I finished up Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas over the weekend. Here’s a little review/overview.
As the title implies, the point of the book is to help out people who want to introduce change to an organization. The status quo is all powerful, dear readers, and one needs tactics to make large elephants turn direction. I’m not sure if someone’s claimed the truism, but I’ll posit what’s almost a tautology: the larger an organization, the more difficult it is to change. I wanted this book to give me some tips on changing, and introducing new things (“innovating” as we call it) such large organizations. I think it did a pretty good job.
The overall theme is people, esp. communicating with them and working with them, instead of “for them” or forcing them to do what you want. In this sense, it’s a very pragmatic book when it comes to introducing change/new ideas: instead of Platonically relying on the pure truth and goodness of an idea, it gives more Gorgian methods, e.g.:
A wise observer once said, “People will always do what you want them to do if what you want them to do is what they want to do.” But if you are proposing something that people aren’t eager to do, the act of convincing may mean you must present a logical argument with cold hard facts. Unfortunately, research has shown that most of us make decisions based on emotion and then justify those decisions with facts. Your effectiveness as a change agent will rest on more than your ability to talk to people.
Most of the persuasive patterns spring from this line of thinking: cold hard facts are great, but that’s not how people operate, so don’t use that as your only, or even primary, method.
(If the above reminds you of Blink, you’re payin’ good attention. The two books fit well with each other: Blink as sort of a general theory and the “research” mentioned above, and Fearless Change as a handbook for getting around in the world Blink outlines.)
A good example of this is the pattern Big Jolt. This pattern recommends brining in an outside topic-celebrity to speak about the new idea/change you’re trying to champion. Even if you’ve been saying the same thing as this Big Jolt (the outside expect), your co-workers will be more easily convinced by the celebrity than you.
That ain’t rocket science once you read it (as with most of the patterns). What is “rocket science” is being convinced yourself that something like Big Jolt is true and will work for you. With that understanding, you end up resisting the urge to think, “people suck if they need that, why won’t they just listen to me?!” and going ahead and brining in the outside person because it’ll work.
Another example of this pragmatism in in a chapter dealing with getting management/execs on-board with your ideas:
[D]ecision makers are not likely to agree with a new idea immediately. Their automatic responce is usually “no” if they hear about the idea for the first time during a meeting. They must first get the opportunity to voice their individual concerns and ask questions. This is difficult to do in a group meeting and much easier and more effective to do one-on-one.
If you know even a little bit about how old LBJ operated as he was climbing the ranks, all this pragmatic stuff will seem familiar and, indeed, effective. LBJ was a master at getting people to do what he wanted, and had piles of techniques and methods he used to further those ends.
Another interesting theme is that of constant struggling. If you want to introduce change, you’ll have to constantly be working not only towards it, but to maintain it. People in organizations can be lazy: they often want to take the path of least resistance, which is typically the status quo. So, it’s going to be an endless uphill battle to get your stuff going.
More importantly, for the most part, there’s no way you can actually force change on an organization. Instead, all you can do is set the wheels in motion, keep them spinning, and hope other people agree with you. Along with this comes the fact that you’re forced to work with what you have: the mental/will environment of your organization, the people that are in it, and the constraints of it.
A Culture of Change
In slight contrast to this idea of struggling, there forward by Andy Ellis of MSFT contains two interesting comments about the culture of change/innovation at MSFT:
The real passion comes from being expected to have ideas and to champion them, whatever your level at Microsoft.
The most innovative and competitive organizations are those that make the most of their people’s skills and knowledge.
Once you’ve institutionalized a culture of change/innovation, it at least becomes possible to introduce new things, if not a little easier. At that point, you can truly be an innovative and, in hi-tech, thus competitive company. Otherwise, you’re just a stick in the mud waiting to sink.
The Innovation Cycle
The final theme worth noting is the Innovation Cycle, and the people along it. I’m pretty sure The Tipping Point and Crossing the Chasm cover this cycle in great detail (I have those two books on The Stack, but I haven’t read them yet).
The basic idea is that you have, in order of readiness to adopt new ideas:
- The Innovators – they come up with the new ideas and are eager to try out new things. Sometimes too eager.
- The Early Adopters – though they may not come up with the new ideas, they readily start doing/using them just as innovators do.
- The Early Majority – once the idea is proven to be stable enough a large group of people will start doing it. This, I think, is really the tipping point for adoption.
- The Everyone Elses – just the normal schmoes who’ll start doing something once “everyone else” (The Early Majority) is doing it.
- The Laggards – these people are the last to take up something new: sometimes they never change.
A good portion of Fearless Change covers the care and feeding of the first 3 groups, esp. the Early Majority.
First off, this is a patterns book, which means that after a few into chapters, you have a whole bunch of 2-3 page writeups of a specific problem and one possible solution. Nothing wrong with pattern books, they’re quick reading. The only disadvantage to pattern books (nowadays) is that authors/editors always feel obligated to include a chapter on “what are patterns,” with the obligatory Christopher Alexander reference.
Overall: Not too Shabby
I wouldn’t say this was an over-all must-read like Blink, but if you’re someone like me who’s thirsting to read something, anything, on introducing new ideas and innovations into a large orginization (not just happy platitudes about how orginizations/business should be in that respect), I’d say it’s a good read. Most of the book is extremely pragmatic and nut-and-bolts, meaning that is has ideas and tactics you can start using immediatly. Indeed, as with any pattern book, once you read through all the patterns, you’ll find yourself spotting each pattern “in the wild,” in use. Once you can consciously apply these patterns (and, to a limited extent, react to/work with other people using them), you’ll be much closer to getting shit done when it comes to change.