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Read. Take a deep breath. Read again. Keep breathing, think about this.

‘The system will prevent itself from solving the problems created by itself’.

This little piece of Systems Theory is a gem for you and me working in organizations. Here is my translation. The core of the organization will create antibodies against a threat (or perceived threat) to itself, so don’t expect lots of friends if you are in full steam ‘change’ or ‘transformation’ mode.

The interesting thing is that a lot of this push back is unconscious. People may tell you that change is needed and that, rationally, all makes sense. There is no question about it. It is survival, and competitive advantage, and innovation, and…

But their behaviours may be inconsistent. If you see delay tactics, recycling of arguments, looking for external validations of ideas or calling the powerful goddess Readiness (readiness is a red herring; no revolution has ever started when everybody was ready; readiness is a post-hoc state/fallacy for people who are doing something neat and others say they do because they were ready; sorry, this is a completely different conversation), then you are probably seeing ‘the system preventing itself from solving the problems created by itself’.

You can also call in other red herrings to the rescue, such as the ‘people are resistant to change’ (usually attributed to others, not to yourself).

There are a few ‘geographical choices’, but two are definitely the more prominent ones on the table.

  1. You fight it. Rationally, emotionally, physically, psychologically, spiritually. And you end up with grey hair very early.
  2. You start somewhere else where the rate of antibodies in the system is very low. And usually those places are not at what you and I would call ‘the core of the company’. They are likely to be in the edges: some fluid divisions, peripheral business units, groups or entities not bothered by change or not feeling a direct threat, ‘smaller’ affiliates, self-contained operational bits that have vested interest and urgency in the change and, above all, brave courageous ‘units’ (places, people, leaders) which feel the duty of pioneering. These are populated by people thinking and saying ‘we will make it happen, no matter what’.

When I say ‘edge’ or ‘peripheral’ I don’t mean small or insignificant. I mean not having an extraordinary dependence on The Full Core, central corporate operation and functions, which by their size and position in the company are bound to take their time in Jamesian style: ‘their relationship consisted in deciding if it existed’. Read: talking a lot to each other until they are ‘ready’.

I have to say there are plenty of good exceptions from my own work of 20 years where the right central function was at the vanguard of change and transformation. But somehow I think I have been very lucky, perhaps creating a strong trust-bond from the start. Usually, what I see around is the picture above.

Once the evidence of change at different ‘edges’ is on the radar screen, it would be much easier to be centripetal. There is a time for everything.

Edge starts, edge wins, the core is very surprised and endorse, the core wants ‘that’. Usually this strategy wins.

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  1. Deborah Hinton

    As always, thanks for this Leandro. I hope you will start the conversation around the Readiness red herring : ) Looking forward.

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