our retention of employees and happiness at work, we should endeavor to create a safe place to work.  (See The Fearless Organization for more about creating psychologically safe places to work.)

Ultimately, if we want to be successful at change we may need to spend some time reading about Change.

Book Review-The Leadership of Organizational Change

Sometimes, paths cross a few times before connections are made.  The Leadership of Organizational Change wasn’t my first interaction with Mark Hughes.  I read it because of the respect I had for a man who has spent his life trying to understand and move forward our ability to implement change.

The 70% Failure Rate

My first encounter with Hughes was only in his writing.  He was critical of the use of a 70% failure rate for change management projects.  His argument is that there isn’t research support for this number.  I agree that there’s little direct support for this number – but the indirect evidence that this is a reasonable number is compelling.  I explained in Why the 70% Failure Rate of Change Projects is Probably Right that large scale projects of all kinds tend to fail at this rate.  So, while Hughes’ point is valid, I’m not sure that it matters.

Post Industrial Leadership Institute Think Tank

Sometime after first discovering Hughes’ challenge to the 70% number, he was invited to join a think tank that I’m a part of.  Hughes is a student of Joseph Rost, and Rost’s work drives much of what is done at the think tank.  Enjoying the conversation, I asked for a one-on-one conversation, which was graciously accepted.  Through the conversations, I got to understand Hughes’ interest in change leadership as a term – rather than change management, as is more frequently discussed.

Rost spends about two-thirds of his book, Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, working up to a definition of leadership.  Rost himself was a student of MacGregor, whose Leadership is a tome of a work that offers the idea of transformational leadership.  Ultimately, Rost lands on “Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and collaborators who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.”

Intertwined

Hughes asserts that the study of leadership and change are therefore inextricably intertwined.  One cannot think of leadership without the aspect of change (or real change).  One cannot consider change without considering the leadership necessary to reach the destination.  In this intertwining, there are concepts that are difficult to disentangle.

Rost’s initial definitions included the word “follower” instead of “collaborator.”  There is a real belief that everyone is a co-leader, sometimes stepping forward and other times stepping back.  In such a conceptualization, how is it possible to define the one leader or leadership?  In fact, some of this is the point.  Rost doesn’t believe in leadership in the contemporary sense.

When we’re looking for drivers for change, we’re stuck between the need for a leader and the awareness that the leader needs followers – or they’re leading no one.  Unfortunately, there’s no single model of leadership of organizational change that is widely supported.  (See the Change Model Library for some approaches to change management.)

The Rise of Scientific Management

One of the phases of leadership that we’ve transitioned through – or at least are transitioning through – is the work of Fredrick Taylor, who believed everything could be reduced to a most-efficient way of doing things.  Despite his popularity, a review of the work that launched him reveals that it was shaky at best.  The results were simplified, and some observations were erroneous.  Despite this, we find that managers want to squeeze out every last ounce of productivity based on Taylor’s scientific management ideals.  In Antifragile, Nassim Taleb expresses concern about removing the redundancy and capacity from a system.  We’ve seen too many places where removing the “excess” from the system results in a catastrophic failure.

Philosophies

There are numerous philosophies regarding leadership and organizational change, each with their own benefits and limitations.  As Gareth Morgan explains in Images of Organization, no one model is “right” – models will always have benefits and limitations.  Leadership and organizational change philosophies are reflections of the way that we see organizations.

The Myth of Leadership

The Western world, and particularly America, has built up the rise and fall, success and failure, of organizations, industries, and nations on the backs of leadership.  We believe in singular simple reasoning that allows for only a leader who possesses the mythical qualities of leadership and are therefore capable of leading anything to success.  The Titanic could have been led to port if only there was the right leadership to keep the ship afloat after impacting the iceberg.

These simplistic views of success and failure don’t adequately capture the dynamism that we find in the world today.  We know that there’s no one single causal factor for success or failure but rather a set of conditions under which people have found success – including with the help of a participant that others would call a leader.

If you want to get past the myth of leadership and move to a more nuanced view of how organizations can succeed, a good step may be to look to The Leadership of Organizational Change.

Book Review-The Culture Puzzle: Harnessing the Forces That Drive Your Organization’s Success

It truly is a puzzle.  What makes some organizations stellar and others barely able to keep their doors open?  How do you fit the pieces of an organization together to survive in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world?  These are the questions that The Culture Puzzle: Harnessing the Forces that Drive Your Organization’s Success wants to answer.

Tribes

Seth Godin wrote a whole book on tribes, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, which explains how tribes form and what it takes to get them moving.  However, another key concern for organizations is just how many tribes they have inside their walls.  Organizations, particularly those that grew through acquisition, find that they have different tribes in their organization, each with their own goals, rather than one big tribe in which everyone in the organization is a member.

When the Skunk Works was started at Lockheed, it was intentionally separated from the main organization.  What Kelley Johnson was trying to do needed to be different to succeed.  He intentionally created a new culture to replace the fragmented cultures that existed in the main organization.  Inside of the Lockheed walls were multiple cultures.  Engineers and machinists all had their own tribes – and they didn’t really get along with the other tribe.  Kelley Johnson wanted something different.  He wanted one Skunk Works tribe that had a singular mission, not competing tribes.  (See Skunk Works for more.)

Shared Vision

The challenge of multiple tribes inside an organization can be the result of different histories and training, or it can be a failure for the leadership to establish a shared vision.  It can be that, in the absence of a compelling shared vision, individuals and teams have been forced to define their own visions – and that results in different tribes.

It’s like a climb up a mountain to find a guru.  Leadership teams head out to strategic retreats where they believe with the help of their skillful facilitator, they’ll discover the hidden meaning for the organization.  With this knowledge firmly placed in their brains, they believe – incorrectly – that they need just to share the epiphany, and all will be good.  Everyone will instantly share their vision.

There are numerous problems with this shared delusion.  In fact, the delusion is shared more than the sense of the shared vision of the strategy.  Too often, strategies devolve into platitudes that mean nothing.  (See The Fifth Discipline for the challenges of using platitudes.)  It turns out that everyone has a slightly different view of the strategy that was created, and the result is that when the message is communicated to the rest of the organization, these differences in understanding are amplified.

Absolutely Necessary

Instead of the shared behaviors that the organization desires, we are left with behaviors that are perceived to be minimally necessary instead of those of an engaged team striving for the same goals.  The behaviors that drove the Skunk Works’ stunning success are noticeably absent as sharing is only done when it’s believed that there is no other alternative.

Trading is one of the keys to organizational life.  Influence Without Authority explains that no one ever has enough authority to accomplish everything they want to accomplish, so they have to do it through influence, and one of the best ways to do that is to capitalize on the law of reciprocity.  Quid pro quo is the law of the land, and it means that to encourage success, you’ve got to encourage cooperation.

Robert Axelrod ran a contest of computer programs to see which strategy would achieve the best outcomes.  It was patterned on the prisoner’s dilemma: two criminals are captured, and if they rat out their compatriot, they’ll get a shorter sentence – unless their compatriot rats them out, too.  Clearly the best case is for both parties to cooperate, but there’s always the risk that the other party will defect.  The results of his contest showed that tit-for-tat was the winner.  Starting by cooperating and then doing whatever the other program did on the last turn yielded the best result.  In short, if we want to be successful, we need to cooperate.  (See The Evolution of Cooperation for more.)

Francis Fukuyama expresses the same need for sharing in Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity from the lens of our need to trust one another.  If we can’t trust each other to be cooperative, then we aren’t going to be as agile or as effective.

Never An Open Office in the Mind

I shared my concerns about the open office concept when Richard Sheridan promoted it in his book Joy, Inc.  I shared in my review of How Buildings Learn that many others, including Steward Brand, were concerned about open offices as well.  It turns out that open offices aren’t really what people want.  Even Les Nessman in the classic WKRP in Cincinnati knew the value of having a space with walls.

What we know about open office spaces is that people attempt to construct walls in their minds to compensate for the walls that are missing in their environment.  They work to create a safe space where they can work uninterrupted.  Sometimes they’re successful and can enter flow – and sometimes they’re not.  (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman for more on flow.)

Cooperation and Competition

When I was younger, Jack Welch, and his meteoric leadership of GE, was all the rage.  He recommended placing groups and even individuals in competition with each other.  The competition for ranking and resources was a part of the game.  The problem is we’ve seen that this strategy no longer works today.  Employees want to feel safe.  (See The Fearless Organization for more.)  The management strategies that Welch used left him with the nickname Neutron Jack (after the neutron bomb, which kills living things and leaves infrastructure intact).  As Fredrick LaLoux explains in Reinventing Organizations, organizations are changing in the way they’re led and the way they’re managed.

Today, few people would recommend having people or groups internal to an organization competing with another.  Some haven’t made a full transition to cooperating and have stopped at a sort of midpoint – coopetition – which is a mixture of both cooperation and competition.  However, the research points to cooperation being more effective than competition in most situations.

Inspiration and Work

Inspiration has a lore surrounding it.  The idea is that the best works that have ever been created have been the result of inspiration.  Inspiration is certainly a positive feeling.  It drops someone into flow and gets them to create some of their best work.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Inspiration is a definite part of the creation of great works.  However, the problem is that inspiration is few, fleeting, and fickle.

Pasteur said that “chance favors the prepared.”  In short, things that look like luck and inspiration come most frequently to those who have put in the work to take advantage of these opportunities.  Work for a better culture, work to collaborate, and just work in general increases the chances that you and your organization will be able to assemble The Culture Puzzle.

Book Review-The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind

Catalysts are different.  They make chemical reactions happen faster – but they’re not consumed in the process.  For those who are driving change, being a catalyst is what you want: better results without being used up.  The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind is a journey through the techniques that allow people accomplish change without being used up.

Immunity to Change

The key question is “Why hasn’t that person changed already?  What is blocking them?”  This is the precise question that Immunity to Change tries to answer.  Whether it’s a gap between espoused and in-practice beliefs or something as simple as not being aware of the need to change, before we look to coerce or push someone towards change, we should ask why they’re not changing already.  Influencer describes ways that you can encourage people to change using six different approaches.

Principles

The Catalyst proposes that there are five principles of change:

  1. Reactance – When pushed, people push back.
  2. Endowment – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  3. Distance – People don’t want to be persuaded.
  4. Uncertainty – Change often involves uncertainty.
  5. Corroborating Evidence – Sometimes one person, no matter how knowledgeable, is not enough.

These principles are echoes of things said by others.  For instance, in Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers explains that people need to understand the relative advantage (endowment), that people change their attitudes through people they connect with (distance), and that the changes need to be compatible and trialable (to reduce uncertainty).  Compelled to Control explains that while we all want to control others, none of us really wants to be controlled (reactance).  In Changing Minds, it covers the idea of “storm the castle” (corroborating evidence).

Rebellion

If you tell jurors to ignore testimony, they may unconsciously weight it more heavily.  When you tell people they have to do something, they often resist it more vehemently than they would have had they not been told to do it.  We’ve tapped into what Fascinate would call rebellion.  It’s what Steven Reiss in his 16 motivators would call independence.  (See Who Am I?)  Jonathan Haidt, in the foundations of morality, calls it liberty.  (See The Righteous Mind.)  When people feel as if their freedom and independence is threatened, they sometimes experience a boomerang effect – they more strongly defend their right to not do what they’re being asked to do.  (See Decision Making for more on the boomerang effect.)

Paradox of Choice

Specific calls to action result in higher rates of response.  However, they can trigger resistance.  Giving people options helps them feel like they’re in control.  However, too many options will lead to anxiety, as The Paradox of Choice explains.  The goal is to offer a set of options – but not too many options.  The narrow road between these two points leads to others being willing to change.

Coherence

As humans, we seek apparent coherence between our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.  This need for apparent coherence is addressed in The Joy of Burnout with the idea that the incoherence is friction that stops us from achieving our goals.  Opening Up looks at the need for coherence of the story of our lives as fundamental.  A failure to achieve coherence in a story is therefore disruptive to our psyche.

Angry with the Help

One of the consistent ways to help endear yourself to others is to remain consistent in your intention to help others – and to repeatedly communicate that intention.  When people believe that you’re trying to help them, it’s difficult for them to get – or remain – angry with you.

In Destructive Emotions, the Dalai Lama explains that in Eastern philosophies, anger is disappointment directed.  Disappointment is judgement based, and it’s hard to judge that someone should be doing more to help you.  This perspective is shared by books like Humble Inquiry and Getting to Yes.

Zones of Acceptance and Rejection

Some messages people accept from anyone, and others they only accept when they feel they have no other answers.  Thomas Gilovich explains in How We Know What Isn’t So how we switch the question from “Can I believe this?” to “Must I believe this?” when we move outside of our acceptable zone.  The switch in questions is critical, because the standards for the first question are substantially lower than the second.

When working with others, it can be hard to tease out where their zone of acceptability is and where we’ll cross over into the land of rejection.  This distinction is important, because we want to deliver messages just inside the edge of acceptability to continue to open them up to further and further zones of acceptance.

Motivational Interviewing does this by first establishing rapport and then beginning to elicit information from the person about their addiction (or reason for counseling) with the ultimate goal of focusing them in on a specific aspect of the problem that is solvable and a strategy to address that area.  If we want to change people’s behaviors, we have to know where they’re starting from.

Vitamins and Painkillers

Medicine and pills of all kinds are an essential part of our everyday life, but they’re fundamentally different in the kinds of demands they create.  Vitamins are preventative, long-term pills designed to ensure success over the long term.  An antibiotic doesn’t resolve any immediate problem but provides medium-term relief for a specific problem.  Painkillers, however, solve a specific immediate and important problem.

When you’re describing your change, are you describing it in the language of vitamins – or painkillers?  Must the person make this change, or is it just a good idea?  Only half of the United States population takes vitamins – but nearly everyone will take a painkiller when they need it.

Unsticking

Ultimately, our goal in creating change is to remove the barriers between the person and the new, desirable behaviors.  That means removing small barriers – even if they seem trivial to us – because, as the book Demand explains, small barriers often have a disproportionate blocking capability to their size.  Sometimes, the key thing that needs to be unstuck is the aversion to the things they’ll lose and the uncertainty that comes with the change.  William Bridges in Managing Transitions focuses on these key problems, indicating that they’re the real barrier to change.

Sometimes, unsticking means backing up and taking a broader view.  In others, it means temporarily accepting some untenable premise so that you can hear the other person’s perspective.  Maybe when you’re done, and you understand, you can propose a solution that will make you seem like The Catalyst.

Book Review-The Satir Model

It’s a model that’s sometimes used in the discussion of change, but it was born out of family systems therapy and the awareness of how disruptive events impact family systems. The Satir Model brings a very human and personal element to how changes occur.

Alcohol is the Solution

One of the challenges counselors frequently encounter is that the dysfunctional behavior they’re called in to fix is a symptom of a larger family system problem. Virginia Satir’s insight into this problem began in 1951, when she started seeing more than one member of the family at a time. This allowed her to begin to see how the interaction patterns started to create the problems that therapy was being sought to solve.

The most vivid example of this for me was in Intimacy Anorexia, where Douglas Weiss made it clear that sometimes things are not as they seem. He explains that if you’re trying to make a dog mean by starving it, you don’t do it by withholding all food – you withhold just enough that he’s always hungry and always feeling as if he must fight to get enough food. In the book’s context, the withholding is intimacy, and the result is sometimes sexual addiction or adultery. If you’re presented with these circumstances, you might easily find fault in the adulterer without asking the question about the systems that created those results. (I’m not suggesting the transfer of responsibility, only the full evaluation of the situation.)

A more mundane but powerful response was when my friend shared that drugs or alcohol wasn’t the problem to the addict – it was the solution. It may be a poor solution. It may have negative side effects and consequences, but it’s solving another problem that the addict has. Frequently, it’s a need to numb the pain that they’re feeling in their life due to their family, professional, or social circumstances. Certainly, there’s an aspect of treatment to get folks to stop the coping skill that transformed into an addiction, but there’s a greater need to help the addict find better coping skills that bring life instead of more pain.

Sometimes, changing the coping skills means changing the reactions to the systems that people find themselves in either by getting others within the system to help break the cycle or by developing the specific skills necessary for the person to break the cycle themselves.

Faith in People

Virginia Satir as well as others like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers had faith that people had value and had the solutions to their own problems. (See A Way of Being for Carl Roger’s perspective.) Other works, like Motivational Interviewing, follow a similar pattern where the patient is treated as the expert on their situation, their environment, and their perspectives. Like a good anthropologist practicing Ethnographic Interviewing, they suspend judgement about what the other person is saying to focus on understanding both what is being said and the hidden meanings that are lurking just beneath the surface.

Satir recognized that a person’s self-esteem had a huge impact on their ability to function and thrive in the world. Martin Seligman in The Hope Circuit describes it slightly differently. Here, he frames it as learned control, the lack of learned helplessness, or a belief that what you’re doing can make a difference. (You may also find Seligman’s book Flourish useful in exposing the power of self-esteem.)

Whole in Parts

The natural tendency is to accept the positive aspects and dismiss the negative aspects. The tendency to be a “go getter” is great professionally but has the negative of making it more difficult to turn off, shut down, and relax. Having the people pleasing personality makes you great at customer service but makes it difficult to tell your family no when they make an unreasonable ask of you. You’re good at creative projects, but sometimes forget to take out the trash.

In every case, we want to accept the positive aspects of our personalities and our identities and minimize the parts of our identities that we don’t believe serve us well. What we fail to realize is that there is no having one without the other. That is not to say that we shouldn’t work to minimize the negative consequences or work towards a better result. It is, however, to say that we can not deny the consequences without cutting off a part of ourselves – a part of ourselves that we need.

The Confidence to Stand Alone

Much has been made about Bowlby and Ainsworth’s attachment styles and the need for children to feel safe to be able to explore. (See The Secret Lives of Adults for more.) There has been research on how mother rats licking and grooming their pups leads to more effective attachment styles in rats. (See How Children Succeed for more.) Satir speaks of it as the intrinsic value and confidence necessary to pursue new things and reveal ourselves.

It’s one thing to speak of attachment styles and courage but quite another to stand alone. As we learned with Asch’s line experiments, if enough people believe something, you’re likely to believe it, too. (See The Lucifer Effect for more.) Find Your Courage seeks to help people, especially those whose attachment styles aren’t initially the best, find ways of expressing themselves more wholly despite these limitations.

Plus One

One of the challenges with any change is the amount of effort required. We sometimes expect that the degree of change that we’ll be forced to undertake is more than we’re able to accomplish on our own. While, at times, this may be necessary, Satir’s perspective was that most situations required only relatively minor adjustments that anyone is capable of making. This perspective of a relatively small amount of change on a relatively large amount of experiences helps to give everyone hope that they can change and be successful. (See The Psychology of Hope for more about generating hope, its components, and its power.)

Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery exposes the best – and worst – of each personality type. Rather than looking at the most positive and the most negative expressions of a personality as radically different, the enneagram looks at them as degrees of functionality that can be adjusted. In most cases, the gap between where we are at and the success we want is very small.

The Four Stances

Satir believes that there are four stances that we can take in any situation. They are:

  • Placating – We disregard our own feelings to accommodate someone else.
  • Blaming – We fail to accept any personal blame and instead look to others outside of ourselves as the cause of our woes.
  • Super-Reasonable – The tendency to discount one party or another in favor of the context of the situation.
  • Irrelevant – Attempts to be amusing our clownish instead of directly addressing the situation at hand.

If one were to put this on a 2×2 grid, one axis would be rationality – the degree of reason that corresponds to the current situation. The other axis is assertiveness, the degree to which a person asserts their will and needs in the situation. In the middle of the grid is a zone of coherent or congruent operation, in which we are the most effective.

Five Freedoms

When operating in any human system, you should expect five basic freedoms, though many of us have learned from our experiences that these aren’t freedoms that we can expect from our families – or in our teams. The five freedoms are:

  • Freedom to see and hear what is real – not what was, should be, or will be.
  • Freedom to say what we think and feel – not what others believe we should.
  • Freedom to feel for real – not what others expect you to feel.
  • Freedom to ask for what you want – instead of waiting for permission.
  • Freedom to take risks and fail – not be frozen in fear.

Understanding Is the Path

Humans have a fundamental need to be understood. When we developed our mind-reading, we developed the expectation that we’d be understood. (See The Righteous Mind and Mindreading for the development of our mind-reading capabilities.) Since then, our humanity has taken a beating. We long to be understood, and too often, we fail to get any validation that we’re being heard. It’s this first little step of feeling heard that allows us to take additional steps forward in working together and healing the broken systems of interaction.

Exploring Expectations

One of the hidden challenges in relationships are those unspoken expectations which lead to judgements. As humans we are, by our very nature, prediction machines. (See Think Again and Changing Minds for more.) We are constantly trying to predict what will happen next. We want to know what lottery numbers will come up, how the stock market will perform, and how people will behave. The core of trusting other people is predicting how they will behave and accepting the possibility that they may betray our predictions. (See Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy, Revisited and Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order for more on trust.)

When we expect someone to behave a certain way and they don’t, we feel betrayed. If we were to tear apart that feeling of betrayal, we’ll find expectations and judgement. The judgement is simply that our expectation was reasonable and right. We feel justified that we should have expected the behavior from the other person and judge them as bad – instead of looking to how our expectations may have been wrong or how extenuating circumstances may have led to their behavior deviating from our expectations.

It’s one-part fundamental attribution error – associating negatives with the character of a person instead of the environment or situation. (Kurt Lewin’s equation uses both “environment” and “situation” in different places, depending on which source you cite.)

Broken Bones

No matter how our bone may have become broken, it’s our responsibility to heal. Sure, we can reach out to others to set the bone in the correct place to heal, and we can get a cast or other reinforcement to prevent further damage during the healing process; but, ultimately, it’s our responsibility to heal ourselves. No amount of fault-finding or blaming the process that caused our bone to become broken will heal it. Yet, often times in relationships, we become overly focused on whose fault it is or who is to blame. (See Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) for more.)

In healing our hurts, we can look to people to set the bones right. We seek out the people who can put the pieces back together in the right place and in the right way so that they’re capable of healing appropriately. In the context of Satir’s work, this is a counselor or therapist who can help identify the broken pieces and how they fit together. In an organizational sense, it may be a coach, advisor, or consultant who helps to restructure broken systems in ways that can be effective.

Once we’re set in place, we will need some protection for this broken area. That’s what Dr. Townsend was talking about when he was discussing temporary boundaries in his book, Beyond Boundaries. Temporary boundaries provide protection while the healing process to taking place.

Finally, we’ve got to do the hard work of healing. Our bodies may automatically take care of part of the process, sometimes creating scar tissue and sometimes not. However, with most broken bones, there is some degree of work to be done consciously in the form of physical therapy to regain all – or at least most – of the capacity that existed before the bone was broken.

Creating Chaos

It seems odd that one would desire to create chaos in any situation unless they’re being malevolent – but chaos is a necessary part of the process of change. If you avoid the chaos, you can’t change people or the systems that they operate in. William Bridges in Managing Transitions describes this as the neutral zone. The old patterns of behavior aren’t in place, but neither are the new desired behaviors. There’s a place where things are being discovered – and are therefore chaotic.

While I’ve never met someone who truly enjoys chaos, I’ve met plenty who can tolerate it and its ambiguities. However, most people can’t even tolerate high degrees of chaos. They want predictability and certainty so that they can feel comfortable that they know what’s coming.

Untangling Feelings

In How Emotions are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett shares her experiences with trying to understand her emotions and how sometimes what she felt in her body weren’t emotions at all but were, in fact, illness. Richard Lazarus in Emotion and Adaptation takes a more decomposing approach and begins to untangle how we experience stimulus that we interpret, and how those interpretations form our feelings. Too many people have never been taught how to process their feelings, and as a result they insist that “My feelings are just my feelings.” In other words, they came randomly, and they’ll leave randomly.

The problem with this perspective is that you become the victim of your emotions. You can’t control them – or, more accurately, influence them. As a result, you’re beholden to the whims of your emotions, and you can do nothing about it. Taken to the logical extreme, this gives other the power to manipulate you like Pinocchio’s strings. If you have no choice but to react to certain stimuli in a certain way, then all others need to do to control you is create the right stimulus to get the actions they desire.

Most people find the idea that others control them repulsive, even if they’re willing to say, “They made me mad.” The problem with this statement is that it’s giving power to others in ways that they should not and need not. The more we can discover the time between the stimulus and our response, the more capacity we have, to be in control of – or at least influence – our emotions.

Caustic Coping Skills

Addiction is, as one friend said, a coping skill that progressively takes more and more control of the person using it. A glass of wine isn’t a problem, but when the coping skill is now driving the behavior of the person, it’s crossed over into addiction. Satir often said, “The problem isn’t the problem. Coping is.”

Coping can be a problem not just in that you’re overusing a coping skill to the point of it becoming an addiction but also when there are no coping skills available to work with a situation. Maybe the skills that are available are totally insufficient or inappropriate to the situation, and as a result, it’s the approach to coping that is the problem.

Removing Darkness

It’s structurally impossible to find darkness and remove it. You can’t remove darkness. You can’t undo the bad, the dysfunctional, and the painful directly. All you can do to remove darkness is to add light. Instead of focusing on eliminating the negative, we have to focus on how we can add the positive.

Aperture Power

Satir used the idea that a seed has tremendous latent energy. After all, how could a seed become a plant without latent energy? I prefer David Bohm’s thinking. He said that seeds are the apertures through which the plant emerges. (See On Dialogue.) Whether you choose to see latent power in the family system or you see the family system as the aperture through which healthy humans emerge, her work is powerful. (See The New Peoplemaking for more on how we’re supposed to help complete, healthy, well-adjusted people emerge from childhood at every age.)

If you’re interested in untangling a family system that’s a mess or a team at work that just doesn’t seem to work, perhaps you should read The Satir Model.

Book Review-The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems

I was talking about the change models library. My friend mentioned The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems as an analog to what I was doing. It’s definitely true that there are similarities, but there are differences as well.

The Methods

The book is built around 61 methods of creating change. Some of these methods I’ve seen fully exposed – like Appreciative Inquiry and Real Time Strategic Change. For the others, semi-structured chapters provided a brief summary that would allow me to evaluate whether the technique was an appropriate tool for the changes that I’m supporting. The structured parts gave applications and limitations and did a good job of providing a reference for comparison even if they couldn’t really be placed in a single table for comparison. (The book tries to do this.)

The largest challenge I have with the methods is that, while some appear to be well documented – like open space technologies – others seem like an approach that consulting companies have developed for their own proprietary use. That means that you’ll have to filter the list to those which are well documented or open source.

In Common

What is common about all the methods is that they’re designed to facilitate or elicit. They’re not execution models. That means that they’re all fundamentally weighted towards the front end of the process of change. There aren’t operating or reinforcing models. Though I’m sure the authors would argue that the improving methods are targeted towards improvement of the process, that doesn’t create an operating model.

To be clear, it’s not that selecting a method from the methods covered won’t help after you’ve kicked off the project. They will help you refine and align. They just fall short of an operating model.

The List

The list of approaches covered are as follows:

  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Collaborative Loops
  • Dialogue and Deliberation
  • Integrated Clarity (See Nonviolent Communication for a basis.)
  • Open Space Technology
  • Technology of Participation
  • Whole Scale Change
  • The World Café
  • Ancient Wisdom Council
  • Appreciative Inquiry Summit
  • Conference Model
  • Consensus
  • Conversation Café
  • Dynamic Facilitation
  • The Genuine Contact Program
  • Human Systems Dynamics
  • Leadership Dojo
  • Open System Theory Evolutions
  • OpenSpace – Online
  • Organization Workshop
  • PeerSpirit Circling
  • Power of Imagination Studio
  • Real Time Strategic Change
  • SimuReal
  • Study Circles
  • Think Like a Genius
  • Web Lab’s Small Group Dialogues
  • Dynamic Planning Charrettes
  • Future Search
  • Scenario Thinking
  • Search Conference
  • Community Summits
  • Large Group Scenario Planning
  • SOAR
  • Strategic Forum
  • Strategic Visioning
  • 21st Century Town Meeting
  • Community Weaving
  • Participative Design Workshop
  • Collaborative Work System Design
  • Whole-Systems Approach
  • Rapid Results
  • Six Sigma
  • Action Learning
  • Action Review Cycle/AAR
  • Balanced Scorecard
  • Civic Engagement
  • The Cycle of Resolution
  • Employee Engagement
  • Gemeinsinn-Werkstatt (Community Spirit)
  • Idealized Design
  • The Practice of Empowerment
  • Values Into Action
  • WorkOut
  • Online Environments
  • Playback Theatre
  • Visual Recording & Graphic Facilitation
  • Drum Café
  • JazzLab
  • Learning Maps
  • Visual Explorer

Primordial Soup

The best way to describe the impression that The Change Handbook leaves me with is that of a primordial soup. The building blocks are all there. They just need to connect and organize. The methods all have value individually and when used together; however, it feels sort as if the organizing order hasn’t been discovered yet.

When, in 1869, Russian chemistry professor Dmitri Mendeleev published his periodic table, the chemistry world finally had the basic framework for what would become the periodic table of the elements. There was an order to the disorder that we found with the elements. (Mendeleev built on the work of several others, and other variants were published at the same time as Mendeleev’s that were substantially similar, so it’s not like one person created the table in a vacuum.)

I think about The Change Handbook in the same way. I’m looking forward to achieving a better framework on which each of these models can hang. Maybe if you read The Change Handbook, you can discover it.

Book Review-Focused, Fast, and Flexible: Creating Agility Advantage in a VUCA World

Finding a way to navigate our ever-changing world is challenging to say the least. We live in unprecedented times of change. We’re facing more competition from across the globe and individual entrepreneurs who are leveraging the latest cloud and artificial intelligence options to compete with organizations of every size. To compete in today’s world, we need something like Focused, Fast, and Flexible: Creating Agility Advantage in a VUCA World.

The Argument for Change

Very few people will argue against an increasing rate of change. Even if we look at it from a content production perspective, we had to scribe everything until Gutenberg’s printing press in 1450. We started building more replicable content with the invention of the typewriter in 1870. By the 1960s, we kicked off a series of innovations decade by decade that transformed the way we communicate: the copier, the computer, the personal computer, the networking of computers, the internet, digital photography, and digital video. High speed internet access has allowed us to be educated at a distance and communicate in ways that could have not been conceived of in our grandparents’ lifetimes.

Every indication is that change is increasing in its intensity, and it’s become relentless, driving everyone to continuous change whether they like it or not. That’s why we need to develop strategies to increase our agility individually and as organizations.

Focused

It starts with finding focus. We’re distracted by thousands of advertisements every day. We are drawn to the thoughts that marketers want us to have instead of the relatively self-directed thinking of the past. (See The Hidden Persuaders for more.) For us to be effective in this world of change, we must figure out what is important – and what can be ignored.

When we’re not able to focus – or articulate our focus – people flounder or stop. They freeze because they lack the confidence to move forward. This is how creating a sense of focus allows us to move forward. If you consider that as much as 40 percent of employee work is discretionary, it’s no wonder that we need to ensure they’re focused on the right things.

OODA LOOP

Iterative cycles are an important part of learning and adapting (see Systems Thinking). The cycles that Focused, Fast, and Flexible recommends are OODA and LOOP. Both originate with Colonel John Boyd, a former Air Force pilot. “OODA” stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. “LOOP” is Locating, Orienting, Operating, Perpetuating. OODA is similar to the model that Deming recommended – Plan, Do, Study, Act (sometimes known as Plan, Do, Check, Act). LOOP is a more traditional change approach with the need to become open to the change, perform the change, and reinforce the change.

Together, these two models drive continuous improvement and anchor improvements in the organization.

Harmony

Personally and organizationally, happiness is, as Gandhi says, “when you think, what you say, and what you do are all in harmony.” This requires focus in a way that’s consistent over time and clear to everyone involved. The great trick in leadership is balancing the need for direction, focus, vision, and structure with the ability to create an environment that allows individuals to bring their own creativity to the environment.

Reading Focused, Fast, and Flexible may not lead you to your own sense of harmony, but it might just be a good start.

Book Review-Cynefin: Weaving Sense-Making into the Fabric of Our World

It was years ago in the subterranean conference center of a hotel in Washington, DC when I met Dave Snowden. He had a keynote speaking slot as well as a workshop. I had some breakout session that I had managed to get. I was speaking with a friend when I used the word “curmudgeon” to refer to my office manager, and I could visibly see Dave’s ears perk up at the next table. I convinced him to have a conversation with me the next day and via Skype some months later.

When I met Dave, he told me he had no intention of writing a book. That’s why when I saw the book Cynefin: Weaving Sense-Making into the Fabric of Our World, I was confused. As it turns out, Dave’s friends had finally persuaded him to write a book – or at least a few chapters, with them filling in the rest. The book is as interesting as the framework and Dave himself.

The Curmudgeon

Among those who know him, Dave has the reputation of being a curmudgeon – a label that he embraces. Thus why his ears perked up when I used the word. Rarely does the word come up in everyday conversation, so it must have been like I was calling his name.

I got a chance to watch Dave in action for a few minutes in his workshop. He was practicing ritualized dissent. It’s one of many tools that he teaches to help people make sense of their world. It was the first time that I had seen the technique that I would summarily describe as being the devil’s advocate.

Knowledge Management

“While KM [Knowledge Management] is more or less dead strategically (although the practices remain)” is an odd statement for a man that helped to create it – but it’s a statement that I can understand him making. The conference that we met at was a KM World conference, and each year I’d leave it thinking about how lifeless it felt. There are some truly interesting and amazing people that go, and there’s the steady influx of new knowledge managers who are looking to learn the craft. In the mix, it’s easy to become frustrated and disillusioned.

Where knowledge management was once seen as a strategic objective, it’s now buried in other strategic initiatives. Whether the initiative is agile or innovation or resilience, knowledge management no longer gets top-line attention from the executive suite of major organizations. It’s now an enabling skillset that drives other strategic initiatives.

That doesn’t make the skills any less important, it only makes them more expected. The last time that knowledge management made Bain and Company’s top 25 tools was 2011. Its removal from the list in 2013 prompted, in part, my work in Ark’s book, Unlocking Value: Knowledge Management as a Strategic Management Tool. All the authors wanted to convey the value that knowledge management still had as a strategic tool.

Conflict and Paradox

Proverbs 27:17 reads, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” It’s ancient wisdom that is often forgotten in a world focused on harmony and keeping everyone happy. We’ve decided that conflict itself is the enemy. Instead of finding places where conflict sharpens our thinking, we’ve become threatened when there are disagreements.

We’ve even found ways to root out our own internal conflicts, the paradoxes that we hold inside our minds but can’t seem to solve have been swept to the back by our business and our beliefs that there must be an answer. However, we can’t let go of the paradoxes. We must embrace the land between the ideas. (See Fractal Along the Edges for more on these in-between spaces.

Chronos and Kairos

We cannot escape time. It flows past us moment by moment. This kind of time is chronos. It is metered and measured. However, there’s another kind of time – kairos – or the right time. It’s timing, and it’s accepting the timing that comes automatically. It’s rhythmic and right. It’s not forced but embodied in the idea that we’re living in the moment.

When dealing with complex adaptive systems – complex items – our best hope is that we can find the opportune time when the system is willing and able to change if we give it a little nudge – and if we’re brave enough to provide that nudge. Sometimes, systems can respond like falling dominos that are suddenly headed off in the right direction.

Data First, or Framework First

Snowden believes that you should teach by first providing some data then providing the framework later. It’s true that we grasp the abstract (framework) by means of the concrete (experiences or data). At the same time, it’s equally true that without a framework to hang the data on, we may ignore it or process it in incorrect ways.

This is a place where the answer seems to be not one or the other but iterative. Some advocate providing frameworks first then providing the data to support it. Others, like Snowden, are focused on data, then frameworks.

This false dichotomy fails to recognize the iterative nature of learning, and that you need to place a toe in the water of data to see the framework and a toe in the water of framework to better process and therefore remember and leverage data.

So, while I appreciate Snowden’s thinking on delivering data first, it’s important to think of this as an iterative process rather than a single direction, one-time flow.

Finding the Inherent Simplicity

Cynefin is designed to illuminate how systems are working and the kinds of responses and inquiries into the systems that are operating that may be fruitful. No matter where we are in the cynefin map, we must remain focused on finding the inherent simplicity of the situation. We cannot force simplicity upon the system – lest we run afoul of The Black Swan. Instead, we must seek to find the simplicity that exists under the currents of the outward manifestations of the system.

It’s not that finding this simplicity is easy or that the novice would even say it’s simple. (See Seeing What Others Don’t for more.) However, it is possible.

Cynefin is, like its caretaker/creator, a concept of wholeness and connectedness. If you’re looking to integrate your thinking about different kinds of changes and decisions, maybe reading Cynefin is the next right answer.