Book Review-Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds

How do you persuade someone else to change their mind? How do you get someone else to come around to your point of view? These are questions at the core of Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds. Howard Gardner is no stranger to the mind, having proposed the idea of multiple intelligences – escaping the bounds of the famed intelligence quotient and moving towards a more wholistic view of the kinds of skills that people can possess that aren’t reflected in such a narrow measure.


Humans aren’t good at self-monitoring their own thoughts. Over and over again, we find that self-reports are subject to extreme biases based on what we believe the person asking the question wants to hear. If you think that you’re being asked your income for a social club, you’ll overstate it. If you’re answering a tax collector, the number will be dramatically lower. If we’re so bad at simple things like how much money we make, we can’t be expected to report the experience of our inner lives in a completely faithful way. Daniel Kahneman explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow that our automatic, System 1 brain can lie to our rational brain, and we won’t even know it.

While many disciplines call for self-reflection, most are cautious to prevent you from getting too wrapped up in our inner thoughts, which can – and often do – lie to us.

Storm the Castle

An effective approach to changing someone’s mind is to come at them from multiple fronts. Instead of trying one story or approach, you bombard them with multiple stories to be processed and angles from which to view the desired change. The more approaches that you can try, the more likely it is that one of them will be useful.

While it’s possible to set up defenses around a single approach to a change, it’s hard to cover every angle. While it’s not always the best approach to consider a change of mind as a conflict, thinking about how they may set up defenses can be useful to consider how you may want to disarm them.

Thunderbolt Changes

Gardner explains that no matter how quickly the change may seem to occur, it almost always occurs over a much longer time. The willingness to change happens below our conscious awareness as we take in additional information. We become aware of our own change – and the change in others – in a thunderbolt. However, a better analogy may be the straw that broke the camel’s back rather than thinking any single intervention or conversation changed someone’s mind.

It’s nice to believe there’s a single watershed event that is solely the cause of a change, but the truth is often much more nuanced.


Fundamentally, humans are prediction machines. As a result, we need to make sense of our environment so that we can simulate situations mentally and ultimately come up with our predicted outcomes. Sense-making is neither optional nor accidental. Jonathan Haidt explains in The Righteous Mind that it’s our ability to communicate and predict the other person’s behavior that made it possible for man to thrive. The problem is that the way we make sense of our situation isn’t always right.

Consider the old wives’ tale about going out with your hair wet and catching a cold. It’s simple, observational, and wrong. We know now that colds are the result of a virus, but no amount of explaining or evidence can shake the hold that this simple observation has on us. Our ability to see correlations is a powerful gift but one that sometimes gets things wrong.

Being wrong is okay. The challenge is that, once we’ve made sense of something and formed a theory about its operation, it’s notoriously hard to change. Andrew Wakefield published a study indicating a correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism. He was later found to have a conflict of interest, the article was retracted, and he lost his medical license. However, these facts don’t interfere with the beliefs that some people have about the ill effects of vaccines. (They have an exceptionally low side effect rate.)

Our ability to prevent conflicting ideas of information once we’ve made up our mind is very impressive. We can ignore the facts that are right in front of our face.

Change Scaffolding

Learning and teaching isn’t easy. Efficiency in Learning is just one title that summarizes what we know about good and bad teaching styles. One good strategy to use is to match the degree of support surrounding the training to the degree of need of those being trained. There’s a place between too easy and too hard where we find a desirable level of difficulty that prompts people to learn and remember, rather than listen and forget.

Creating the right kind of scaffolding for a new change is a difficult challenge indeed. It’s necessary to create a degree of ease to engage students – and enough challenge that the person feels it’s appropriate to learn. When you hit this, magical learning that sticks with the student happens – but only if you ‘re able to get this right.

Lives and Stories

The media is filled with stories of people who live one life publicly and a different life privately, senators and congressmen who send pictures of their private parts to those other than their spouse and religious leaders who have fallen from grace. These people have fundamentally separated the stories they tell about themselves and the kinds of change they want to create from the lives they’re leading.

Someday, the disconnect catches up with them, and they lose credibility. When this happens, they may not lose their position, but people certainly lose respect for them and the stories they tell because they can no longer believe that their exalted leader can do no wrong.

If we want people to make a change, we need a compelling story about why we need them to make the change, and we need to live a life congruent with that change.

Easy and Complex

All things being equal, an easier approach will win over a complicated approach. Everett Rogers explained that complexity creates barriers to adoption in his book, Diffusion of Innovations. The more complex the innovation, the less likely people were to adopt it. As a result, we often find ourselves looking for simple solutions so that we don’t have to think about a problem any longer. The first thing we all want is to ditch those negative thoughts. It’s hard to fight this urge, and it’s even harder to fight that a simple model may not be the right answer. We want the simple answer to be right and will reject more complicated models unless there’s a clear and compelling reason to accept them.

Continuous Learning

The more that we can create a mindset of continuous growth (see Mindset) and learning (see Peak), the more likely it is that someone will change their mind. This makes sense. Those folks who have a growth mindset expect that they’ll have to change their mind to grow, and that involves learning. However, too many people find themselves in places in their organization without an opportunity to grow in their responsibilities – or at least so they believe.

Instilling a lifelong love for learning may not be possible for everyone in the organization, but where possible, the ingredients that support growth and learning should be made available to those who are willing.

Failure and Love

Ultimately, we must accept that we won’t change everyone’s mind and, despite our best intentions and efforts, there may be some people who are categorically unwilling to change. While we can’t expect to change everyone, we do know that love is capable of building bridges between the ways that people think – and the change of mind we want them to make. Ultimately, I think that you’ll love to read Changing Minds.

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.

Book Review-Organization Change: Theory and Practice

Many people have tried to understand and share their understanding about how organizations change. Some of these are scholarly enough to refer to studies and research to back up their claims. Rarely, however, do I find such well researched work that looks beyond the common quoting of historical research to find new meaning in old works – or to restore the original insights that have been washed away. Organization Change: Theory and Practice is a work that is rare among peers in that it is well researched.

The Hawthorne Effect

The research performed at the Hawthorne Works outside of Chicago is well cited as an indication that you get impact by researching folks. It might also be called the observer effect – people will do more when they know they’re being watched. Beyond the lighting experiment that is so often quoted there’s something else that was happening. It’s something that seemed lost in all the hoopla.

The Observer Effect

Plenty of folks have shared pithy quotes that are similar to Peter Drucker’s “You get what you measure.” This certainly seems true of the research at the Hawthorne Works. They turned the lights up, and they got better performance. They turned the lights down, and they got better performance. It doesn’t make sense that the result you get improves no matter which direction you move the independent variable. That is unless you recognize that the change wasn’t the lighting – the change was that they were being watched.

If you recognize that people knew they were being watched, you can attribute the performance to the fact that they were being watched. You can even extend that the focused energies on improving performance made a lasting change as they looked for ways to improve their performance that stuck after the lighting was changed.

Management and the Worker

What is often missed is that the studies of productivity and optimal working environments didn’t end with the lighting experiments – they began there. They set up numerous test rooms – isolated pockets where they could test other ideas. These ideas led to some of the earliest documentation that the relationship between management and the worker – and among the workers themselves – was critical to effective functioning. (See Management and the Worker for more.) The model that workers are cogs in a machine just didn’t work when they started testing ideas for how to make things more effective.

Who is Training Whom?

Taylorism wasn’t dead. Despite the fact that a major hole was punched in the way that people were supposed to behave versus how they actually behaved, Taylorism continued. One of the reasons may have been Taylor’s perspective that training the management is far harder than training the worker. In effect, Taylor saw that the workers were malleable enough to change where managers seemed to be resistant. This may have been due to their inflated egos (see Humilitas for more). It may also have been because they were on the leading edge of what Richard Florida would call The Rise of the Creative Class. In either case, the workers at Hawthorne Works found ways to adjust their behaviors to train the managers as much as the managers controlled them.

Complimentary to the Machine

The work at Hawthorne Works connects to the work of Toyota in Japan. They learned that they could make looms that notified the operator when a thread broke, thereby preventing poor output and signaling to the operator that their attention was needed. The Taylorism model finally died out as the Toyota Production System began to unwind the assumptions that were made in the Industrial Revolution about how to best manage things. (See Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management for more.)

The fundamental shift in thinking is that workers are not a part of the machine – but they’re complementary to it. The role the workers play is different than the machine, and the role the machines play are different than the worker. They’re complementary – not competitive.

Laws of Nature and Society

“The laws of nature are not the same as the laws of society; the latter can be broken, the former cannot.” In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt explains the difference between moral imperatives and social conventions. It’s a way to make sense of how the Jesuits navigated foreign worlds and how our perspectives have changed. (See Heroic Leadership for more on the Jesuits.)

Burke is drawing distinctions about the difference between a molecular reaction and the higher-forms like cells and, particularly, humans that make choices about how they interact – and how this may temper the wisdom of an organic model to change.

The challenge that I’d offer is that as much as we’d like to believe that if we put the right molecules together, they’ll eventually complete a chemical reaction, we ignore the fact that we’re dealing with the law of large numbers. (See The Organized Mind, The Black Swan, and The Theory of the Growth of the Firm for more.) There are some molecules that refuse to convert, but because most of them do and because we’re dealing with such large quantities, it appears as if they all do.

Similarly, cells behave in predictable, repeatable ways when you evaluate them in large quantities. As any scientist or statistician knows, the smaller the sample size, the greater the degree of error. (See How to Measure Anything for a pragmatic approach to managing the confidence factors.) When we’re working with humans, we’re generally dealing with much smaller quantities than when we’re thinking of molecules or cells.

Punctuated Equilibrium

Much is made of Darwin’s discovery of evolution, but little is made of the understanding that things are not so gradual as they appear to be. We forget that it’s all about random chance, and sometimes the conditions will just come up to create a rapid change. (See The Evolution of Cooperation for modeling of evolution.) It was Steven Jay Gould who focused our attention on the “punctuated equilibrium” concept, where things remain in a relatively steady state for a long time before something changes – and sometimes changes dramatically.

In our organizational change projects, the question becomes whether the weight of the need to change will overcome the forces that maintain the status quo. Are we in a period of change, or are we in a period of relative stability? Obviously, for the change manager or leader, the goal is to drive things to a moment of inflection – without pushing too far.

Good Science and Bad Action

Good science – the kind created by solid research – may not always be what we need. The constraints of being able to isolate variables too often makes the results of the research and the science it creates unusable in a real world. At Hawthorne Works, they did their very best to isolate all the variables only to be confounded with the truth that all humans are variables.

As we’ve endeavored to create good science around organizational change, we’ve found that our efforts continue to be thwarted because people get in the way. The results are more experiments, more research, and very little usable progress on the kinds of things that real businesses with struggle with every day. The simplistic models that assume predictable behavior from human beings is flawed.

Change as Cognitive Restructuring

Change starts when we think about things differently. Lewin knew that we had to change our mindsets first – to unfreeze. (See Lewin’s model.) Those who deal with persistent personal change know the first thing that must change is the way someone thinks about the problem. (See Change or Die for more.) All change is therefore either just cognitive restructuring or at the very least starts with reorganizing our thinking about the change.

If you “must” do something, then you can’t change it. If a 4-minute mile cannot be run by a human, then it will be nine years before someone has the capacity to do it. (See The Rise of Superman for more.) After the 4-minute mile was possible, it only took 2 months for someone else to do it. It was all about the way of thinking about the time.

Espoused Theory and Theory of Action

During the nine years when no one could break the 4-minute mile barrier, if you would have asked runners, they would have said they were trying to break the barrier, but some part of them was not. Some part of them was scared at the prospect of actually breaking the barrier – and falling over dead, as was thought would happen at the time. There was a gap between what people were saying they were going to do and what they were actually doing. Immunity to Change encourages us to look for places where our actions aren’t matching what we say we want to do. Burke highlights this situation as a problem in change.

You may get people to outwardly agree that the change is necessary, but somewhere inside, they’ve not fully committed, and that lack of commitment shows up in ways that can’t be predicted.

Finding Assumptions by Looking for Their Shadow

On a sunny day, I’m looking for a parking spot. There are large SUVs and tiny Mini Coopers interspersed, and I’m trying to figure out which spots might be empty and which might contain a smaller car. The solution is to look for the shadows. While I can’t see the car itself, I can often see the shadow it casts on the pavement. No shadow? No car. It’s a hack for finding the empty spot – and avoiding those false starts.

Similarly, when we’re looking for the gap in espoused theory and theory of action, we can look for those things that should never happen if the espoused theory is the theory in action. Where we see them, we know that there’s an internal conflict that’s not been fully resolved.

The Model

Burke and a colleague, Litwin, developed a change model that identifies a series of factors and their interrelatedness. The factors of the model are:

  • External Environment
  • Leadership
  • Mission and Strategy
  • Culture
  • Management Practices
  • Structure
  • Systems
  • Work Unit Climate
  • Skills/Job Match
  • Motivation
  • Individual Needs and Values
  • Performance

It’s explained that these factors interrelate, with each one exerting force on the others. For a full analysis, see my summary of the Burke-Litwin model. For now, maybe it’s time to pick up Organization Change and see for yourself how the various aspects of organizational change are related to one another.

Book Review-The Grief Recovery Handbook

I didn’t come to reading The Grief Recovery Handbook through a recent or traumatic loss. I came to it because I have stated that all change involves loss. One of the arguments I received referred to a post that in turn referred to The Grief Recovery Handbook. The irony is that, while the post argued against all change involving loss, The Grief Recovery Handbook ultimately validates the key point, which is that I didn’t come to reading The Grief Recovery Handbook through a recent or traumatic loss. I came to it because I had stated that all change involved loss. One of the arguments I received referred to a post that in turn referred to The Grief Recovery Handbook. The irony is that while the post argued against all change as involving loss, The Grief Recovery Handbook ultimately validates the key point which is that Kubler-Ross’ model from On Death and Dying does have applicability – even in its disagreement.

The Arguments Against Kubler-Ross’ Model

Kubler-Ross’ model has been criticized primarily for two things. First, it’s not evidence-based. There’s no research study underlying the model. The second is that people don’t go through all the stages sequentially. The first is easy to dispatch with the knowledge that there are almost no studies of emotion that have a research basis. We’ve been unable to find effective ways to study emotions like this. Thus, it’s apparent it has no research, and, ultimately, it’s about the capacity to learn from the model rather than treat it as gospel.

The second is harder to dispatch, because it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of Kubler-Ross’ work. She indicated that each emotion didn’t have a fixed time, and the emotions may occur over a long period of time, with periods akin to a relapse as people move back to “earlier” states. However, people have simplified the model to a strictly linear, step-by-step model.

So, while The Grief Recovery Handbook briefly mentions that they hate the model, it’s because the model is step-by-step. When you recognize and accept the richness of the model in its original form, it’s not fundamentally opposed to the suggestions in The Grief Recovery Handbook – it’s just a process model instead of the skills model that The Grief Recovery Handbook uses.

Grief Is the Reaction to Loss

“Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind.” Grief is therefore the emotion of loss. Loss is the intellectual realization of a reduction in value of any kind, and grief is its emotional twin. One of the other objections made against Kubler-Ross is that her work was targeted with people who were themselves diagnosed with a terminal illness. Others criticize that the model has been applied to those loved ones who surround those who are dying. Here, the position is clear that loss is loss, and grief is grief. The intensity of the emotion may vary, but it’s fundamentally the same emotion.

This is key to applying the Kubler-Ross model to change, as William Bridges did in his Transitions model. If all grief is the result of loss and there is a loss at the heart of change, then it’s appropriate to apply or at least consider the model for changes as well as other kinds of losses. Bridges makes the point that, at the very least, a change involves loss, even if that loss is just a nostalgic loss.

Head and Heart

I mentioned in my review of The HeartMath Solution that I’m not completely convinced of the embodiment aspects of that model, but I am in total agreement that the way we process emotions and the way we process rational thought are not the same. You cannot address grief by minimizing loss. Loss is a rational thought, and grief is an emotion. Similarly, you can’t change your rational thoughts about the degree of loss by addressing the emotion.

One of the common challenges that people face is the fact that others try to minimize the loss. The problem with this approach is that, in doing so, they’re making the grieving person feel like they’re not understood. Instead of validating the person’s feelings, they’re invalidating their reality. That alienates the grieving person and deprives them of their emotional support system.

Time Does Not Heal All Wounds

There’s a common saying that time heals all wounds. That saying is incorrect. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. All wounds can heal in time. It’s not time itself that heals, it’s the work that we do to address and work through the emotions that ultimately leads the wound to be healed. When we say to someone that time heals all wounds, we’re minimizing the hard work that must be done to heal ourselves. Brené Brown in Rising Strong calls it “gold plating grit.”

Instead of focusing on how to create time to help people who are grieving, we should be focusing on healthy ways of processing it.

Six Bad Messages About Grief

We’ve all been taught incorrect messages about grief. Our parents and grandparents have had to suffer through grief, and in this, they’ve sent us messages that don’t set us up for processing grief in a healthy way. Some of those messages are:

  • Don’t feel bad
  • Replace the loss
  • Grieve alone
  • Just give it time
  • Be strong for others
  • Keep busy

While these messages are well-intended, they pull us further away from our ability to process guilt and to be more connected with others in a way that helps us cope.

Nobody Knows How You Feel

Even with advances in neuroscience, the simple fact remains that nobody knows how you feel. Even in How Emotions are Made, there’s no claim that any two people have the same emotions. When someone says that they know how you feel, they’re wrong. They may have some idea of how you feel. They may be able to relate – but they don’t, in fact, know exactly how you feel.

Learning how to express how you feel is, as James Pennebaker explains in Opening Up, a part of the healing process. We need to be able to share how we feel. Attempts to stop us from that – by saying that they know exactly how we feel – prevents that and at the same time alienates us, because we know, at some level, they’re wrong.


Grief is something unfinished associated with the loss. Whether it’s being willing to let go of the old habits or it’s finding a way to express things that you couldn’t express while someone was alive, there’s unfinished business, and it needs to be addressed. In twelve-step programs, steps 8 and 9 are about making amends. These amends are about unfinished business. Clearly, it’s making amends towards others that we’ve harmed, but more than that, it’s closing the loop and allowing us the psychic release that comes with closure.

If a loved one has died, there is obviously no direct way to communicate with them about the unfinished business. However, finding a way to communicate your feelings can be valuable, whether through a written letter or through a person who plays the part of a proxy. The goal isn’t really communications directly as much as it is being able to close off the pain.

The question the book offers is “What do you which had been different, better, or more?” as a way of discovering what is unfinished in a relationship. I say it a bit more succinctly as it was asked of me at a Church of Scientology building: “What do you regret?” (See my review of Theory U for that story.)

Feeling Bad

One of the most difficult things for me to share with others is that no one can make you feel something. Feelings are your reactions to what has happened. They’re internally generated, and as such no one can make you feel something. However, all too often, we’re confronted with people saying that we made them feel something – happy, mad, or sad. There’s a saying, “People can’t drive you crazy if you don’t give them the keys.” It’s another way of explaining what Richard Lazarus explains in Emotion and Adaptation – that there’s a gap between the stimulus and our assessment of it.

We’ve learned – inappropriately – that when we feel bad, we can feel better with food. It’s a short jump between that and alcohol and drugs. We struggle with addiction in part because we struggle with ourselves and dealing with all forms of pain, including grief. (See Why and How 12-Step Groups Work.)

The authors don’t advocate for pain. Nor do I. However, I recognize that sometimes pain is necessary to get to the other side. Setting a broken bone may be painful, but without proper setting, it will never heal right. Sometimes, we must move into the pain so that we can discharge it and move on. In fact, one of the ideas about PTSD is that the situation was so traumatic that people cannot face the situation completely and make sense of it. (See The Body Keeps the Score for more.)

Don’t Ask for Forgiveness, Make an Apology

Sometimes we ask for, or beg for, forgiveness. In doing so, we are fundamentally misunderstanding how forgiveness works. We should not ask for someone to change the way they feel about something. Instead of asking for forgiveness, we should be apologizing instead. Consider the broken bone analogy from above. Which would you prefer the doctor say?

  • Forgive me for hurting you.
  • I’m sorry this is going to hurt.

When set out this way, you can see that the right answer is an apology (I’m sorry). I’m not sorry, however, that I read The Grief Recovery Handbook, and I don’t think you will be either.

Book Review-Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

All roads lead to Rome. Sometimes the books that I read are like that. There are so many other books that refer to another that it becomes imperative to read one simply because it’s referred to in so many other places. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life is that. It’s the mecca for folks who are trying to find ways to resolve disagreement peacefully. Marshall Rosenberg’s work on resolving conflict spanned decades and served many causes.

Stories and Conflict

The quote is “all stories lead to conflict.” It’s quite nearly the first highlight I have in the book, and it’s a point on which we’d disagree. It’s a statement by Deepak Chopra in the introduction but one that I feel exaggerates a point. Stories – the kinds of stories we tell ourselves – do inherently carry with them the capacity for conflict. However, I don’t know that every story that we could tell ourselves inherently leads to conflict.

The stories we tell ourselves are necessarily distorted versions of reality, and the gap between our story and reality creates a perception difference that can lead to conflict. However, it is possible to tell ourselves a story that we’re continuing on a journey and we are learning from others. Such a story wouldn’t generally create conflict. Conflict only remains conflict when we’re unwilling to learn others’ points of view and their values.

Behaviorism Redux

Behaviorism has largely fallen out of favor as a psychological approach, because we’ve discovered that there is much more to the human condition than just the behaviors we express outwardly. However, we don’t often take the contrary view to recognize that our behaviors are a result of our thinking. Rare is it that we focus on our approach to thinking to reach the goal of changing behaviors.

However, this is the kind of thing we need to do, as Change the Culture, Change the Game explains. Once you change the core values and beliefs – the way that people think – the results will follow. Rosenberg’s approach isn’t a set of simple techniques that can be applied to solve any problem. Instead of tricks, he taught principles and a way of thinking.

Four Components

The are four components of Nonviolent Communication:

  1. Observations
  2. Feelings
  3. Needs
  4. Requests

That is, we make observations that are informed by our feelings, which are driven by our needs, and these are most helpfully described as requests.

At its best, Nonviolent Communication is expressing honestly our observations, feelings, needs and requests and receiving empathetically the observations, feelings, needs and requests of others.

Not an Attack

In my review for Resilient, I shared the story of the two darts – and my love for a scene from The Matrix. Rosenberg expresses a similar sentiment when he explains how he learned to experience others’ words as gifts and not attacks. Instead of taking what might have been relatively direct affronts, he learned to listen to the other person’s pain and empathize with it.

One of the greatest gifts I’ve received is the training in how to do this feat. It requires a bit of work to get to reframing the stressors and the degree of harm. Richard Lazarus in Emotion and Adaptation explains that stressors – of any type – are assessed along with our capacity to mitigate, compensate, or avoid the result of the stressor. It’s only when the equation is unbalanced and there is perceived uncontained risk to us that we feel threatened or become angry.

Learning to view others’ perspectives as their own, with only some relationship to truth or us, can be a powerful tool to creating a kind of detachment that can save us a great deal of pain. (See The HeartMath Solution for more on detachment.)

Latent Fear

Much of the truly painful conflict that exists in the world is built on the back of fear. Even the cases of bravado, like those experienced between the USA and USSR during the height of the Cold War, hid the deep-seated fears that were in the hearts of both leaders. (See One Minute to Midnight for more.) Too often, we look no deeper than the words the other person is saying, and as a result, we’re unable to see the scared little child that exists in them – and in all of us.

The degree to which people are guided into good and bad behaviors by fear can’t be overstated. Everything from the brand of toothpaste we use (which is likely to be the same one that your parents used) to the religion we practice is influenced by our fears, including our need for acceptance.

Demands and Requests

One of the deep-seated challenges of parenting, leadership, and life is the need to address the difference between a demand and a request. Even when phrased as a request, there are often hidden, implicit threats that make a request feel like a demand. Ethical standards have been erected to prevent inappropriate relationships when the power gradients are too large. As a result, it’s difficult for one person to see a request as truly a request.

Consider for the moment the prohibition for guards to have sexual relations with inmates. The power gradient is clear. The inmate may feel as if they have no choice, that the advance is a demand and not a request. Similarly, the APA has a prohibition for supervisors to have relationships with their subordinates. (Experientially, I can tell you raising such a complaint isn’t always addressed.) Organizations have varying degrees of similar rules with most trying desperately not to get involved.

Even in less contentious situations, we often receive demands from others – which may or may not match their true needs.

Means vs. Ends

The key challenge is that we often ask for things we don’t really want or need because we expect that they will lead us to the thing we really want. Tragically, often the things that we ask for are harmful or contentious, though our ultimate goals are not. In today’s world, there is almost always more than one way to do things. As a result, we should always pursue alternatives to our requests, but too often we see this as the only way to move forward.

Consider, for a moment, a child who says they want a job. The truth is that they don’t want a job – who really wants a job? What they want is what they believe a job will get them. The expect it will mean money, which can mean getting a car, which means freedom. It’s a long chain that starts with a job and ends up with a concept of freedom. We often forget that what we really want is freedom, so we ask for a job that makes lots of money but ultimately traps us. (See Flow for a more detailed discussion of means vs. ends.)

Separating Observation from Evaluation

Another common challenge when it comes to arguments is that we confuse what we see, the judgements we make, and objective reality. It’s easy to do. We walk Chris Argyris’ Ladder of Inference and forget what was said and what we added. (See Choice Theory for more on the Ladder of Inference.) We believe they said something in the same way we believe that we see where we’ve got a blind spot in our eyes. Incognito has a wonderful exercise where there’s a random pattern of black and white. When you cover one eye and move the image to the right spot, the black spot on the image disappears and becomes a part of the pattern of black and white. What’s disturbing is not that you have a blind spot in your eye – everyone does. What’s disturbing is that, without an exercise, you aren’t aware the blind spot even exists.

The more we can actively try to pursue a non-judgmental mindset, the less prone we are to conflict. One way to do this is to use an ethnographic approach – as if you’re journaling your experience with the situation for later study. The process is one of constant questioning, observing, and attempting to make sense of what you’re seeing and hearing – but from outside your typical frame of reference. (See The Ethnographic Interview for more.)

Another approach is the approach of a therapist or counselor. Here, instead of an inherent curiosity, the perspective is one of genuine concern – or, as Carl Rogers said, “unconditional positive regard.” One toolbox for this way of thinking is found in Motivational Interviewing, which is focused on how to help people with addictions and other persistent negative habits – but the tools are good at helping someone react in a way that separates judgement or evaluation.

The problem with our evaluations is that they often become judgement – or what Willard Harvey calls “disrespectful judgement” in Love Busters. They’re disrespectful, because they presume that others do not have the right to live the way they want. We believe our perspectives and values are the only “right” ones, and everyone else should conform. In my review for Parent Effectiveness Training, I mentioned another view of this need to separate the observation from the judgement. It’s one of the barriers that Gordon felt got in the way of parenting children.

Perhaps more importantly, our perspective isn’t reality. There is always more than one way to see things – and sometimes that way of seeing things is better than ours, though still not complete. We have something of the picture to offer others even if their perspective is more complete than ours.

I Feel That

One of the many challenges with the English language is that words can – and do – mean different things. We often use common words – like “feel” – that have many connotations. It may be a literal sensory input that we’re describing, an emotion, or even a belief. The problem is that when we’re taught to communicate from the heart or emotions, we often use the word “feel” in a way that isn’t the intent.

John Gottman’s research into which couples would divorce and which would stay together is legendary. In 3 minutes of argument, Gottman could predict with over 90% accuracy which couples would make it. He encourages us to share our feelings and to “own” our words by using statements that are focused on “I” instead of “you”. The problem is that we often cloak our feelings inside of words that sound like feeling words but are not. (See The Science of Trust for more on Gottman’s work.)

A quick rule of thumb that Rosenberg shares is that when the word “feel” is followed by the word “that,” it’s not a feeling at all. It’s often a judgement or at least a cognition rather than emotion. He recommends a structure that includes “I feel…” followed by some emotion, then “because I need…” While this doesn’t always work, it does disrupt the idea that you can say the word “feel” and get away without revealing your feelings.

He Made Me Mad

It’s important for us to own our feelings as ours. No matter what someone else does, we’re responsible for our emotions. The statement “he made me mad” is incorrect. What we should be saying is that “I chose to be mad because of someone else’s actions.” This is the truth that’s shared by Choice Theory, Emotion and Adaptation, as well as How Emotions are Made. We often fail to take responsibility for our feelings and recognize that they’re our assessment of the situation because we’re unable to separate the observation from the evaluation – even in ourselves.

The Need to be Heard

In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt explains how we became powerful as a species through our theory of mind – our ability to read others’ minds. The book Mindreading expands upon our ability to read into another person’s mind. This – and many other works – implies the importance of understanding, but Nick Morgan in Trust Me says it the most directly: we have a fundamental need to be understood. This need echoes across the work of many authors who stress the importance of communication and understanding but don’t draw the line quite as directly or neatly as Morgan.

When this fundamental need is not met, we find that people will continue to repeat themselves until either they give up or they feel that they’ve been understood. (Willard Harvey makes the same point about spouses repeating their needs until heard or they give up in His Needs, Her Needs.)

The Pain That Keeps Us from Hearing

Sometimes our own need to be heard or understood blocks our ability to hear or understand others. In couples it shows up as one making what Gottman would call a bid for connection and the other turning away because they don’t feel as if the other person is hearing, and acknowledging their needs.

One of the most dysfunctional situations that exists in our society is when one person expects that the other person just “knows” their needs. While this is often expressed as a wife who says that her husband should have “just known.” It’s been inflicted by husbands who expected their wives to understand things, including needs, that they have never verbalized. This is a self-binding knot. When the spouse asks them first to tell them or explain to them what is wrong, they’ll often retort something like, “This is exactly what I mean,” before turning away.

Presuming that the other person is communicating, it can be that our needs are so deeply held and we’ve tried so persistently to communicate them that they’ve become a deafening roar in our ears that prevents us from hearing the other person express their needs – including their own need for understanding.

Protective and Punitive Force

Most people say that it’s wrong to grab another human and forcibly move them. Then they’re presented with the situation where they must pull a child from the road to prevent them from being run over. The use of force is summarily condemned before the specifics of the situation are understood.

Some people make decisions and then feel as if they’ve being punished because of their decisions rather than seeing the outcomes as a natural part of their decisions. Instead of seeing the natural consequences as an opportunity to learn, they feel as if they’ve been made the victim. (See Hostage at the Table for more on victimhood.) The truth is that force is sometimes appropriate. Even a Buddhist can kill if it is in service of protecting others. (See Emotional Awareness for a full story or my review of Moral Disengagement where I recount a classic example.)

The key is to use force as a protective measure rather than a punitive one. When we use our force to appropriately protect others rather than to punish them, we’re working in our best way. Nonviolent Communication would seem to imply no use of force; however, it is about the appropriate use of force. No one can force you to read Nonviolent Communication – but it might just be right for you.

Book Review-KNOWledge SUCCESSion

One of the most interesting things about Arthur Shelley, the author of KNOWledge SUCCESSion, is the mixture of academic and pragmatic practice. Having a foot in both worlds creates a rigor in research that isn’t found in business books and a sense of what’s actually happening in the world that is all too often lost in academic writing.

Knowledge is Power

Shelley’s and my worlds – despite being on opposite sides of the planet – intersect in multiple ways. We share the same friends and the same interests in knowledge management and are thus involved in many of the same communities. At the heart of these intersections is the passion for finding ways for organizations to get more value out of the knowledge they have. By encouraging better knowledge capture and transfer, we both hope to improve corporate outcomes and the trajectory of humanity.

Despite the focus on knowledge, Shelley is clear that knowledge is only as useful as our ability to use it effectively. That is, when it’s shared and applied.  It means nothing to know something that you can’t use when you need it.

Learning Today

One of Shelley’s criticisms of learning today – and one I share – is that we’re teaching people to memorize facts so they can answer standardized questions instead of teaching people to think for themselves and form their own opinions. We have maintained the historical learning model where the teacher is the fount of information, and they pour it into the heads of the students. The problem with this method is that it doesn’t work.

Malcolm Knowles et al. in The Adult Learner made it clear that adults learn differently from children, and using a pedagogical approach on adults doesn’t work. You must provide them context and relevance to what they learn. Going further than Knowles’ work, we realize that, today, we expect we can type a question into Google and instantly be presented with an answer.

The problem is that we often accept the first response in Google as THE response. That is, we fail to see that, for every situation, there are multiple opinions. Shelley likes to say that for every PhD, there’s an equal and opposite PhD. While this may be going too far in the direction of the uncertainty of truth, it is not an inaccurate statement. Many highly educated people vehemently disagree with one another in their field of study. What looks like certainty is Fractal Along the Edges.

Shelley advocates for an experiential learning approach. Klein’s work in Sources of Power indicates the real value and expertise can come from experience. Recognition-primed decisions (RPD) in particular are powerful ways that fire commanders convert their experience into life-saving guidance for the firemen under their command. However, Klein also admitted that recreating the conditions that would allow for this same experience to be produced more quickly proved to be difficult. Therefore, experiential approaches can be time-consuming.

Learning Organizations

The oldest blog post in my drafts folder is about learning organizations. It’s a collection of ideas that never quite fit together. Despite the subtitle of The Fifth Discipline, it never really explained how to create a learning organization. The reason for the struggles may be that organizations don’t learn, people do. While the idea that you structure your organization to create learning at every level is an ideal state, it’s not clear that anyone ever really gets there.

Instead of learning organizations, we seem to fall into defensive routines (see Dialogue), and we fail to fully explore others’ points of view for fear that they may be right and our perspective may be wrong. (See also Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me).)

Adapting Knowledge

Two underlying themes in books on creativity and innovation (see Creative Confidence and The Innovator’s DNA) are that creativity and innovation exists inside of all of us and that our creativity is unleashed with a variety of experiences. In most cases, we don’t create new knowledge or innovations as much as we extend and adapt the knowledge from other areas and find new ways of applying it to solve new problems.

Knowledge has value directly for the problems that it’s designed to solve, and it can also be leveraged in new ways to create more value.

Perhaps you’ll find the knowledge you need to be successful in KNOWledge SUCCESSion.

Book Review-The Hard and Soft Sides of Change Management: Tools for Managing Process and People

There’s a great struggle between those who want to manage the project of change and those who want to make sure that everyone feels okay with the change. It’s a struggle that’s often obscured by the structure of the organization and the change process. If the project management office leads the change, then the “hard” side of change is often emphasized with tasks, dates, and budgets. If the change management or human resources department leads the change, then it often is focused on employee engagement and feelings, with the project details being an afterthought. Kathryn Zukof’s The Hard and Soft Sides of Change Management: Tools for Managing Process and People shows you how to balance and integrate these two essential aspects of the change management process.

Overlooking Loss

The most common cause of change management failure is the failure to recognize the loss that people feel. We still assume that “business is business” and we shouldn’t be emotional or experience loss. This is the illusion: that we make rational decisions and business is about those rational decisions. The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch share Jonathan Haidt’s model of the rational rider sitting on an emotional elephant and the realization that the elephant is really in control. As Dan Ariely points out in Predictably Irrational, we don’t make rational decisions.

We grieve loss. The Grief Recovery Handbook explains that grief is the natural emotion that follows loss – any kind of loss. William Bridges in Managing Transitions explains that every change will trigger some degree of loss, even if it is a nostalgic loss for the way that things used to be.

Leaders look at the net positive outcome and fail to recognize that in the benefits there are also losses. As I’m looking at giving away our eldest daughter to marriage at some point, I’m poignantly aware that, as much as her getting married is a good thing (we like our future son-in-law), there is a loss. Our daughter will no longer be “our little one” in the same way that she was.

Kurt Lewin first started working with the concept of force fields. (Which I discuss in my blog post, The Behavior Function.) The idea is that every behavior has forces that drive it and those that inhibit it. What I’ve learned from working with those in recovery is that “you’re only as sick as your secrets.” That is because anything you fail to acknowledge gets larger. (See Neurodharma for more on this topic.) When leaders fail to recognize the loss that exists in change, they make that force larger – sometimes larger than the forces compelling the change forward.

Converting the Detractors

In the Christian faith, the most prolific author of the Bible is Paul. However, that wasn’t his given name. His given name was Saul, and he had a conversion experience on his way to Damascus. A persecutor of Christians was converted into a powerful advocate. While we may not have the supernatural power to blind someone to encourage their conversion, there are things we can do to encourage that even our most ardent detractors become our greatest champions. If you prefer an Eastern approach, Sun Tzu in The Art of War said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Zukof recommends a “red team,” or a team that’s designed specifically to look for flaws in a change management plan. It’s a time-honored approach to ensuring that we don’t get too sold on our own ideas. The origins might be found in the idea of a “devil’s advocate” instituted in the Roman Catholic Church to identify flaws in those who were being considered for sainthood.

Red teams are great way to catalog, identify, and mitigate the risks associated with a change. Having detractors on the team validates that they’re heard and that their concerns are being addressed. This, in turn, typically makes them appreciate the change more positively.


I don’t believe in change resistance as such. I think that there are those who are experiencing losses, which we may perceive as resistant. The losses may be objectively real or just the psychological losses like the loss of nostalgia. In acknowledging and recognizing those losses – and attempting to compensate where appropriate – we minimize their effects and reduce the perceived resistance.

The loss may even be just a perceived loss due to a lack of understanding about the change, where communication and dialogue can resolve things such that the individual doesn’t perceive that they will lose as much or their probability of great loss is smaller. The next effect of which is the evaporation of the perceived resistance.

There’s an alternative form of resistance that I’d categorize as conflict. In this case, the person understands but disagrees with the change. They either see things differently (they have a different perspective), or they value things differently. (If you’re looking for tips on resolving conflict, you can sign up for a short email series here.) This form of resistance may result in a form of subversion.


Chris Argyris in Organizational Traps describes a prototypical problem where users would agree in public and quietly go to sympathetic ears to complain. They’d use active and passive forms of subversion to prevent the thing that the members of the meeting publicly agreed or acquiesced to. In its passive form, the members of the meeting would simply fail to do work in the direction of the agreement. It doesn’t feel like rebellion if you simply take no action. The active form, where the person actively works against the public decision or agreement is much less common but is still a real concern for organizations.

Amy Edmondson provided one solution to the problem in The Fearless Organization: helping everyone have the psychological safety necessary to speak up in the meetings about their disagreements instead of quietly taking them on and using them as a reason to block the effort. Immunity to Change recommends the back-end evaluation where you monitor for behaviors that don’t match the stated commitments and ask the question why.

Subversion in any form erodes trust, which is essential for the change, the organization, and society, as Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order explains.

Building Trust

In A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s character Col. Nathan Jessup exclaims, “You can’t handle the truth.” We seem to think that people can handle the truth much less frequently than they actually can. Kim Scott in Radical Candor addresses the typical objection that the truth can hurt by answering that it’s clear not cruel. We should not confuse secondary benefits with the reason why we’re doing something. When we’re not honest in our communications with employees, they know it, and as a result, they’ll lose faith in our willingness to communicate clearly.

Trust is created in three forms: contractual, communication, and competence. By failing to communicate the real reasons that we’re doing something, we’re violating communication trust, and it will make people appropriately wonder whether they can believe us or not. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited for more on this critical topic.)

Rewarding Problem Resolution

I learned that it’s not whether a problem happened or not that determined whether something was good or bad. What really matters more than anything is how people responded when a problem did happen. How did they handle it? Did they take responsibility for it all, like Johnson & Johnson did with the Tylenol tampering issues of 1982? Or did they choose a different path, along the lines of those explained in Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)? The difference is critical. It may seem counter intuitive to reward people who made a mistake in your organization or your change; however, if they responded extemporarily, a reward may be appropriate.

The truth is that we’ll all face challenges – some of them we’ll create ourselves. It’s not the mistakes that define us but how we address them. It won’t be a mistake to read The Hard and Soft Sides of Change Management to see how you can handle the challenges that you face in your change better.

Book Review-Change Intelligence: Using the Power of CQ to Lead Change That Sticks

That there are different kinds of intelligence is not a new thought. Barbara Trautlein wants you to know about change intelligence and why it’s important.

Multiple Intelligences

Before we can get to the idea that some folks may be predisposed to a certain kind of intelligence, we’ve got to go back to Howard Gardner, who first proposed the idea. In short, the idea is that we can be very intelligent in one way but not another. This led to a branch of thinking about whether emotional intelligence might be one of them. Daniel Goleman wrote a book titled Emotional Intelligence, which was very popular and brought the idea to people’s attention. Others have picked up on Goleman’s work, including Travis Bradbury and Jean Graves, who wrote Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

Others have found ways to explore other kinds of intelligence, including Conversational Intelligence. There are others who use intelligence in their title – like Collaborative Intelligence – but don’t mean it in quite the same way.


One of the conventions that happened is intelligence quotient began being abbreviated as IQ, and therefore emotional intelligence became EQ and Trautlein’s change intelligence became CQ. While IQ has a scale and a measurement with it, neither EQ nor CQ have a scale. (Interestingly, our collective average IQ keeps going up according to the Flynn Effect, as explained in Range.)

EQ has either five or four key components depending on which variation of the work you are focused on. These components, however, do not have specific set of objective metrics. They’re guidelines for ways to improve. While some have developed assessments around EQ, there isn’t one standard way to measure it.

Trautlein’s CQ is different still, having three areas of focus or interest: head, hand, heart. In her assessment, you’re given forced-choice questions that ultimately lead you to choosing one for the various scenarios that you’re presented. The relationship between these three places you into one of seven categories, including the “pure” single-attribute versions, the “mixed” two-attribute versions, and the single three-attribute version. The graphic that she uses is:

Because of the forced-ranking nature of the test, there’s no improvement in capabilities in each of these areas, just a pull in one direction or another.

Personality Testing

There’s a great deal of interest in psychological typing systems, as explained in The Cult of Personality Testing. I’ve reviewed several books about different personality profiling systems, including Personality Types, The Normal Personality, Fascinate, and Strengths Finder. I cautiously advocate the use of these personality profiles because of the “Barnum effect.” The short version is that people tend to identify with profiles and horoscopes more than they should given their non-specific nature. (See Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for more.)

Despite the tendency to apply more weight than is deserved, they can serve as a useful window to discover more about yourself. That’s why we suggest that people consider doing a few of them and seeing how it exposes aspects of their personality that they may not have been aware of in our Extinguish Burnout materials.


Beyond Trautlein’s assessment model, there is a keen awareness of some of the dynamics that affect corporate life. She describes the three layers of change – executives, management, and workers – in a way that is strikingly similar to the way they’re described in Seeing Systems. Each part of the organization sees itself as acting rationally and can’t understand why those around them are acting so oddly.

Executives wonder why the managers and workers aren’t implementing their beautiful strategies. Workers are wondering how the executives could have conceived of such an ill-informed strategy that doesn’t match the way things really work. The managers are stuck in the middle trying to figure out how to get more compliance with the strategies without alienating the workers and how to tell the executives that their strategies aren’t grounded in reality.

Planning Now

General Patton’s rule, “A good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite point in the future,” is a good way to express the need to be done. It’s the mantra of satisficers everywhere who recognize that there isn’t time for perfect. (See The Paradox of Choice for more.) Too often, we believe that we can plan sufficiently to identify every condition and handle every case. However, as Colonel Tom Kolditz, the head of the behavioral sciences division at West Point, says, “The trite expression we always use is ‘No plan survives contact with the enemy.'” (See Made to Stick for more.)

In other words, do enough planning to generate value and then try to use it so you can learn what works – and what doesn’t.


There is one emotion that derails change most, and it is fear. We’re afraid of the present, we’re afraid of the transition. We’re afraid of failing and afraid of succeeding. People are afraid of what the future holds and of remaining the same.

Too often, change leaders fail to recognize the power of fear. More importantly, they fail to recognize how easy it is for people to become fearful. Fear is more prevalent and powerful than any of us would like to believe. However, you shouldn’t be afraid to read Change Intelligence.

Book Review-Change Management: The Essentials

It’s hard to figure out what you need to know for change management. It’s such a big profession with so many overlapping definitions that it’s hard to sort out what might be the essentials. That’s what makes Change Management: The Essentials such a difficult thing to pull off. Lena Ross doesn’t score a perfect 10 for this work – but it’s a good way to get oriented quickly if you’d like.

Will and Skill

Change management requires both will and skill. You can’t easily teach will. Will is the grit and tenacity that it takes to succeed in difficult situations. (See Grit for more on what grit is.) However, as Willpower explains, willpower can be developed over time. By testing and retesting our will – and persevering through challenges – we grow stronger. (See Antifragile for more.) C.R. Snyder in The Psychology of Hope explains that hope has two components: willpower and waypower. Waypower is the ability to get things done.

In other words, waypower is having the skills you need to accomplish your goals. It’s “know-how.” What Change Management: The Essentials is trying to do is to start you on the path of learning the skills so that you can see how you can be successful with your change project.

The Missteps

Anyone who is going to become good at change must accept that they’re going to make some mistakes. They’ll have a few missteps. Ross has a few in her book as well. The first is that she incorrectly states that there’s no evidence that Lewin conceived of change as three steps. The truth is that it’s mentioned in “Frontiers in Group Dynamics: Concept, Method and Reality in Social Science; Social Equilibria and Social Change,” which is in the inaugural volume of Human Relations.

The other misstep is subtle. Ross says that the change practitioner isn’t responsible for delivering the business benefits of the change. At some level, this is correct. The business leader is responsible for the business. However, at another level, it’s not correct, because it places the change practitioner outside the responsibility for success. Instead of being in the boat rowing with the business, they’re on the shore shouting at them to do better. The best change practitioners accept co-responsibility with the business in delivering the results.

A slightly better phrasing might have been that the change practitioner won’t be held accountable for the results. That’s true. The business leader has ultimate accountability for the performance of their group. (If you’re struggling with the difference between accountability and responsibility, see Understanding RACI Conditions.)

Finally, Ross explains that Asch’s conformity experiments are about elevators – the truth is that Asch’s experiments were about line length. The elevator experiments were a Candid Camera stunt and didn’t have the kind of scientific rigor that Asch’s original experiments had. (For more about his experiments and more, see The Necessity of Neuroscience.)

The Myths

Ross also relates a set of 5 “myths” – the first three of which are not and the remaining two are only partially untrue:

  1. 70% of Change of Change Efforts Fail – See Why the 70% Failure Rate of Change Projects is Probably Right.
  2. People Naturally Resist Change – See William Bridges’ book, Managing Transitions, for more about why people do have a natural predisposition to resist change – and why it’s limited.
  3. Change Managers are Change Leaders – Here, I’d argue that good change managers are change leaders. There’s a lot of confusion in the difference between managers and leaders. Leadership in the Twenty-First Century is a good place to start to detangle the two terms.
  4. Change Management is Dead – This is bandied about for every profession. Change management is transforming and the old way of thinking about it may be dead. It’s becoming an essential skill for every manager and leader rather than a separate skill set and role.
  5. Change Management is Just Communications and Training – It is communications and training – and a whole lot more. However, these are two key skills that are often lacking in the people being asked to execute change.

Imperfect Solutions

Ross explains that she learned that imperfect artifacts are okay. Over time, I’ve learned to value imperfect solutions of all types, from the artifact that isn’t perfect but is good enough to the solution that still requires human intervention at times. The Paradox of Choice explains that maximizers – those that must get to perfect – are less happy and less effective than those who do just enough. Those who do just enough are called satisficers.

The tricky distinction here is discovering what’s enough. What’s a good enough artifact to be effective? The answer varies, but the good news is that you can openly discuss what level of perfection will be required for artifacts – at least, if there’s enough psychological safety. (For more on psychological safety, see The Fearless Organization.)

Principles Not Formulas

Ross also quotes Richard Feynman and says to “teach principles, not formulas.” This is quite right in that you want to raise the bar for what you’re doing. As Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues explained, there’s a hierarchy of educational objectives, and recall is at the bottom. Higher up is the ability to apply knowledge and even further still is the synthesis of new knowledge. (See Efficiency in Learning for more about learning concepts.)

The counterbalance to this is that we “grasp the concrete by means of the abstract.” (See Pervasive Information Architecture for the reference.) In other words, we learn from examples and stories and then we are taught how to see the generic principles that exist in these examples. Wired for Story explains how we’ve evolved with stories and how we need them to anchor our thinking.

In the end, if we want a practical start to change management, then Change Management: The Essentials is a good read.

Book Review-Leading Change: Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and Tyranny of Custom

Change needs leadership. To be a leader, you must be willing to change – both yourself and the organization you lead. It’s in this intersection that Leading Change: Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and Tyranny of Custom shines. It’s a no-holds-barred understanding not just of change and why change efforts fail but also of leadership and how one expresses it in a world where command and control is no longer the rule. Other works like Leadership on the Line include subtitles like “Staying alive through the dangers of change” but fail to weigh in on the broader issues of leadership, at least in a substantive way.

Defining Leadership

Most of the time the disciplines of change and the study of leadership don’t cross. One can look through classic works like McGregor Burns’ Leadership and Rost’s Leadership for the Twenty-First Century for an understanding of what leadership should be. Robert Greenleaf describes a form of Servant Leadership, and Chris Lowney describes the Jesuit approach in Heroic Leadership. Daniel Goleman provides his context of the emotionally intelligent leader in Primal Leadership. John Maxwell has his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. And those are just some of the books where the word “leadership” is in the title. Bookstores are filled with scores of books that seek to distill the essence of leadership for readers.

Leading Change offers several definitions of leadership, including President Eisenhower’s “the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Later, they nudge this definition to include an awareness of what the followership wants. In fact, they share Drucker’s one characteristic common to all leaders: followers. (Rost would be proud.) And so, the idea of what people think leadership is – and isn’t – is woven through the text like the threads that make up a tapestry.

Change Resistance

Leading Change offers no new model for how to get change done. It leans on the development of leaders to get the change done in their organizations. However, it does offer 31 core reasons why people resist change:

  1. Homeostasis
  2. Stare decisis
  3. Inertia
  4. Satisfaction
  5. Lack of ripeness
  6. Fear
  7. Self-interest
  8. Lack of self-confidence
  9. Future shock
  10. Futility
  11. Lack of knowledge
  12. Human nature
  13. Cynicism
  14. Perversity
  15. Individual genius versus group mediocrity
  16. Ego
  17. Short-term thinking
  18. Myopia
  19. Sleepwalking
  20. Snow blindness
  21. Collective fantasy
  22. Chauvinistic conditioning
  23. Fallacy of the exception
  24. Ideology
  25. Institutionalism
  26. Natura non facit saltum (Nature Does Not Proceed Through Leaps)
  27. The rectitude of the powerful
  28. Change has no constituency
  29. Determinism
  30. Scientism
  31. Habit
  32. The despotism of custom
  33. Human mindlessness

As a catalog of potential resistance, it has more depth than Kotter’s Buy-In. It’s a wonderful listing to review whenever you perceive that you’re encountering resistance in your change project.

The Paradox of Leadership

The paradox of leadership is that everyone wants a leader, but no one wants to be led. It’s a great thing to be able to defer responsibility to another party without losing the ability to control oneself. As Compelled to Control points out, everyone wants to control, but no one wants to be controlled.

The best leaders are therefore adept at listening to their followers and constituents to hear the underlying problems and find the underlying solutions. Upon finding these solutions they must make everyone feel as if it’s their idea. Leading Change speaks of the resistance to Peter Drucker’s work at GM as having been Drucker’s work – and not theirs. It also speaks of a judge who proposed alternative sentencing on the grounds that “he thinks that he’s smarter than everybody else.” Leaders who can’t convince others that the plan is their plan has little chance of being successful.

Change Isn’t Natural

When anthropologists studied various cultures, they never saw change as a normal part of the society. Societies – like organizations, it seems – are naturally resistant to change. They’re designed to maintain the status quo for as long as possible. So, when we’re leading a change, we must realize that the system – but not necessarily the people individually – will resist that change.

Because change is not natural, we need leaders to help us navigate through it. Perhaps the best thing you can do to get started is to take a read of Leading Change.