Leading Change

Leading Change

In Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself, co-founder of Fast Company magazine Bill Taylor says:

We are living through the age of disruption. You can’t do big things if you’re content with doing things a little better than everyone else or a little differently than how you did them before.

In an era of hyper-competition and non-stop dislocation, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special.

Today, the most successful organizations don’t just out-compete their rivals. They redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with me-too thinking.

Taylor was one of the two co-instigators that have led radical change in my thinking. Yet, we read this today and likely think — what a difference 15 years don't make. We are still debating the finer points of what innovation means and whether it is different from strategy.

To innovate (Lat.) means to begin or introduce (something new) for or as if for the first time — we do need a dose of that in business. A recent article described robots that can locate sockets and plug themselves in to recharge. Except some were able to do it, while others stumbled aimlessly or ran away while they were still in need of current. The take away: results may vary.

That's how it is in all industries, occupations, and the public service arena. Brands have not run out of juice as some ad people have said — we have. The most radical label you can get in an organization that is ferociously attached to its past is that of “change agent.” Da Vinci was a change agent, do we have what it takes to be one? Is there energy in the organization where we operate to plug that in, or is everyone still running around out of juice?

Four principles for transformation

After examining the struggles and triumphs of 25 companies, Bill Taylor offers some thought starters. Below are some thoughts on his four principles for transformation:

(1.) What you see shapes how you change

Putting on a pair of fresh eyes and looking at things from a different perspective is helpful. An outsider, for example, can provide useful feedback. The problem is that many organizations are timid when considering hiring someone from outside their industry or with different experience; people are biased toward choosing people “like them.”

An outsider might be able to question how things have been done before because not yet vested in those ways, or in exactly the same ways. Much effort goes to redefining the “thing” organizations and groups want to innovate, and little to none goes to challenging prevailing thinking and assumptions about the make up of the team looking at it.

(2.) Where you look shapes what you see

Borrowing from other industries and companies can be a useful exercise to create new perspective. Changing industries is the hardest thing a professional can do at any level in their career, especially in the middle part of it, when conventional thinking (best practices) is to narrow our expertise and specialize.

Yet, people who make that shift successfully can teach us about the power of shifting. Those who manage to learn to navigate a new industry — its language and landscape — through the lens of a previous experience, can provide deeper insights.

Because (still) free from assumptions about how the business should operate, a new entrant has beginner questions. Typically, why-type questions that can identify new opportunities in blind spots.

(3.) There's nothing wrong with your organization that can't be fixed with what's right with your organization

History and tradition form culture and sometimes they create resistance to something new. But they can also be a valuable anchor to purpose and mission. For example, appreciative inquiry looks to harness what is working, what is positive, and then helping people do more of it (and less of what is not working.)

By linking the energy of a positive core directly with a change agenda through discovery, dream, and design, an organization can mobilize change the people in it didn't think possible.

Importing off-the-shelf strategies devised by outside experts consumed with what’s new misses the core of what's right. Instead, reinforcing good habits and adopting new habits that build on them, yet still take into account the realities of the business and its ecosystem, may be the way to go.

(4.) Success is not just about thinking differently from the competition

Caring more matters as well. When a company marries carrying things forward, connecting the dots, with building and renewing how people interact, it creates more opportunities to demonstrate its commitment to customers and employees. In virtually every industries caring about customers is (still) an area of opportunity.

Where people care about colleagues, about how the organization conducts itself in a world filled by endless temptations to cut corners and compromise on values, that's where energy goes. Doing work that matters is a very attractive proposition.


Leading change starts on the inside. Each of us has the opportunity to re-evaluate why we do what we do, look at things with fresh eyes, looking in different places, surfacing what is working and doing more of it, and caring more.

Perhaps a better term than leading is doing change.


0 responses to “Leading Change”

  1. Some excellent points here Valeria. I really like the way you’ve framed this. It chimes nicely with some of the things I’ve been thinking/writing about lately. Great post

  2. Thank you so much for this fantastic post! I am so excited to see someone referencing the power of appreciative inquiry in any change effort. I am a big believer in it.
    I always enjoy your writing and just wanted to reach out and let you know how much this particular post resonated with me.
    Thanks again,

  3. Good stuff here.
    This post makes me think about two ideas I’m working on:
    The first is practical imagination. The idea is how many shapes can you build out of the building blocks of an organisation. The goal is to make the strongest and most resilient organisation out of these blocks. This means constantly asking what blocks do we have ( bearing in mind we keep getting new ones and losing others) and how to re-arrange these (at the approriate moment)to keep to the goal.
    The second is learning lightly. Practical imagination means nothing if you don’t get to attached to any particular shape of the corporation. I watch my kids and they learn lightly. Everything around them is given meaning by their context. A stick can be 100 things depending on what game they’re playing. Likewise, a customer need not always be a customer. Learning lightly means being able to have more than one meaning for the parts that make up the business. Practical imagination is impossible is you are weighed down by what you learn.
    By the way, I hate the word change agent. Change is a “how” word. What matters in business is the “why” and “what” words. For me it comes down to who is working toward the goal of strength and resilience. Tell me what these people are called and I’ll give you your champions.

  4. The only thing worth making is a difference. 🙂
    Perhaps more valuable than leading – or even doing – change, consider ENABLING change. It’s a subtle play on words, but the more I think about it, the more I like it.

  5. when I was actively organizing free social media events — we did not call it that 10+ years ago — we had a couple of speakers who worked with the principles of appreciative inquiry. They were good sensei.

  6. When I read Ken Follet’s “Pillars of the Earth” I was thinking of the coexisting movements of the people in the story and the bricks in the Cathedral with the backdrop of medieval history and all that shifted at the time. Stories weaved together and yes, changing with the times — high movement, with things shifting constantly (at lest that was my impression in history class).
    Your kids have a richer environment populated by more questions — knowing you, better questions and observation — than people had in the past. Learning lightly means survival now. In the past, knowing for sure was.
    Everyone is in love with the recipes — how — those who know the ingredients, why and what, are who.

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