Book Review-Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations: Aligning Culture and Strategy

Daniel Denison and his colleagues, Robert Hooijberg, Nancy Lane, and Colleen Lief, are focused on how to change the culture of global organizations. Far from the approaches that work for individuals and aware of Peter Drucker’s statement that culture eats strategy for lunch, they are Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations: Aligning Culture and Strategy. (Drucker’s comment is sometimes quoted as culture eats strategy for breakfast, but there doesn’t seem to be a definitive source for this quotation.)

On the Shoulders of Schein

The book starts with a reminder of Edgar Schein’s work through “Either you manage the culture, or it manages you,” and “The importance of distinguishing underlying assumptions from values and behaviors, or superficial artifacts.” In short, there’s something happening below the surface of your activities, and you ignore them at your peril. Change the Culture, Change the Game shares a similar model focused on how to change the experiences that people have to shift their beliefs, so that you can get the right actions and the right results.

They continue to quote Schein in saying that effective cultures always need to solve two problems at the same time: external adaptation and internal integration. That is to say that culture must adapt to changing conditions outside the organization as well as the aspects of the organization which naturally change.

Organizational Chemistry

Back in 2015, I wrote a post about organizational chemistry, in which I explained that the components of culture are the people of the organization and the environment. While this may an oversimplification, the core understanding that culture is a changeable thing is critical to being able to accomplish the goal of moving change from the relatively infrequent periods to the current state where change comes continuously. If you can’t change the culture, you’ll constantly be fighting a losing battle as you seek to introduce change at a rate faster than the organization can accept. It’s what Darryl Conner calls Future Shock in Leading at the Edge of Chaos.

In addition to the challenges of articulating culture, there’s a deeper problem of learning how to create it.

The Toyota Production System (TPS), Lean Manufacturing, and the Transformation

In Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management, the architect of the Toyota Production System and lean manufacturing explains the key points to the system. He makes no attempt to hide or obscure concepts. Still, the gap between knowing how the system works and transforming your organization to it remains large. The truth is that the system that evolved into lean manufacturing challenges the kind of deeply held and largely unconscious assumptions that Edgar Schein warned us of.

Even if you know exactly how you need the system to operate, the way you can change the system to match that new configuration may remain a mystery. While concepts like only producing what you need, receiving parts just in time, and supporting frontline workers stopping the line, there are decades of experience built up that these things aren’t safe or right.

Don’t Burn Down the House

Darryl Conner, in Managing at the Speed of Change, relates a story of an oil rig explosion and a literal burning platform from which a man jumped and survived. Since then, people have stated that you need to have a burning platform to get the change started. Kotter’s first step is to create a sense of urgency. However, there’s a challenge to be overcome where you must create a sense of urgency but in a way that doesn’t create too much stress so that people can’t think or shut down. (See Drive and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more on the impacts of stress.)

The goal is to provide a motivating path forward, something that draws people in rather than leaving them little choice except to jump. Of course, there are times that require a leap from the organization, but using that as a primary strategy tends to burn up your credibility and burn people out.

The Quick Turn and the Slow Burn

The first decision to make when changing a culture is whether the cultural change will be a quick turnaround or whether it will be a transformation – a slow burn. Both approaches have their challenges and consequences and rarely is it clear which solution is best. Should you gradually pull off the Band-Aid, or should you do it quickly and get it over with? The answer depends upon the situation and whether the Band-Aid is a literal or a figurative one.

Some situations are conveniently illustrative. When you hire a turn-around CEO when the organization is hemorrhaging cash, the choice is clear. Similarly, an institution with a long history of trust and prestige or a government organization will necessarily require a longer-term approach. Ultimately, leaders must pick an approach and accept the consequences of the choice they pick.

12 Things

Ultimately Denison’s approach is based on his Denison Organizational Culture Survey. It has four main areas (quadrants), each of which has three sub-components:

  • Mission
    • Strategic Direction and Intent
    • Goals and Objectives
    • Vision
  • Adaptability
    • Creating Change
    • Customer Focus
    • Organizational Learning
  • Involvement
    • Empowerment
    • Team Orientation
    • Capability Development
  • Consistency
    • Core Values
    • Agreement
    • Coordination and Integration

These are the key ingredients of Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations.

Book Review-Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward

Change books generally fall into two broad categories. The first category of books is targeted at the super-large organization and describes structures for change that involve hundreds or thousands of people. The second category of change books are focused on how to accomplish the individual changes necessary. The first category generally acknowledges that all change is individual change. That any organization doesn’t change unless its people change. That source of awareness seems to come back to Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. Based on the work of James Prochaska, John Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente, the book shares how the most stubborn addictions can be broken by an awareness of where people are along a continuum of progress, from being completely resistant to change to the termination of bad behaviors.

Transtheoretical Model and Stages of Change

It was 1972 when Lester Luborsky first published his findings that all legitimate psychological therapies produce favorable and nearly equivalent outcomes. His work has been replicated repeatedly, as The Heart and Soul of Change elaborates on. However, at the same time, the rates of recovery for those who are addicted is abysmally low. As a result, Prochaska and his colleagues (graduate students and then collaborators) looked for explanations of the problems associated with both self-changers and those seeking therapy to identify what was successful and what was not.

Ultimately, their approach was a transtheoretical model – that is, it spanned multiple theories. It focused on six stages of change – and therefore is often simply called “stages of change.” The stages are:

  • Precontemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance
  • Termination

What they found is that, at different stages, different approaches were more appropriate than others. They surmised that the “up to 93% drop-out rate” for therapy programs was due to a mismatch of the approaches being used and the stage that the patient was in.

All Change is Self-Change

Mirroring Rogers’ observation of Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices, the trio discovered that, ultimately, it was a personal decision to make the change that mattered. This was true whether the person engaged a mental health professional or not – they ultimately had to make the change themselves.

It reminds me of an old joke. “How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?” The answer? “One, but the lightbulb really has to want to change.”

The fundamental awareness that any change including those surrounding addictions come from personal commitment drives the awareness that organizational changes are the results of individual changes.

Understanding Addiction

Very few people understand addiction. It’s a different kind of thinking and lack of control that can seem foreign even to those who are in its grips. If you’re trying to understand how addiction functions, I’d recommend The Globalization of Addiction and Chasing the Scream as solid references. You may also find Dreamland helpful for enhancing your understanding of the unique dynamics that power addiction and why addicts can be so difficult to change.

Mental Shields Up

When you have trouble getting through to someone whom you’d like to change, you may find yourself on the outside of their mental shields. Detecting an attack, their ego seeks to protect itself. Approaches like those relayed in Motivational Interviewing may help you break through; but, ultimately, if someone’s mental shields are up, they may be unable to accept input about their behaviors.

In addictive behaviors, there are generally consequences that can be pointed to that make it clear that there’s a problem – except the defenses our ego can muster are impressive. (See Change or Die for more.) After all, our reality is a thing that our brains construct, and it’s possible to construct our reality in a way that denies objective fact. (See Incognito for more.)

ABCs

All behaviors – good and bad – have antecedents (A), behaviors (B), and consequences (C). When you pay attention to the process, you can find the antecedents (triggers) and learn to limit them through environmental control (or shaping) or learn to respond to the triggers with different responses. (See Triggers for more about the potential antecedents and what to do about them.)

Despite the limitations of Charles Duhigg’s research and approaches, his The Power of Habit encourages you to shift things until the old habits are extinguished and the new habits start to take hold. Much of this is about changing the reaction to the trigger by creating better awareness.

If Only They Would Change

People stuck in the precontemplation stage aren’t interested in changing themselves. They’re interested in those around them changing. They want less conversation about their issue. They want less nagging. They want others to compensate for them. These approaches are the kindling for a fire of codependency. (For more on codependency, see Compelled to Control.) Because people who are in precontemplation can’t take responsibility for themselves, they ask others to take responsibility for them.

Self-Efficacy and Hopelessness

One of the things that holds people back in their change is the feeling that they’re powerless to overcome their addiction. They have tried in the past, and because they weren’t successful, they assume they’ll never be successful and therefore they don’t even want to consider it. It’s an amazing level of defensiveness for the fragile ego that anyone who has tried to convince someone with an addiction to change is familiar with.

It’s difficult to move people who believe they have little or no self-efficacy that they do. It’s difficult to help others shift from the belief that their circumstances are permanent and personal to temporary and global. This is hopelessness at its core, and it holds people prisoner. (See The Hope Circuit for more on the power of hopelessness.)

Willpower

Much of this hopelessness hangs on the idea that if someone had enough willpower, they’d somehow be able to successfully conquer the forces that keep them trapped in their current behaviors. The problem is this is a faulty understanding of willpower. Willpower is a renewable but exhaustible resource. As Willpower explains, we have to manage and conserve our use of our willpower so that we’re able to have enough reserves when we really need it. Too often, we treat willpower like it’s something that you have or don’t have instead of as a resource that’s constantly changing.

Influence and Nudge both cover the impact of small changes and how they affect behavior as well as how small changes that reduce the need for willpower can have huge results. Sometimes, eliminating the small temptations frees your resources up for larger problems.

Gang Undesirable

One of the strange things that researchers noticed was that undesirable behaviors tended to travel in packs. If you think of a bar, you instantly think alcohol. However, until a few years ago, you would have also associated a bar with thick, smoke-filled air. Nicotine and alcohol travel together, but they’re just the beginning. Have you noticed that most bar food is not good for you? It’s fried, fatty, and loaded with salt and calories.

The bad news is that the gang tries to stay together. Light your first cigarette, and you may want a drink. The good news is that, when you sequentially eliminate bad habits, the later habits are much easier to get rid of – not just because of practice but because the other habits aren’t there to pull you in.

Intervening and Interfering

One of the greatest powers in assisting recovery is the community around you. This community is the larger community – it’s easier to quit smoking when it’s socially unacceptable, the communities of friends you select, and your family. It’s easier to quit smoking when your partner doesn’t smoke. It’s easier to quit smoking when your parents don’t light up when you arrive.

In addition to the subtle cues, it’s important to get caring feedback about your health. However, in some families, any attempt to share your perspective with another family member isn’t seen as an intervention for their wellbeing or caring – it’s seen as interfering.

When you’re interfering, you’re treading into their personal space – a space that you should never enter. Somehow, if they want to kill themselves, it should be okay. While they might support intervening if your family member is holding a gun to their own head, they don’t support you saying something when they’re holding a cigarette up to their head.

The lesson is finding a healthy understanding of what it means to caringly share your concerns about a family members health without accepting the interfering label. Often this also needs a great deal of capacity for detachment. (See Resilient for more on detachment.)

Contemplation: Not Ready to Make the Leap

During the contemplation stage, it’s natural to want to push for action. It’s natural to desire action, because we equate action with progress. However, sometimes the people who are in the contemplation phase have decided they need to make the change, but they just don’t know when. They’re not able to plan for how to make the change because they’ve decided rationally on the change, but they’ve not emotionally accepted the losses that will come as a natural consequence of the changes.

If you’ve accepted the emotional consequences of learning how to change better, maybe it’s time to read Changing for Good.

Book Review-The Human Side of Change: A Practical Guide to Organization Redesign

In the late 1990s, there was a growing awareness of the importance of people in the organizational change process. Too many failed mergers and acquisitions had opened a small awareness of the need to consider how people may or may not follow the leadership wishes blindly. That’s where The Human Side of Change: A Practical Guide to Organization Redesign comes in: it’s Timothy Galpin’s effort to create better awareness and tools for managing the people side of the change process.

The Model

I stumbled across Galpin’s work through my exploration of change models. His model, which consists of nine wedges, is a process for improving the chances for a change project to be successful. It looks like this:

The steps he includes are familiar:

  1. Establish the need for change
  2. Develop and disseminate a vision of the change
  3. Diagnose/analyze the current situation
  4. Generate recommendations
  5. Detail recommendations
  6. Pilot test recommendations
  7. Prepare recommendations for rollout
  8. Rollout changes
  9. Measure, reinforce, and refine changes

These steps parallel most of the other models for change, including the need to create a sense of urgency (Kotter), to unfreeze (Lewin) and others. It’s familiar, because its circular or cyclical nature implies that the process is iterative or continuous – like Deming’s PDCA/PDSA.

The Reality of People

The key insights that Galpin offers are around how people really behave as compared to how we want them to behave. For instance, knowing that experts are often boxed in by their hidden assumptions about the way things work, so what they see is not what might be. Similarly, Galpin is clear that often the grapevine – the informal communications network – quickly takes control from the formal communications as for what is happening in the organization.

He’s also clear that people are not always transparent. There are things that they hide from others for reasons of fear, the desire to maintain power over others, or sheer apathy at sharing the information. The way that this plays out in an organization is a Johari Window.

Johari Window

I’ve spoken about the idea of the Johari Window in both The Black Swan and The Secret Lives of Adults. The short version is that it’s a two-by-two grid separated along the axis of us and others, with each having an unknown and a known option. The original work goes back to Joseph Luft and was used in the context of individuals and their self-awareness. Galpin extends this to the organization and helps us to see how organizations suffer from the same blind spots and facades that individuals do.

In short, organizations must be careful to learn as much as possible about themselves to minimize blind spots. With the exception of the brand image, care must be taken to not create too large of a facade that must be maintained. Communications – internally and externally – should be realistic and honest.

Communications

Galpin supports many of the kinds of communications recommendations that you’d expect, including the need to be more open than one might want to be at first, messages should be linked strategically, and they should be proactive rather than reactive. More interesting is the comment that communications should be realistic and honest.

Brené Brown speaks about how people minimize the grit that was necessary for them to reach where they are. She calls it “gold plating grit” in Rising Strong. It’s the tendency to minimize or deflect the challenges. Galpin’s call to be honest forces us as communicators to acknowledge the challenges – and ideally help the organization know how we’re going to conquer them. It’s too easy for us to deceive ourselves into believing our change project will be easy.

The Resistance

Galpin speaks about the resistance as: not knowing, not able, and not willing. These roughly equate to the phases of ADKAR to increase awareness, desire, knowledge, and ability. I resist Galpin’s framing of this because of the awareness of Bridges’ work on managing transitions, which focuses the awareness on resistance of loss instead of resistance of the change.

The top level of Galpin’s model – not willing – is rare and may represent folks who are in the precontemplation phase in the Stages of Change model. That being said, the resistance is still focused on loss – of the current status quo – towards something new.

Coaching

Galpin is an advocate of coaching, carefully explaining that coaching is positive, and criticism focuses mostly on the negative. He’s also a fan of being clear up front that everyone will be receiving coaching. In An Everyone Culture, Robert Kegan et al. share the strategies from three organizations and how powerful it can be to build a culture of accountability that believes everyone should be coached from every direction.

Maybe it’s time to get a bit of coaching towards The Human Side of Change.

Book Review-Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management: Special 100th Birthday Edition

Lots of people speak about the Toyota Production System or lean manufacturing, but few have taken the time to look at what the originator has to say about it. Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management: Special 100th Birthday Edition is his writing about the development of the system, including the thinking that led to its development.

In the manufacturing world, what Toyota did was unprecedented. They changed the way that automobile manufacturing worked so that a small company could compete with the much larger – and initially more efficient – auto manufacturers in the United States.

Talk to the Gemba (and Write it Down)

The Gemba are the people that do the work. The Gemba is the workplace itself. When one says talk to the Gemba, they’re saying go to the place of the greatest knowledge about what is actually happening and learn from them. Don’t make guesses. Don’t believe that you know better. Simply ask them and stop to listen to what they say. Then write down what they say, so you don’t forget, and you won’t have to ask them again.

This is very different than the way things used to work. It used to be that management would decide they knew what needed to happen better than the people who were actually doing the work – and frequently they were wrong. Being wrong only created frustration and animosity between the workers and management.

Only What You Need

Manufacturing is used to the idea that you can produce more if you keep producing the same thing continuously for long periods of time. The typical response to this was to run very long runs of things. You’d run well more than what you really needed, because it seemed to be efficient. The problem is that this created inventory of unfinished goods that would need to be held and managed. It’s called inventory carrying cost – and it can be a real problem for some organizations.

The mentality of optimizing the current operation – the current thing that’s being manufactured – whether or not it can be sold in a reasonable amount of time is problematic for the overall profitability of the organization. However, to be able to be more agile and produce different things in the right quantities requires addressing a keystone problem.

Quick Changeover

In most manufacturing scenarios, changing over a line from producing one thing to another thing takes time – a lot of time. While machines can be optimized to keep running whatever they’re making, the process of changing from one product to another is seen as wasted time. After all, there’s no production during the changeover. With changeovers running into the hours (or, in extreme cases, days), it’s easy to see why there is a reluctance to change to the next thing.

To enable the production of the right amount of parts at the right time, you’ve got to get good at changeovers – like minutes good. This change in the fundamental dynamics of the manufacturing process enabled the move to producing only what was needed when it was needed. Suddenly, the inventory carrying cost for what you didn’t need was much larger than the cost of making the changeover at the right time.

Just in Time

If you further reduce your need to store and move things, you can gain further efficiencies in the manufacturing process. What if all the parts that you needed to assemble something showed up minutes before you needed them instead of months? You’d have fewer materials to warehouse, and you’d spend less time moving them around to keep out of the way of your current operation. The net effect is better efficiency, but it requires another keystone change.

Getting internal and external providers aligned so that they provide just the right amount of parts at the right time is an artful dance. It’s a dance that, when done well, reaps great rewards. Instead of planning monthly receipts of parts, you expect daily, and as a result you need roughly 1/30th the storage.

This paved the way to another innovation: vendor managed inventory. In this scenario, vendors are engaged to restock warehouses and stores of their customers. They bill the customers for the new products they provide, and the customer is freed from the concern of managing enough stock. It requires a level of communication and trust, but the result is fewer supply chain oscillations and better overall efficiency.

Work and Activity

The key learning that is at the heart of lean manufacturing is removing activities and aspects that don’t add value to the consumer. Even the most diligent worker who is focused on the wrong thing adds no value to the end product. Ohno was clear that people routinely confuse working with producing valuable work.

He was confronted with the fact that United States workers were nine times more productive than their Japanese counterparts. The reasons for this were many, but none of them were because the Americans were working harder. It was about how the labor was being used and how focused the labor was on productive items.

Automation with Human Element Added

I spent my high school years in Michigan, and I can remember touring the GM plant in Saginaw, MI as a part of some school field trip. One of the things that was the most confusing at the time was when our tour guide pointed over to a man sitting at a table reading a newspaper and said, “That’s the most productive guy in the plant.” It didn’t make sense to me that the guy doing no work was the most productive guy. Maybe he was on a break. The guide explained that he was reading a newspaper, because all the machines that he was supervising were running efficiently. If a machine stopped, he’d jump up and fix it.

It seems somewhat wasteful to have an employee reading a newspaper. However, when you look at it from the point of view that the machines are doing the work – they’re automated – and there is a human element added to fix problems, it starts to make more sense.

The innovation, which came from the fabric-making business, was to create machines that stopped when there was a problem so that someone could fix them rather than creating defective product. Defective product necessarily costs the organization money and therefore efficiency. Creating systems that have humans fixing problems is an ingenious way to improve efficiency – but not as much as separating human time from cycle time.

Human vs. Cycle Time

Nine women cannot have one baby in a month. It’s a fundamental problem of throughput and bandwidth: nine women can have nine babies in nine months, but one baby in one month isn’t possible, because gestation takes nine months. A similar misconception occurs around the amount of time that it takes for a part cycle to complete and how much of that time must be tended to by a human. Consider a process that takes 10 minutes. Of that, one minute is setup, and one minute is removing the part from the machine. In this scenario, only 2 minutes require human intervention, even though the cycle time of parts is 10 minutes.

To maximize efficiency, you’d put one person between five machines, cycling through them sequentially setting up and removing parts. You might only get 90% efficiency from each machine, because the machine is waiting for the human – but, conversely, the overall output of the human will increase almost five-fold. Over time, this matters, because humans and raw materials are invariably the most expensive parts of the manufacturing process. While machines are capital intensive and seem like large costs at the beginning, over time, their relative cost is minor.

Quality Built into the Process

As I mentioned earlier, defective products necessarily reduce profitability and therefore efficiency. Reducing defects is a goal of most manufacturing environments. However, there’s a secondary goal of discovering defects sooner. The closer that you discover a defect to its creation, the less cost that the defect has to the organization. If a hole is misaligned, it’s easy enough to scrap the part and melt it down or whatever. If the part goes through ten more operations before needing the be scrapped, its cost is much larger – perhaps ten times as large.

Rather than having a separate quality department that checks items after they’re done, everyone in the plant becomes focused on making sure the products are right. This shift, while simple to state, is difficult to get everyone to embody. However, it means fewer defects – due to the attention – and less costly defects, as they are discovered and resolved sooner.

Fat vs. Muscle

One of the most common ways that I’ve personally observed lean manufacturing (and other variants of lean) being misused is to cut the muscle instead of the fat. Because of market or internal pressures, the organization too aggressively pursues the removal of cost from a process and the result is that instead of removing fat, you begin to remove the very muscle that makes the system work.

Too often, I’ve seen transformation experts blunder into a process without a thorough understanding of the overall picture. As a result, they remove key activities that reduce costs throughout the process, because, on paper, the costs look large in the beginning.

Ohno was clear that accounting games and the ways that you view the process can distort the results and can take a system that’s capable of great benefit and create great harm.

Must Teach

In Ohno’s view, every supervisor must be able to teach. Here, he’s primarily referring to the capacity to teach the line workers how to do their job efficiently, but I believe there’s a greater obligation to teach managers what it’s really like to be on the line doing the production work.

There’s no optionality to Ohno’s view on this subject. In fact, he states that he never gets upset with line workers – only supervisors and managers. He’s upset, because they’re not teaching or supporting the front line workers appropriately.

Desirable Difficulty

One of the hardest things for me to learn in developing training systems is that the best way to ensure students will remember what they’re taught is to get the level of difficulty right. Too difficult, and the student will give up. Too easy, and they won’t retain their learning.

Ohno instinctively knew this as well, and he encouraged the right amount of difficulty by challenging line workers to test their knowledge of how things worked with Ohno through experimentation. He made it uncomfortable to disagree with him but acceptable to do so – as long as people were willing to back it up by developing proof.

Black Swans and Over Optimization

The positive impact of Taiichi Ohno and the Toyota Production System should not be overstated. However, it’s important to recognize Nicholas Taleb’s counterbalancing argument from The Black Swan. We must be careful to not over optimize a system so that there’s no resiliency. We should eliminate as much waste as possible while recognizing that some waste is necessary. One of the early criticisms of the TPS approach was the impact when parts didn’t arrive on time. If the parts were missing, it would stop the line, and that would be a big cost.

However, Ohno, in alignment of desirable difficulty, contended that this would encourage work to ensure that it never happened – or, when it happened, that it wouldn’t be repeated. Ohno expected black swans in a way that many of his followers missed. Still, he admits that there were difficult times for Toyota, and the approaches he used still needed refinement. That’s perhaps one of the best things about and a reason to study Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management.

Book Review-Lean Change Management: Innovative Practices for Managing Organizational Change

Agile software development becomes lean development and lean startups, and sometimes the folks who grew up in software development transition into organizational change. They bring with them ideas from software development and information technology in general to attempt to make organizational change easier. That’s what Lean Change Management: Innovative Practices for Managing Organizational Change is. It’s a guide to organizational change management from someone who grew up in software development and agile approaches.

Satir Change Model

Jason Little views change from the lens of the Virginia Satir model, which is the model he was introduced to organizational change with. The model consists of a status quo (called the late status quo) interrupted by a foreign element, which is met with resistance and chaos, until a transforming idea allows for integration and a new status quo. The model grew from Satir’s work with helping individuals change.

Little recounts his introduction as being elected as the person who resisted the change and was eventually persuaded to move to the new status quo by some crafty people who were trying to make the new status quo a reality – and who knew that Jason was a fan of Johanna Rothman, who was teaching next door and kindly came over to help Jason change.

Starting the Change

Little is clear that the change process doesn’t start on some magical date that you’ve plugged into your project management software. Your attempts to manage the change start when people begin to mumble about the change and wonder what it means to them. If change is about managing the human aspects of change, then the idea that it becomes relevant when people begin to worry makes a great deal of sense.

The Mojito Method

Little explains that his approach to change management is based on Jurgen Appelo’s Mojito Method. The short of this method is that you mix ideas from multiple industries and disciplines into something that is uniquely your own but is based on sound working practices. The approach is what many would recommend for creativity and innovation. (See Creative Confidence, The Innovator’s DNA, and Design Thinking for more on mixing ideas.)

In Little’s case, he leans on his software development background.

Lean Change Cycle

Little explains the approach to organizational change management as an extension of agile and lean principles. Things like iterate fast, create minimum viable products, and learn are at the core of the approach. He uses an iterative process like Deming’s PDCA/PDSA cycle. However, in his cycle, it starts with insights, which create options, which lead to experiments that lead to more insights. The experiments themselves can be broken into preparing, introducing, and reviewing.

The general idea is to start the process and keep iterating, and therefore learning, until you reach the success that you desire.

Culture Hacking

Little introduces another technique brought to the agile community by Stefan Haas. The culture hacking process consists of three components: the crack, the hack, and hacking zone. They are as follows:

  • The Crack – The dysfunction of the organization that feels uncomfortable.
  • The Hack – The action that you take to amplify the discomfort of the crack.
  • The Hacking Zone – The degree of danger that your hack exposes you to as follows:
    • Green – Safe. These hacks aren’t a threat to you or anyone else.
    • Blue – Risky. These hacks aren’t likely to get you in serious trouble but might.
    • Red – Dangerous. These hacks will most certainly upset people. The question is whether they’ll fire you, label you a rogue, or accept the change.

I’ve learned through my study of learning that sometimes there’s a degree of desirable difficulty and the necessity to make it intentionally difficult to the learner – but that the difficulty must be in a very narrow band. Culture hacking seeks to make the appropriate level of discomfort overt. (See The Adult Learner and Efficiency in Learning for more on how to make learning more effective.)

Embracing Uncertainty

At the heart of Little’s recommendations lies one of the fundamental perspectives of agile. While traditional software development and organizational change believed that you can script every move, agile believes that the kinds of problems being worked are inherently too complex to be resolved by one group doing all the planning. Agile works from the premise that everyone is a part of finding the solution, because allowing everyone to solve their own problems may lead to sub-optimal solutions for the individual instance but ultimately will result in better overall outcomes.

Said differently, agile assumes that uncertainty can’t be removed, and therefore it’s more important to adapt to the uncertainty than to try to plan around it. The Soviet system of Leninist Marxism didn’t work, because central planning wasn’t efficient enough to compete with the energy produced by capitalism.

If you’re uncertain about whether you’re ready for a change, maybe you can approach your uncertainty with Lean Change Management.

Book Review-Conversations of Change: A Guide to Implementing Workplace Change

The greatest irony in a book with a title like Conversations of Change: A Guide to Implementing Workplace Change is to realize that there are few – if any – conversations of change really going on. Tucked in the back of this book is a list of the people that Dr. Jen Frahm believes are notable. They’re the leaders who are helping to move change forward. When I followed the URLs in the book, I found about 1/3 of their websites were gone completely. About 1/3 of the people on the list hadn’t posted a blog post in the last year or more. The remaining 1/3 of the sites had at least a moderate level of activity. So much for the conversation. This rate of failure is much higher than I’d expect for a book published less than 4 years ago.

Context

One of the great things about the book is that it helps to set the context for a change conversation. Despite many of the missing people, the key players, including ACMP and CMI, are explained as well as other players in the change management and organizational change management space. This baseline understanding can help people orient in the change management space.

Included in the orientation is some information about models and how methodologies and models aren’t a replacement for wisdom and experience. However, another one of the aspects that Dr. Frahm covers is the players in the change management process, which bears some investigation.

The Roles

I’m a fan of helping people orient to a space through the development of role charts. I created a role chart for software development and for training development. Here’s Frahm’s list for change (with my definitions/summaries):

  • Change Leader – The leaders (executives and directors) willing to publicly support the change.
  • Change Sponsor – The person ultimately accountable for the change.
  • Change Agent – The person who moves the change forward, often without direct, formal authority.
  • Change Champion – A person who extends the reach of the change team to encourage users and others to change.
  • Change Consultant – An external party brought in to support the change.
  • Change Manager – A manager whose people are impacted by the change.
  • Change Communications Advisor – A person who supports communications related to the project.
  • Change Analyst – A person who is responsible for managing the intersection of the change with different audiences and smoothing over any rough edges.
  • Change Enablers – People from supporting teams that help to facilitate or block the change. Commonly, these people are found in HR, Communications, IT, and Accounting.
  • Subject Matter Experts – The people who know their work best; what Taiichi Ohno would call “Gemba.”
  • Super Users – Highly skilled users who push the edges of the change.

Fakes and Failure Rates

One of the most challenging aspects about change is it’s difficult to tell who understands change and who doesn’t. It’s easy to say that you understand change management. It’s harder to prove that you understand how to manage the nuances of numerous sub-disciplines to navigate to safe waters. Here, Frahm quickly talks about certifications before moving on to a pet peeve.

There’s an often-quoted failure rate of 70% for change projects. John Kotter (see Leading Change and The Heart of Change) and Darryl Conner (see Managing at the Speed of Change and Leading at the Edge of Chaos) both use this failure rate as a part of their conversation about change. Frahm argues that the original number of 70% doesn’t have a basis in research. My response is, “duh!” Sorry, I learned a long time ago that if a percentage ends in a zero, there is practically zero chance that it was a research-based number. Research numbers rarely come out so cleanly.

The problem, in my estimation, isn’t whether the original 70% failure rate is research-based but rather whether it’s a reasonable estimate. We learned from Superforecasting and How to Measure Anything that you don’t always have to chase apparent accuracy when you can validate the number is roughly right through other means.

Frahm herself introduces IFOTOB – delivered “In Full, On Time, and On Budget” – as a project management metric. It’s a hard standard for projects, particularly heuristic projects, which invariably change projects are. Heuristic projects have no one definitive path forward, and the solutions are almost never completely understood at their outset. A quick search of research seems to indicate that 70% of all large-scale projects fail to hit all three of these targets. In short, while the number isn’t research-based, it’s reasonable if you’re willing to use a strict standard. It’s generous if you’re going to add “On Value” – meaning the project returned the value it was supposed to return.

Agile

Frahm stumbles into a conversation about agile software development. Having a software development background, I have a different perspective of agile software development. First, agile software development reduces ceremony. That is, instead of formal anything, it replaces it with understanding and co-creation.

Second, agile is about understanding humans and how we work best. We’re solving real problems for real people, and that matters. Finally, software development, like change, is a heuristic problem. There’s no one right way to do things, and there is instead only a path to be found by taking one step, reassessing, and then taking the next step.

RAS and the Resistance

Frahm speaks about our reticular activating system (RAS). It’s the master filter of our brains, and it’s the part of us that controls the difference between sleeping and waking. The RAS can become focused, and the things that are more salient suddenly are raised to conscious more. When you’ve recently purchased a new car, you’ll see that car on the road everywhere, because your RAS is tuned into that particular make and model. (See Got Your Attention? and Change or Die for more on the RAS.)

Frahm is concerned that by looking for resistance, you’ll train your RAS to look for more resistance and it’s all you’ll see. Here, the psychology gets murky, but I believe the thinking is off a bit for two reasons. As Daniel Kahneman explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow, we have a negative bias. In short, we’re going to look for resistance naturally because it’s a threat to our change. Second, the RAS isn’t a one-trick-pony. The RAS can – and does – monitor for anything that is anticipated to be salient. It’s important to look for resistance (see Why People Don’t Resist Change) but also to look for bright spots to get both the good and the bad. (See Switch for more on bright spots.)

Practically Speaking

One of the best things about the book is that it generally takes a very practical perspective on change, from making a point that change projects with fancy sounding names end up getting very negative nicknames to recognizing that not everyone influences through charisma. (See Nick Morgan’s book Trust Me for more on charisma and authenticity.)

If you want to get a solid framing for change management without academic mumbo-jumbo, it may all start with Conversations of Change.

Book Review-99 Ways to Influence Change

Many people that write about change write as if you’ve already got the support of executive leadership and that it’s just a matter of learning how to execute. It’s as if the whole buy-in problem has been solved already. Heather Stagl doesn’t write from that perspective. She writes from the perspective of the change agent who is stuck in the middle. They’re in a situation that they know should or needs to change, but they’re responsible for building support for the idea. That’s what 99 Ways to Influence Change is. It’s a handbook for those stuck in the middle of change for how to be more effective when they’re trying to get change done.

One Page

Rather than list the 99 ways of influencing change that Stagl presents in the book, I’ll point you to a one-page summary she has on her website. It provides the outline for the ideas that are presented in the book, which she shares came from some of the other books that I’ve already read and reviewed, including Leading Change, Nudge, Predictably Irrational, Switch, Influencer, and Influence.

The list is a good short summary of many key points and makes a great “one-a-day” sort of motivational book for trying to drive your change project forward. I’ve picked a few points from her list that I’d like to amplify.

Modeling Behavior

One of the hardest things to do as a leader (and a parent) sometimes is to model the behavior you want to see in others. If you want to encourage emotional intelligence in others, you must display it yourself. Stagl explains that you show folks the “right way,” or the way you want to see them do the behavior, which demonstrates commitment and encourages others to conform to the behavior. She was implying but not directly referring to Solomon Asch’s work on compliance, which was followed up by Stanley Milgram. (See Unthink for more on Asch and Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) for more on Milgram.)

Temporary Assignment: Change Agent

In Stagl’s view, the position of change agent should be temporary. Folks who are champions, agents, and friends of change should rotate periodically, so they don’t get burned out – and so the organization doesn’t start to reject them like a virus. Being a change agent is hard work, and you don’t want folks to have to take on the role forever. (If you’re feeling like you’re becoming burned out, you’ll find resources at Extinguish Burnout to help.)

Care Before Knowledge

People don’t care how much you know before they know how much you care. This is the core truth at the heart of Radical Candor. It’s also something that you’ll learn as a leader. No matter how remarkable you are or how much you know, it won’t matter until people believe that you care about them – more than you care about what you know.

Competition and Cooperation

Some of the suggestions that Stagl shares come with warnings and caveats. Imploring folks to compete is one of those suggestions that receives a warning. I firmly believe that some folks are wired to compete, and they want that sense of competition in many aspects of their lives. I also believe that this is generally unhealthy when focused internally in an organization. Richard Hackman in Collaborative Intelligence explains how the forces of competition inside a group are disruptive to the success of the group. As a result, I believe that competition should be reserved for outside the organization and collaboration used exclusively inside the organization.

I recognize that this may be an unpopular view, with some indicating that salespeople and others who are prone to competitive personalities may need this to be motivated. Here, I point them to Edward Deci’s work in Why We Do What We Do and how fragile intrinsic motivation is in the face of external motivators – like competition.

Transparency and Trust

It’s framed in the context of transparency in an item titled trust. It’s about how to improve the trust, because trust is a universal lubricant that makes things easier and better. (See Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy, Revisited for more of my thoughts on this.) It’s important to realize that trust is sometimes – but not always – transparency. The more that you’re able to help everyone feel like you’re trustworthy in your actions, your capabilities, and your communication, the less friction you’ll see in your project.

Listening

Yogi Berra is said to have said, “You can learn a lot by listening.” The truth is that, though we all believe we’re good at communicating, we’re not all that good. (See Mindreading as a primer.) While our ability to understand what is going on inside others’ minds may have separated us from other animals, it’s not foolproof. (See The Righteous Mind for more.) The truth is that listening is about sense-making. This could be The Ethnographic Interview to try to understand another culture or Motivational Interviewing to try to deeply understand an addict’s point of view before gently moving them towards healthier behaviors.

100th Way

The title inspired me to wonder, “What would I add as the 100th way to influence change?” Certainly, there are other ideas and research-based perspectives for moving change forward, but I think the simplest answer might be to read 99 Ways to Influence Change.

Book Review-Change Better: Survive – and Thrive – During Change at Work and Throughout Life

A surprising amount has been written about change. It’s been written from an organizational context, a personal context, and a societal context. The underlying connection is that all change is personal change. To get our organizations and societies to change, we must change personally as well. This lies at the heart of Jeanenne LaMarsh’s book, Change Better: Survive – and Thrive – During Change at Work and Throughout Life.

Life is Change

The book was written in 2010 – a decade ago. However, the language could be appropriate today even without LaMarsh understanding the scope of her statements. “No matter who you are, the skill to deal with constant change needs to become a permanent part of your life.” The change velocity then was more than it had ever been in the history of human civilization, and it’s even faster now. Instead of measuring change in generations, we measure change in decades, years, months – and even minutes.

Each of us craves stability and certainty. It makes our prediction-engine brains comfortable to know that they can do their jobs. However, we never had certainty. There were changing weather patterns before we could predict the weather. There were floods and fires that would wipe out entire towns. Despite the knowledge that certainty is an illusion, we cling on to it.

To thrive today, we’ve got to let go of the quaint belief that we can know everything or plan for everything, and instead we must build a capacity within ourselves to accept – and even welcome – change. We need to learn how to surf the waves of change instead of being crushed by their relentless nature.

The Transition Delta

What William Bridges calls the neutral zone (see Managing Transitions), LaMarsh calls the delta zone. The Greek letter delta is used to signify change. It’s a place of confusion where every decision that might have previously been automatic must be reevaluated and considered in the context of the new world that we live in. Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow provided a model for cognition that includes two systems. Most of the time, he explains, we walk around using “System 1,” which is automatic. Switching into “System 2” requires more energy and therefore is a less desirable state. However, in conscious change, we must constantly reengage “System 2” and therefore consume more energy even if the energy is consumed through thinking rather than action.

Thinking Is Not Doing

While it’s true that thinking about something doesn’t make it so, it’s equally true that thinking can be work. In the United States, we have a bias against thinking being “real” work. We can look at the biology and neurology that indicate we’re consuming energy, but somehow, to the protestant work ethic, thinking doesn’t feel like getting anything done.

Of course, we can take Benjamin Franklin’s admonishment, “If you fail to plan, you are planning fail,” as an indication that we must do some planning work to be successful, but that doesn’t make it “feel” more like work. Athletes are taught to visualize their success to enhance their performance. We know that all but the motor neurons fire when someone is visualizing their performance – so they’re rehearsing it. Even patients with amputated arms are taught to visualize to allow them to help them cope with the loss of their limb. (See Descartes’ Error.)

We must fight our bias towards action and moderate our action with our capacity to plan. If we can’t do planning in conjunction with our action, we’re destined to fail.

All Change is Personal

Change Better is squarely focused on the personal level of change. Not that it’s about changing yourself personally but rather it’s about connecting what you need to change personally to help the organization’s change be successful. It’s filled with worksheets of questions that are designed to improve your ability to see the reasons for the need to change, the exact nature of what the change will look like for you personally, and the path to reach this new place.

These worksheets are available from the LaMarsh web site at https://insights.lamarsh.com/personal-change-management-workbook. I’d encourage you to check them out to learn how to Change Better.

Book Review-Change the Culture, Change the Game: The Breakthrough Strategy for Energizing Your Organization and Creating Accountability for Results

Most books on change conveniently dodge the challenge of culture. After all, changing an organizational culture is difficult. It’s easier to deliver a tactical project than it is to change the way that people think. However, Roger Connors and Tom Smith rightfully think that until you change the beliefs embedded into the culture, you’ll never achieve the breakthrough results you really want. In Change the Culture, Change the Game: The Breakthrough Strategy for Energizing Your Organization and Creating Accountability for Results, they lay out a process for getting different results based on the foundation of accountability and beliefs.

Working Backwards: Results, Actions, Beliefs, Experiences

In the end, everyone is pursuing a change, because they want a different set of results than what they’re getting today – or they predict they’ll get in the future. The point of the exercise is the tip of Connors and Smith’s pyramid. However, to get to different results, you need different actions. It’s the actions that lead to the results – but what leads to the actions?

Our beliefs lead to our actions. Certainly, there are mitigating factors like skills and motivations, but fundamentally, we will act out our beliefs if we’re not influenced by anything else. Similarly, if our beliefs aren’t right, then they’ll pull our actions back. We can “fake it” with our actions for a time, but ultimately, we’ll revert to our core beliefs. That leaves the question about how we develop our beliefs.

Our beliefs are based on our experiences. Our beliefs must make sense of our experiences. We’ll keep shifting our beliefs until we can make our experiences fit – or we’re able to ignore incongruent experiences. Actually, we’ll believe what we want – until we can’t. That is, we’ll believe what we want until the weight of the experiences we have can no longer be denied. (See How We Know What Isn’t So for more.)

Shortcut to the Top: Behaviors Only

In today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, we often look for the shortcut, the quick answer, and the easy results. That’s what happens when organizations decide to skip over experiences and beliefs and jump solely to actions while hoping to get results. While this strategy may work in the short term, over time, the pressure to perform actions in congruence with beliefs becomes stronger.

It’s like diets. They work for a while, but for the most part, they fail in the long term, because they’re working on the surface problem instead of the core beliefs. Reports are everywhere about people gaining more weight than they lose, with only a few who manage to keep weight off for more than 3 years. Eventually, the core beliefs that make up the person’s eating habits erode the logical control of their actions. (See The Happiness Hypothesis for a model for how our beliefs – or emotions – can override our conscious control.)

Building Beliefs

Most people are curious about how others hold beliefs that differ from theirs. The answer is simple. They have different beliefs because they have different experiences. They grew up in different cultures, neighborhoods, and families. These environments impart a set of experiences on people, and those experiences add up to the beliefs that they hold.

If you want to change the beliefs of the people in the organization, the path is paved with experiences that clearly indicate to everyone what the beliefs you want them to hold are. There are four levels to experiences:

  • Level 1 – These send a clear and unmistakable message about what beliefs you want people to hold.
  • Level 2 – These experiences need to be interpreted for people to understand their meaning and the beliefs that you want them to hold.
  • Level 3 – These experiences won’t influence beliefs no matter how much explaining that you do.
  • Level 4 – These experiences detract from the beliefs that you want people to hold, and as much as possible, they should be avoided.

Culture and Alignment are a Process

Creating a culture is hard enough, but it’s even harder to maintain that culture when the organization grows and changes. It’s hard to build the experience into the lore of the culture – a permanent and unmistakable message about what the organization believes. When Johnson and Johnson pulled all the Tylenol off the shelves of every store in the United States as the result of a few tampered packages in Chicago, they sent a clear and unmistakable message that the safety and health of their customers was more important than profits. This incident ended up becoming a part of corporate lore – and more broadly to the world around the organization in this case.

In most cases, it’s hard to find or create the kind of type 1 experiences that naturally embed themselves in the lore of the organization. However, it is often possible to convert type 1 and type 2 experiences into persistent stories that can help to maintain the culture of the organization – if they’re reinforced.

Maintaining a corporate culture requires continuous work on the alignment of the organization around focusing challenges and opportunities that are compatible with the corporate culture. This requires continuous work, as both the environment around the organization and the internal skills and challenges shift.

Neither culture nor alignment is a “one and done” type of project. Instead, it’s necessary to continue to work at them long after the process has started and reached a level of success.

Focused Feedback

Kim Scott in her book Radical Candor explains how feedback should be clear and complete. Cy Wakeman makes a similar point about being direct in No Ego. Connors and Smith agree that feedback should be candid, clear, and complete. More importantly, they share a concern that people tend to dismiss negative feedback.

Before dismissing feedback, they recommend asking four questions:

  1. Is it accurate?
  2. Is there a basis for this feedback?
  3. Is it relevant or irrelevant?
  4. Is it right or wrong?

Some feedback will be baseless. Some will have a foundation but won’t rise to the measure of being relevant. Overall, you’ll have to decide whether the feedback warrants your attention – but give it the benefit of the doubt when you can. At the very least, you can validate the feedback with others and see whether it’s something that you’ll need to address or not.

Two Pyramids

In the end, there’s a pyramid that begins with the current experiences, the current beliefs, the current actions, and current results. There’s another pyramid with the new results you want that are based on new actions, new beliefs, and new experiences. If you want to really change the culture of your organization, perhaps it starts with one behavior: reading Change the Culture, Change the Game.

Book Review-Leading at the Edge of Chaos: How to Create the Nimble Organization

My first highlight from this book is “Stability is no longer the prevalent condition of our age.” That’s a simple and profound truth as we must find ways to cope with the constant change we’re in while simultaneously leading our organizations and families. That’s what Leading at the Edge of Chaos: How to Create the Nimble Organization is all about. It’s about leading our organizations through change. In it, Darryl Connor (who also wrote Managing at the Speed of Change) puts forth the proposal that organizations today need nimbleness, resilience, human due diligence, and execution.

Change – For Better or Worse

In today’s world, we’re faced with change whether we like it or not. While there’s a long list of folks who say there’s a 70% failure rate with change efforts, there’s still relatively little attention paid to the biggest blocker of change: people. What is more concerning is that few people are minding the hen house as changes continue to fail and therefore represent unnecessary expense and turmoil for the organization. Even those changes that are “successful” fail to produce the intended value, therefore failing to return on their investment to the organization.

The return on change – like return on investment – is a factor of both the cost to implement the change and the benefits that are received. Not all the costs are hard dollar costs. Some of the costs are the mental energy that the process sucks up from employees, vendors, and customers. These costs are often substantial even for change projects that aren’t funded with much money.

Consider that there is transition and uncertainty in any change, which necessarily causes a reduction in production. This trough of productivity can encourage burnout (see Extinguish Burnout). It can deprive the organization of the sales and therefore cash it needs to survive.

The return on the change may similarly be non-monetary. Some changes will result in a more pleasant work environment, more future stability, or less operational friction. All these are great outcomes that don’t show up on the bottom line.

The Dynamics of Change

We perceive solid objects as, well, solid. The trick is that they’re still mostly empty space. It’s just that the atoms and molecules form a pattern that doesn’t adjust very easily. The atoms themselves are a dense center with spinning electrons circling them. This creates the illusion of space consumption and, in some cases, solids. Much of what we see as constant is really a set of overlapping and joining oscillations that are, for the moment, in one state; but in the next moment, they may change altogether.

Even in the coldest of our winter nights, we still are bustling with energy. We see water change from liquid to solid and believe that nothing is happening; yet, down to -273.15 degrees Celsius, there is still energy vibrating the atoms. We must learn to not only anticipate change but to accept that we’re standing on constant changes.

Predictability Lost

The great challenge to all this is that, as humans, we are prediction engines. (See Mindreading for more.) We try to predict the future to reduce the potential for future harm. We believe that our predictions allow us to control or shape the future. (See Compelled to Control for more on our need to control.) To acknowledge that what we think is real is just an illusion created in our brain is disconcerting for most of us. (See The Hidden Brain and Incognito for more.) It means that our ability to predict the future is very, very limited. Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner explore the limits of prediction in Superforecasting, but their predictions operate at the level of organizations – and the struggle of lost predictability is personal. It’s our ability to maintain our belief that we’re safe.

Change In and Across Systems

The changes that we find in organizations occur at a micro level within a person or a team but ripple across the entirety of the organization. Some of the changes that we try to accomplish reside inside a single individual. It’s a change to reduce destructive behaviors or enhance productive ones. However, those changes impact the dynamics of the others in the family. Often with people afflicted by addiction, their recovery disrupts the network of relationships they have, including friends and their families. Their former friends lose a drinking buddy. The family regains a parent or child but often to the disruption of the routines that were already established.

The changes we make may be focused locally but will ripple outward to other systems. Conversely, the changes that we desire to make across systems all come down the need for individuals to change their behavior.

Limits to Operation

Every system has limits to its operation. (For a primer on systems, see Thinking in Systems.) I remember my high school chemistry class. I loved it. I loved the idea that you could mix things together and get other things. I also vividly remember that reactions didn’t work outside of a PH range. If you wanted the reaction to occur, you had to be in the range – and if you wanted to prevent it, all you had to do was drive the solution out of the range. While the specifics are related to chemistry, the general case applies to every category of systems – human, organizational, societal, etc. They only work in a range. When the environment changes the system may or may not work.

Organizations, by their nature, develop a set of systems. Michael Gerber encourages the creation of systems in his classic book, The E-Myth. These systems will continue to work right up to the point where they fail. Nassim Taleb warns of spectacular failures in The Black Swan. In the end, change masters are ones who can see the systems that are going to break because of changes – before they completely break.

Pushing the Limits

The opposite end of the spectrum are those situations that push people and organizations to grow. Taleb’s follow on book to The Black Swan, Antifragile, explains how systems can be designed to push the limits and grow from the process. It’s not that pushing people to the edge of – and occasionally beyond – their comfort is easy or for the faint of heart. However, ultimately, it’s this process of constantly extending capabilities that allows individuals and organizations to become more resilient and survive over the long term.

In The Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler explains how the seemingly superhuman feats of athletes are simply the progression of their abilities over time. If you work at the limit of your capability and grow consistently, you’re bound to end up doing things that most people don’t believe are possible if you are simply given enough time.

Success

Success – in the market and in life – is then simply a matter of guesswork, pushing the limits, and waiting for the long odds to eventually come in. You can’t expect that you’re going to hit a home run. They’ll happen occasionally, but they’re difficult to do consistently. Instead of hitting home runs, working to consistently get on base ultimately gets you the most runs. It’s about working towards your goals in the long term and accepting that everything you do today is a guess as to what will lead you to those goals in an increasingly uncertain world.

So, on the one hand, you can’t predict the future, and on the other hand, you must work towards the future even if you don’t know exactly what it will be.

Large and Tiny

There’s a tricky bit to solving the problems that come from the environment. We tend to believe that the scope of the solution must be commensurate with the size of the problem. However, that’s not the case. As Dan and Chip Heath point out in Switch, the size of the problem and the size of the solution need not be related. It’s possible to solve very expensive problems with simple solutions.

Often, the simple solutions are better, because they don’t require the kind of build up and support that complex solutions do. Consider for a moment the need to turn over a can. It’s simple to build a machine that grabs the can and flips it over. It could even move it from one place to another. However, if you want to flip every can at scale, you can simply induce a half-turn spiral into the process. It will rotate the orientation of the cans 180 degrees both reliably and quickly. The problem of flipping over all the cans can be solved in a complex way or in a simple elegant way. Often in change we skip over the simple and elegant on our way to the complex and difficult.

Leaders: Live Your Own Life

Sometimes, the problem with change isn’t a change problem at all. It’s a problem where a leader feels like they didn’t get to do something, and as a result, they’re reliving the experience through their organization. In my review of The Available Parent, I shared the story of a man whose daughter had to play soccer, because he missed out on a soccer scholarship. These kinds of misses occur at work too. A manager who didn’t get a chance to play with some new technology may chose to invest in new technologies when the right response is proven methods of success.

Nimbleness

It’s sometimes called agility, and it’s about adapting to change. When organization become too bureaucratic and rigid, they invariably become misaligned with the world. As a result, they soon wither and die. When change was infrequent, these eventual deaths were often looked upon with the reverence of an old friend who had retired. In today’s constant change and turmoil, these losses start to resemble people who left before their prime – or even before they could be fully known.

Being nimble is about increasing the organization’s capacity for change such that it’s possible to capitalize on more benefits for more change with less future shock and frustration.

Resilience

Of Conner’s concepts, this is the one which I have the greatest struggle with – not because I disagree that resilience is important, because I know it is. Nor is it because I don’t think that he relates good points. I struggle, because I believe his coverage misses the key aspects of resilience. Rick Hanson’s book, Resilient, does a much better job overall – which is to be expected, since he dedicated the book to that premise.

Where Conner is focused on seeing people as being more optimistic or having a realistic belief that they can succeed, I believe that learning self-efficacy and trusting those who care for us has more to do with resilience than focusing on opportunities. (See Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy, Revisited for more.)

Human Due Diligence

What Conner now calls “human due diligence,” he called “assimilation points” in Managing at the Speed of Change. The point that people can only cope with so much change is accurate – but providing it with a trademarked name seems a bit over the top to me.

Execution

While not much is said about execution other than the expected statements about grit and determination, execution is a key part of any change. (See Grit, The Four Disciplines of Execution, and Willpower if you’re interested in learning more about execution.) For your execution, perhaps it starts with reading Leading at the Edge of Chaos.