Thursday, July 9, 2009

Your options in change

I have been writing a lot about organizational change from the organizational point of view, but this Nevin Danielson's ChangeThis Manifesto looks at change from the individual's point of view.

He is talking about organizational change, but you can actually apply his thoughts to political change, economical change or other types of major changes happening around you. Nevin examines the options you have for participating in that system. And submits this challenge: Will you flow with it, flee from it or fight it?

Our radar is constantly on, sensing the cues that we’ll synthesize to decide if we’re actually going to be engaged at work. The end result of our synthesis is
a feeling, a feeling of whether we’re content within the system. Are you accepting the status quo? If not, what are your alternatives?

The Flow Option

If you work in an optimal organization, you like it and how it allows you to contribute at your best level, then naturally you can flow with it - unless there is room for continuos imprvoment which is a form of slow change, not flowing.

Or are you just comfortable with the system and flow with it because you are less comfortable with the other options - flee or fight.

Nevin's manifesto argues that we should make the deliberate and courageous choice to NOT flow. You owe it to yourself to find true meaning in your effort. Flee if you must, but consider what it looks like if you choose to fight. It may be a watershed event that defines your career.

The Flee Option

In today's labor market you are free to flee the existing system if you want. By flee, Nevin means choosing to leave the system, ostensibly to go to another system more suited to your needs. But there are risks and challenges with this approach - you do not actually know how the other system looks form inside and it will take time for you to earn credibility in the new system.

Fleeing could be the best option when you know the system you are in is too entrenched to change. It will require too much energy from you to see meaningful progress. Shifting your energy to a new system can be valuable for you, the organization you leave and the organization you go to.

This is actually what I did seven years ago, when I had a mismatch of values and did not see any meaningful future for in at the system I worked for at that time - not even after a period of coaching and partly because the coaching made mee see I was not able to fulfill myself at the system I was in. I have never regretted that decision to flee - it opened me a whole new world in a system where I am able to contribute, and where I am allowed to fight for change.

The Fight Option

Fighting is a pretty strong word. Please forgive the alliteration. By fight, Nevin means that you can work to change the system. If you’re in the system and disagree with it but are passionate about the outcome the organization is pursuing, this may be more of an obligation than a choice.

The variables Levin sees in fighting the status quo:

Loud or Quiet? Are you going to state your intentions and go on the offensive? Alternatively, are you going to disagree with the system and choose simply to not participate? The quiet non-participation does not lead to anything except maybe to you been seen as a non-performer and to change resistance when the system will further develop to something you disagree even more.

Fearless or Pragmatic? If you choose to fight, it really boils down to deciding how much you’re willing to challenge the system. This choice is best envisioned as a continuum. At one end, you fearlessly behave the way you believe you should, even though the system may have consequences, either expressed or implied, for those who behave that way. At the other end, you gingerly select the safe route, expressing your displeasure at the system when you’re not stepping on toes, or perhaps toes of people who can’t hurt you. There can be a feeling of accomplishment if you lean towards the pragmatic option. You see that you are not flowing and you have not fled, ergo, you must be fighting.

Earlier I was more fearless, was about to step on too many toes and became more pragmatic. The pragmatic approach has led to the results I was hoping for. Slowly but surely. Slower than my fearless change agent would have wanted, but I have achieved them at the end anyway.

It’s a delicate balance, but Nevin believes a thoughtful blend of compassionate articulation, well-founded arguments and insightful behavior can be seen as an effort for a greater good. You can stir a change movement that affects the system and creates positive results for the organization.

Photo by bizior


Anonymous said...

Hi Samuli,

It may already look that I am commenting here too regularly, but this topic is close to my heart and soul. I have experienced all those 3 elements, flow, flee and fight. Everything started from a long and extremely frustrating fight against a bad leadership, then continued with a slide/flow of one year and eventually ended with a flee. Then I also made almost a 180 degrees turnaround in my life. However, I feel that my life is much more in balance right now compared with the situation 2 years ago. Now I spend more time with my wife and our kids. I'm still partly in the business, but my values have changed. Gradually I have become more "green" and I spend more time reading how we should start changing our way of life in this planet earth. I hope that one day in future I could still work for a company/goal, which has something to do with free time and sport. Until then I will continue flowing between business and my family.


Nevin Danielson said...

Hi Samuli,
Thanks for the post and for talking about my manifesto! Certainly, what I wrote came from my own experience. At different stages, I've done all three, flow, flee and fight. By a long-shot, the most rewarding role has been as a fighter.

I'm pleased that you point out that this concept can be applied in many instances, not just a work environment. I find wherever I'm interacting with another person, I can ask what role I'm playing.

Keep up the good work!


Samuli said...

Dear Daddy,

I really appreciate your comments - some of them challenge me, some of them (like this one) show that what I was thinking makes sense. I hope more people would be commenting as actively as you.

Dear Nevin,

I was impressed by the simplicity of your framework - and how widely it can be applied. Today I have been reading the news about Tokyo local election and their effect on the upcoming Japanese national election.

The opposition party took a landslide victory - fighting for change.

The ruling party lost their majority in Tokyo first time in 44 years in is likely to loose the national election after 60 years in power - the Prime Minister is likely to flee He will be the third one to do so in three years - each serving less than one year.

But what always surprises me is how many people just go with the flow - 45% of people did not even go and vote!

The voter turnaround was 10% higher than last time and as so ofter those fighting for change were able to mobilize more voters.

Samuli said...


as you may remember I measure Customer Satisfaction by the number of comments on my blog. And thanks to you, the number has gone up from 2H2008 to 1H2009.

So please keep up the commenting and I will keep up the Kaizen - it's harder without comments and feedback.


Anonymous said...

Hi Samuli,

Thank you for the positive feedback.

Referring to my earlier comment on becoming more "green", please find attached an interesting interview.


Anonymous said...

...and the full address:

Anonymous said...

...and once again.

The www address should end: /flourishing-forever/.