Einstein is reported to have said that everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. I like that quote in relation to change.
In the spirit of the old genius, let’s explore which core, basic ingredients we need in order to bake a change-cake.
I’d say we need:
- A shared understanding of our current situation
- A shared understanding of where we want to end up
- A shared willingness to try stuff out in order to take us to where we want to end up
- A shared set of necessary metrics that tells of something about our progress
I’d argue that if you have none of the above, you drastically increase your likelihood of failure. I’d like to go so far as to say that without the shared understanding and willingness to try, it becomes nigh on impossible to create a sustainable change, and you’ll be destined to fall back into old patterns.
When people introduce change the brute force way, they are under the mistaken notion that they’ve accomplished something, when in fact the only thing that has happened is that they’ve done something. This might get you applause from somewhere in your organisation, yet doing something and accomplishing something are two very different things. They are the difference between activity and outcome. Since you and I are rather brilliant, we are of course only interested in outcomes, and it’s in outcomes we should invest our money, time and energy.
In order to achieve simplicity, I believe satisficing, rather than optimizing is key. The search for perfect understanding of our current situation, the perfect change model, a perfect vision and so on will only get you caught up in analysis paralysis, and create a whole lot of frustration with the process. This is what kills many change initiatives. It is absolutely imperative to demonstrate some progress in a very short period of time. Momentum needs to be built, as momentum creates new energy that can carry us forward to our True North.
Simplicity facilitates this.
I would agree that frustration with the status quo is a good starting point for change, and that the adage “change happens when the cost of staying the same becomes too steep” rings true. However, once you’ve started your journey towards a brighter future, the continued part of the process is not best fueled by frustrations, but by a feeling of enthusiasm towards that place where we want to end up. The people involved with Appreciative Inquiry got this right, says I.
Now, a change that has no connection (in the sense of shared understanding) to the system, cannot be injected or brute forced. We are not helped at all by incentives, coercion or persuasion. Any change initiative that comes from such a sordid place will get rejected by the system, like a body refusing an implant, and the change will simply not take hold. I’m very much down with the great Margaret Wheatley on this: In nature, as in life, as in organisations, true change is emergent.
Don’t brute force
Don’t complicate things
Listen to people
Change is emergent – this takes time
Simple things work
Dance with the system