The one cent coin, which we commonly call the penny costs 1.7 cents to make.  Is this change we can believe in or is it a subsidy to zinc mining? Or are we just a foolish, sentimental people? But really, politically speaking, how much change can happen and how fast can it happen? Keep the penny in mind. (More)

The traditional wisdom:

The traditional wisdom about organizational change came from Bell Labs. They studied all sorts of small and large scale organizational/cultural change in the 60s and before. This was before the advent of computers and communication technology advances. This is when Bell Labs was one of the thought leaders in organizational development. They found two things to be true.

1. Most large social changes were conceived by individuals. The individuals found each other and became the core 5% of a movement. They went out and sold their idea(s) to others. If they achieved 20%, it was in essence a done deal. They studied women’s suffrage, prohibition and its repeal and other social changes.  The lesson, should this still hold true…get busy finding three more progressives to join every one of us and we’ll be almost home. Sometimes this phenomenon is referred to as the trim tab factor after that little part on the rudder of an ocean liner that allows it to turn.

“Buckminster Fuller referred to the function of a trimtab in nautical design as a metaphor for how individuals could make a difference in the world and potentially change the course of humanity.
 A large ship moving through the ocean has great momentum. Turning the rudder changes the direction of the ship but with great effort. Using a trimtab — a small flap on the trailing edge of the main rudder — creates a low pressure area next to the rudder allowing the main rudder to turn the ship with substantially less effort.” Source Buckminster Fuller Institute.

To put the trim tab into another perspective, keep in mind that it was designed to help turn a large ocean going vessel, not an easy task. In the old days, before thrusters it took three hours. But also keep in mind that the ocean liner had a single captain and was in no way hampered by the strange rules of the Senate and 100  Senators who would no doubt still be arguing about whether to turn right or left.

2. Two factors were significant in organizational change: the degree of commitment  and the sense of urgency. Change was defined as a new way of “this is how we do things.” If both factors were high it took 2 to 5 years to get 50% of the changes implemented and accepted. If either one was high and the other was low, it took 5 to 10 years. If both were low it took 20 plus years. (Think about the Reagan Revolution and how long it took to become accepted ideology and ‘the way we do things’ or think about things.)

Current wisdom:

Perhaps current wisdom about how much change is possible how fast offers us more hope. Communication technology has advanced a lot and after all, you are reading this in cyberspace. We may have higher speed connections, but we have so much information to choose from that perhaps our foci are more diffuse. Who knows?

The tipping point was a concept well before it was the title of Malcolm Gladwell’s book.

In physics it is the point at which an object is displaced from a state of equilibrium into a new, different state.  In epidemiology it is the point at which an incident becomes an epidemic based on momentum. In climatology it is the point where global climate changes are irreversible. Experts in these fields are encouraged to correct my paraphrasing of the hard science.

A recent example of transformational change: Good news about change-

In 2003 W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne  studied William bratton, NYC chief of police.  From their article:

“Yet in less than two years, and without an increase in his budget, Bill Bratton turned New York into the safest large city in the nation. Between 1994 and 1996, felony crime fell 39%; murders, 50%; and theft, 35%. Gallup polls reported that public confidence in the NYPD jumped from 37% to 73%, even as internal surveys showed job satisfaction in the police department reaching an all-time high. Not surprisingly, Bratton’s popularity soared, and in 1996, he was featured on the cover of Time. Perhaps most impressive, the changes have outlasted their instigator, implying a fundamental shift in the department’s organizational culture and strategy. Crime rates have continued to fall: Statistics released in December 2002 revealed that New York’s overall crime rate is the lowest among the 25 largest cities in the United States.

Bratton was special for us because in all of his turnarounds, he succeeded in record time despite facing all four of the hurdles that managers consistently claim block high performance: an organization wedded to the status quo, limited resources, a demotivated staff, and opposition from powerful vested interests. If Bratton could succeed against these odds, other leaders, we reasoned, could learn a lot from him.

In any organization, once the beliefs and energies of a critical mass of people are engaged, conversion to a new idea will spread like an epidemic.”

To read the entire article, click on Google translates this automatically to adobe acrobat. Chan Kim and Mauborgne studied Bill Bratton and determined that his results and methods for rapid and lasting change could be achieved by others using his methods. I am reasonably sure that they would say that such leadership can be trained. I highly recommend reading the whole article.

Here’s John Kotter of the Harvard Business School in 1996 and 2008:

“Although businesses are constantly going through change, leadership experts say that 70% of all change initiatives fall short of expectations

Kotter’s classic work describes eight reasons why organizations fail to change. These are:

1. Allowing too much complacency

2.  Failing to create a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition

3. Underestimating the power of vision

4. Under communicating the vision by a factor of 10

5. Permitting obstacles to block the new vision

6. Failing to create short-term wins

7. Declaring victory too soon

8. Neglecting to anchor changes firmly in the corporate culture.

Ponder Kotter’s list in light of the current Senate performance. And lest you feel discouraged, ponder Obama’s accomplishments in less than two years, especially given the magnitude of the problems he faced.

Ponder now our roles as change agents. BPI is giving each of us a tool kit to act as change agents in our families and our communities. Maybe President Obama was right when he said, ”We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”  What if we took Kotter’s list and modified it for our own action agenda?

1. I will not be complacent. I will proactively engage in progressive causes and recruit others to join me.

2. I will join and build coalitions with other progressives.

3. I will communicate the pulling power of a vision where my country works well for all of its citizens.

4. I will relentlessly communicate our progressive values through examples and stories.

5. I will not be stopped.

6. I will sell our short term wins. Loudly and proudly.

7. I will persist.

8. I will not let our progress slip. I will work to maintain our achievements.

Back to the penny. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “A penny for your thoughts.” We will convert Fred to our values if we truly listen to him/her and engage with open minds and open hearts. If each of us recruits three more people and they recruit three more people and on and on, pretty soon we’ll have a real movement. The real answer to how much change, how fast depends on each of us. You may be saying, “But I’m not a leader.” Maybe not, but every movement needs and depends on enthusiastic followers. Try that first.

I leave you with the Shirtless Dancing Guy Theory of Leadership.

The Shirtless Dancing Guy Theory of Leadership – Transcript:

Leadership is over-glorified.

Yes it started with the shirtless guy, and he’ll get all the credit, but you saw what really happened:

It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader.

There is no movement without the first follower.

We’re told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective.

The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow.


Part I of this series: Thursday Morning Feature: Change, Part I – Vision and Change

Part II of this series: Friday Morning Feature: Change, Part II – Vision, Empowerment and Creativity