Leading Blog


Change: How Organizations Achieve Hard-to-Imagine Results in Uncertain and Volatile Times


BRAIN science has added much to our understanding of human nature and change in the last decade or so. In Change, John Kotter (with Vanessa Akhtar and Gaurav Gupta) notes that we “tend to seriously underestimate the power of our built-in survival instinct and how it can inadvertently overwhelm our capacity to swiftly see opportunities, innovate, adapt, lead, and change for the better.”

Consequently, “A gap is clearly growing between the amount of change happening around us and the change we are successfully, smartly implementing in most of our organizations and lives.”

Basic to our human nature is our survival instinct that is always on the lookout for threats. Kotter calls it the Survival Channel. When dealing with life and death threats, it is very valuable. When activated, it releases chemicals (cortisol and other hormones) that eventually drain us of energy and create stress. But most of the perceived threats we see today are dealing with the complex change we see around us. We need a better response because our typical survival response causes us to freeze and overwhelms our capacity to see opportunities.

With the complex realities we see today, we need to awaken what they call the Thrive Channel. This channel too, when activated, releases chemicals like oxytocin and vasopressin that make our energy go up and produces emotions like passion and excitement. In this state, our perspective broadens as we become more curious.

Survive Thrive

A basic reality today is that the way to create enough smart change at a fast enough speed is both to prevent the Survival Channel from overheating and to activate the Thrive Channel across a sufficient number of people.

It makes sense then to include as many people as possible to drive change faster and smarter. In the research for this book, they found that an insufficient sense of urgency causes change efforts to fail. “Problems were exacerbated when too small a group, lacking broadly relevant knowledge, connections throughout the organization, leadership skills, and/or a strong sense of urgency was put in charge of driving complex change.” But the burning platform approach is not the answer. It tends to lead to a Survival Channel panic.

Activating Thrive requires people to see opportunities and not just threats, and if those people do not have some engagement as the plans are being formulated, the Survival Channel’s natural fear of the unknown kicks in.

Research and experience have shown us that there are better ways to accelerate change. They take seven chapters to explain change principles and methods as they relate to strategy execution, digital transformation, restructuring, culture, mergers and acquisitions, sustainable agility, and driving social change.

The bottom line of all this is that we need more leadership from more people throughout the organization. “Thrive hardwiring is closely connected to leadership. And with too much Survive easily shutting down Thrive, an overabundance of Survive is typically associated with a lack of leadership.” We need to encourage leadership from everywhere.

As we tend to focus on threats rather than opportunities, we can help to activate Thrive by having more conversations about opportunities rather than problems. Some additional thoughts:

If your Thrive is not adequately engaged, you can trigger it by reflecting on opportunities that are both real and personally exciting or meaningful (or both). Focusing on the opportunities to learn and develop and thinking concretely about the role you can play will also help activate Thrive.

There will be some individuals who are ready to take action immediately—and good leaders capitalize on that energy. Rather than overinvesting in getting resistors on board, they start where the energy is and let the momentum build from there.

Opportunity as a purely intellectual concept, Is not what riggers Thrive, nor is it what Thrive, once started, naturally induces. Leaders help their teams take actions to connect personally with e opportunity, take a learning perspective, and clarify their role in achieving the opportunity.

Even when a need for change is recognized, most often this need is framed as a threat, a burning platform. This fear-driven motivation encourages some initial action, but it can easily shut down Thrive and with it the creativity and innovation that could result in real solutions.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:05 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Change



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