Sunday, April 27, 2008


In every organization (and at some point, in every life) there is a cry for change; people within the organization will have an overwhelming feeling that systems, structures, cultures, missions, purpose, or products must change to remain relevant in the world today. And, as this cry for change goes up, these same organizations will find that there an undeniable resistance to change within the organization that will confound the process.
Where does this resistance to change come from? And, why do we experience this polarity within the organizations we serve, and even within ourselves?
Richard Beckhard and Ruben Harris, in their book Organizational Transitions (now out of print), have boiled this phenomenon down, and created a little formula that helps us understand resistance to change:
Here is how this formula works:
  • LD - This is the level of dissatisfaction with the status quo. If you are very dissatisfied with how things are right now, you are motivated to change. However, if dissatisfaction is low, or even Zero, change will not be possible.
  • DC - This is the desirability of the proposed change or end state. If the end state is very desirable, then change is possible, however if a person cannot see the value in the new state of affairs, or the end state is undesirable, change will not be possible.
  • PV - This represents the ability of the person who is considering the change to hold the vision that change is possible. If the task of undertaking the change is possible, even if it is difficult, then change can occur. But if the task seems impossible, or out of the reach of the people who are involved in the change effort, change will not happen.
  • Xc - This part of the formula represents the cost of change. This cost can be in dollars, personal energy, self respect, any form that is of value to the organization or person involved in the change.
When we take the level of dissatisfaction times the desirability of the end state, times the vision of whether the task is possible or not, we get some sense of the importance of the change to the organization or person. These factors must be greater than (must out weigh) the perceived cost of the change before any change effort can successfully move forward.

Trying to apply real numbers to these variables is difficult at best. You will not be able to simply apply the formula and come up with an answer that tells you whether or not change can occur.

However, what you can do is evaluate each of the three factors on the left side of the equation. If you are experiencing resistance to change it is likely that the resistance is related to one of these three factors. Also, if any one of these factors is Zero - change is seen as a having no value - then the driving forces that would bring about change will always be less than the perceived cost of change.

If you can find a copy of Beckhard's book, look at page 98 for a description of this concept. (When I last checked, you could get a used copy of this book for $0.40 at

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Courage and Vision to Innovate

Rob Here, 1st time caller to the Leadership Blog...

Innovation is a topic of thought in my mind recently and in my reading and mulling I can see Diamond implications worth discussing- so here it goes.

Systems and analytical thinking are beneficial in many organizations. In these types of Organizations the Reality point on the Diamond is sharpened with Logic to make objective decisions free of wishy washy emotion. New ideas are purified in the crucible of past experience and cost benefit analysis. This mindset works great for maintaining a status quo, for avoiding risk, for remaining consistent and predictable.

This Reality heavy bias can also produce a looming barrier for innovation.

Truly "new to this world" innovation requires Courage and trust to review the idea with new eyes and an intuition bias. An idea that is new to a Reality based organization will be judged severely if it does not fit within past proven methodology - this is a barrier to innovative thinking.

In the Book "Breakthrough! Innovation Management Practices" (Thanks for the book Jim) a concept to combat this Reality bias is described as;
"Experimental Thinking" The definition is An approach to thinking about challenges that demand change, problem-solving, unique solutions and encourages the individual to avoid evaluation of new ideas and concepts, while building upon the ideas of others, and considering the positive aspects of ideas.

An innovative process gives time for visioning, dreaming, and intuition while experimenting with an avoidance of evaluation and judgment until a much later stage in the process.

Courage and Vision need to be emphasized to be innovative, when added to a strong base of Reality the Diamond of the Organization can be enlarged leading to an opportunity for true "Greatness".


(OK Jim, I did it, I posted on your Blog, now please loosen the thumb screws!) ;)

Saturday, April 12, 2008


In the introduction to the book Polarity Management - Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems, Dr. Barry Johnson says that the bad news about life is that we all face a large number of unsolvable problems. However, the good news is that, in many cases, we can stop trying to solve these problems and begin to manage them by addressing these problems as Polarities.

According to Dr. Koestenbaum, the concept of polarities is at the heart of the Leadership Diamond model. From his perspective the points of the Leadership Diamond can cause conflict and create unsolvable problems as described by Dr. Johnson. However, this conflict brings us tension, and with the tension comes the energy necessary to manage polarities.

For example, lets take a quick look at Vision and Reality. Vision implies looking into the future, imagining what could be, creating something that does not currently exist, and not being limited by barriers. On the other hand, Reality can imply being focused on what currently exists, understanding barriers, knowing what tools and resources are available, and not being blinded by any wish or day dream that takes you away from the truths of life.

The conflict between vision and reality is not a problem to be solved, it is a polarity to be managed. Dr. Koestenbaum tells us that the ability to hold the conflicting concepts of vision and reality in your mind simultaneously is an essential part of the leadership mind. Being able to identify polarities, understanding the gap between two polar concepts, and feeling the tension created by the pull of both is part of being a leader. Koestenbaum suggests that we:
Ask for clarity, but accept ambiguity, demand certainty, but adapt to surprises.

Here are a few of the common polarities that we face as leaders:
  • Team - Individual
  • Democracy – Dictatorship
  • Work – Play
  • Life – Death
  • Reality – Fantasy
  • Rich – Poor
  • Man – Woman
  • Active – Passive
  • True – False
  • Us – Them
  • Proactive – Reactive
  • Centralized – Decentralized
  • Principles – Rules
  • Flexible – Inflexible
  • Empowered – Powerless
  • Internal – External
  • Organized - Unorganized
When you objectively view each side of a polarity you find that each contains positive and negative qualities. The challenge for the leader is to work to maximize the positive, while minimizing the negative characteristics of both ends of the spectrum.

In this process of understanding polarities, a leader discovers that life is rarely entirely in one camp - the world is not "organized OR unorganized". It is "BOTH organized AND unorganized" at the same time. Businesses are not "focused on teams OR individuals", they are "focused on BOTH teams AND individuals". Life is rarely Either/Or, it is usually AND.

What we experience is that life is a balance between polarities. Constantly moving. Shifting from one form to another. Offering first the positive and negative qualities of one side of the polar equation, and then moving toward the other pole.

The strong leader is one that is prepared to work in this world of ambiguity, and help others navigate through the confusing waters filled with polarities.

In the book The Art of Happiness at Work, the Dalai Lama points out that in western society we are taught to choose between polarities - we are schooled to pick between "either/or". However, in a world that is consistently filled with "both/and" a choice between "either/or" will be frustrating because neither choice will satisfy. Learning to hold competing thoughts simultaneously, and to understand the positive and negative qualities of both is necessary to be a successful leader.

If any of you (my faithful readers) are interested in doing a post analyzing a polarity that you are interested in, post a comment with your email address and I will set the blog to allow you to be an author. I would love to have your contribution to the discussion.

In a future blog post we will look at how to use a Polarity Map to help identify true polarities, and understand the positive and negative attributes of each side of the polarity.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Asking the Right Questions

If you have read much of Peter Koestenbaum's work, you have discovered that Dr. K teaches by asking the right questions rather than handing you the right answers. Although he is diligent about explaining many complicated concepts, much of the work of translating concepts into action is left to you, the reader. And, this is as it should be.

In his book The Answer to How is Yes - Acting on What Matters, Peter Block says
Getting the question right may be the most important thing we can do. We define our dialogue and, in a sense, our future through the questions we choose to address: Asking the wrong question puts us in the philosopher's dilemma: We become the blind (person) looking in a dark room for a black cat that is not there.

Block adds that "The right questions are about values, purpose, aesthetics, human connection, and deeper philosophical inquiry. To experience the fullness of working and living, we need to be willing to address questions that we know have no answer."

Both Koestenbaum and Block challenge us to find the right questions.

Within a business or government organization the questions that are most often asked are about things that are near the surface of our existence. We ask how to make the greatest margin or profit on our product, how to attract and serve customers and gain market share, how to motivate people; in short, we ask how to be successful (however we measure success) in our chosen field.

Although Peter Block would perhaps disagree with me, I believe these are all important questions that need to be addressed. However, I agree with both Koestenbaum and Block in that these are not the first questions that should be asked by an individual or group.

When viewed through the Leadership Diamond, the most important questions become those that take you more deeply into the individual's or group's purpose for being.

In the opening section of Kevin Cashman's chapter on Personal Master (see Leadership From the Inside Out - Becoming a Leader for Life) there is a story that sums up, at least for me, the value of asking the right question:
I once heard this story about a priest, who was confronted by a soldier while he was walking down a road in pre-revolutionary Russia. The soldier, aiming his rifle at the priest, commanded "Who are you? Where are you going? Why are you going there?" Unfazed, the priest calmly replied, "How much do they pay you?" Somewhat surprised, the soldier responded, "Twenty-five kopecks a month." The priest paused, and in a deeply thoughtful manner said "I have a proposal for you. I'll pay you fifty kopecks each month if you stop me here every day and challenge me to respond to those same three questions."

Therein lies the beginning of a very deep and valuable discussion with yourself, your business, or your organization: "Who are you? Where are you going?", and "Why are you going there?"

The story of the Russian priest and soldier is from Kevin Cashman's Leadership From the Inside Out - Becoming a Leader for Life, and can be found online in a slightly different version at this link.

Other references include:
The Philosophic Consultant, by Dr. Peter Koestenbaum
The Answer to How is Yes, by Peter Block