When the @rebelsatwork Corporate Rebels conference happened last year we talked about how to accelerate change without wearing people out. In this month’s post on the Huffington Post Great Workplaces section I tackled the topic again. You can read the full post at Adapting Change to Fit Complexity but to give you an idea of why companies fail to get more the incremental tweaks while creating change fatigue consider the difference in thinking between traditional change methods and methods that are aligned with the complex communities companies truly are.

Traditional Change: Companies where hierarchy structures authority rely on linear thinking. The idea is that companies are really machines, people are resources and nature’s contributions are donations. Using that line of thinking change is planned along the lines of: If we do this we’ll get this. Outcomes are predictable and engineered.

Change in Complexity: Companies are powered by people – living systems: communities of interactions that cut across the hierarchy to get things done using individual networks. Change works with what is emergent. The system responds to signals of meaning, not just any signal. Changing complex communities (systems) is done through subtle yet powerful processes such as narrative, Appreciative Inquiry, or the introduction of new systems that rely on interaction to operate. It is the social system that gets things done. Inspired change.

What is the difference and why is important now? Applying a systems perspective to complex communities means change is faster, friendlier, even fun when you’re working with complex communities of people because you’re working with what matters. Care, meaningful dialogue for instance. As Frijof Capra said in a Systems View of Life, you ‘tickle’ a complex system. Not bludgeon it.

How to select change methods that work in a complex system.

  1. Observe the social network. Follow the path that has heart and meaning for people. Quarterly reports are beyond boring. Metrics that don’t make a difference to the client/customer aren’t heart grabbing. Select processes that engage at a meaningful level.
  2. Provide autonomy over control. Trust is the most important value for effective change. The Moral Molecule by Paul Zak quotes Frances Frei from the Harvard Business School as saying the basic idea behind business is “to be of service.” Simple. Caring. Autonomy frees self-expression and capacity to do the right thing in a given circumstance.
  3. Trade certainty for creativity. Engaging change requires a certain amount of creativity. In fact, creativity is the only known antidote for uncertainty.


You are looking for ways to engage change that pay attention to what has heart and meaning (a universal principle across all cultures). As Nick Zeniuk put it in an early interview I did with him: “Follow the Joy“.

What works for high performance cultures also works for highly effective change.

Any one have great stories on change that worked using creativity?

Care to read on?


The global and business issues we face today require full employee engagement and a different thinking. Dawna loves to work collaboratively to evolve and transform workplaces to be more ‘fit’, agile and inspiring. By shifting perspective to expose the invisible elements creating routine results, clients gain the strength and clarity needed to remove barriers to growth. Intelligent and intuitive insights strengthen leadership capacity to use complexity fluently and grow beyond the limitations of profit to achieve greater prosperity and value. To activate a quantum leap in leadership, Dawna started the Evolutionary Provocateur podcast in 2008. Author of Decision Making for Dummies, a speaker and a tad nomadic, Dawna is currently working on using Virtual and Augmented Reality to accelerate business culture change and human potential. An original thinker, she brings personal experience with resilience and transformation to her leadership. www.FromInsightToAction.com


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