A journey to change change

Holger Nauheimer and a small group of people are changing the way we see change in organizations! I am participating in the change journey, and so should you. Head over to the Change Journey now and share your experiences (or just learn from others)!

Take a look at the text below for an announcement about important training events on change.

Global Change Journey training courses: Join us for a fresh view on change in organizations

We all know that 60-80% of all change projects fail. It is time to change how we see change.

Holger Nauheimer, worldwide known as one of the key innovators in the change management field, has recently announced a new approach to change in organizations: The Change Journey. The concept radically departs from the blueprint approach of traditional change management models and is based on the fact that no two change processes are alike. Each organization that decides to embark on a change initiative has to reinvent itself and find its own path while mastering the uncertainty of the process. Holger and his colleague Vesa Purokuru have designed a tool that serves as a guide through such a journey – the Change Journey Map. With the Change Journey Map, individuals, teams and entire organizations are enabled to

  • initiate an open dialogue about the required change,
  • find common ground on the principles of the transformative process,
  • identify priority areas for intervention,
  • select the appropriate tools for driving that change, and
  • create a list of required actions in order to make change successful and sustainable.

The Change Journey Map is a tool for change leaders. It helps to refocus on the essential skill of facilitators: to ask questions which matter and which open up new perspectives. The Change Journey concept is compatible with any other organizational development philosophy and can be enriched by all other existing change management toolkits.

Learn more about on how change can happen in the 21st century and participate in one of the global workshops in Brussels, Amersfoort (NL), Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington D.C. and New York: http://www.changejourney.org/page/global-workshops.

The Change Journey supports 1WE (www.1we.com): For each workshop, course organizers will sponsor a rickshaw for a family in Bangladesh (http://www.1we.com/web/show/id=59754/langid=42).

Best wishes,


Why the theories underlying economic development matters

I have been accused on several occasions of being too theoretical in my training approaches. These comments typically come from highly experienced development consultants and not from the target groups of my training, namely government officials, development facilitators and experts based within developmental organizations. I am not denying that I like to raise some more nerdy-like topics during my training, but this is based on my belief that you cannot be a developmental practitioner without understanding what the deeper knowledge bases are that we are working with.

I am always amused by this negative attitude towards of theoretical bases, especially when these consultants themselves start blurring the lines between the bases that they work from and the outcomes that they prefer.

Why do theories matter?

Bodies of knowledge, or theoretical basis are useful to development practitioners and are not only the domain of clever academics. Not only does a body of knowledge or theory provide us with some guiding principles, it also provides us with lines of inquiry or research questions. A theory also provides a boundary which typically explains what a theory does not cover. You could say that each theoretical base has its strengths (which means that it can structure, explain or questions certain phenomena) and its limitations (which means it does not provide structure, explanations or questions for other phenomena). So the main point is that a theory gives a development practitioner guidance as to what a theoretical base can inquiry, what questions it can find answers to, and which topics it does not provide much insight into. The main function thus of a theory is it helps us structure questions so that we can develop robust answers.

The importance of questions in development practice

Very often we find that developmental practitioners have posed very weak or generic questions at the start of a project or intervention. For instance, the question “how can we help the poor in this region?” is a poorly defined question as you will not be able to deal with the hundreds of answers ranging from “they must do it for themselves” all the way to “we must do it for them“.

Einstein is quoted as saying “if I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes“.

So we have to ask more specific questions that lead to more precise questions. These questions are shaped by our theoretical bases. For instance, someone from an engineering background (using an engineering base) will ask that question slightly differently than someone from a business background (using business management) or a social worker (using certain social subjects).

The result of blurring the lines between theories is that questions becomes blurred, leading to vague answers. When questions becomes blurred by experienced consultants, manipulation may occur.  This can be achieved by sequencing questions in a way that people (beneficiaries, donors, organizations, political interests) are lead into one or two “solutions” or conclusions. These conclusions, recommendations, or solutions (call it what you will) are also sometimes known as “magic bullets” or recipes for success. We all know that magic bullets are blind, because they are so dependent on a specific context or the experience of the expert advising them.

You should never trust the answer of a research study or report if you do not understand which questions were asked to guide the study. Despite the content of the research, the questions gives an important hint as to which theoretical bases where used, which also provides us with a clue to the limitations (or blindspots) of that theory.

I am not arguing that we cannot combine theories, rather, I am arguing that we should always remember which theories we are combining in our work. For example, if you are promoting value chains and you are not basing your questions on business management theories (including production, industrial, strategic and other forms of management), then on what bases are you relying for your questions? Are you depending on gut feel, past experience, anecdotal experience, ideology or personal value systems? Or even worse, do you see value chain promotion as an answer to an unasked question? (What was that question again?). And let us say you are depending on the example I provided of business management as a basis for value chain promotion, then what are you blind to because of the choice of theory? Business management theories provide very little insight into social issues, market functioning (not to be confused with marketing management) poverty alleviation, or more technical or scientific issues that you are typically confronted with when working with value chains in a developmental context. I could have of course used another example, but this is one that I am frequently confronted with.

Perhaps it is worth your while to reflect for a few moments on which bases you draw when you come up with recommendations or are confronted by a specific problem. You will be surprised to find that there are many other bases that will provide you with different questions that you might want to consider reading up on. Perhaps you will even find some explanations why some of your favourite viewpoints seems to be so vulnerable or prone to failure within certain contexts, or why people resist some of your ideas. Let me know what you find!!

Link to evolution for everyone

Thank you Michael Meadon for sending me the link to the Evolution for Everyone blogsite by David Sloan Wilson. In a series of blog articles David describes evolution in economics from different perspectives. Reading these articles made me realise why local stakeholder groups are so ineffective in promoting or driving local economic growth. Very often the social dynamics and social power plays are ignored. We have to find better ways of recognising local initiatives, but we also have to be aware of the social selection process that allows for this emergence.

Lessons on leadership from a shirtless guy

Those of you that follows literature on the wisdom of crowds probably know of the video clip of this shirtless guy dancing in a crowd at a festival.

Derek Sivers recently dedicated a TED talk to this guy, and narrates some excellent leadership lessons. The video clip can be seen on Youtube, and a transcript of the narrative can be found on Derek’s site.

Thank you Tim Hadingham for bringing this clip to my attention!

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