Philosophy of Change

One of the first posts three years ago when this blog began was Driving Change versus Driving People to Change.  Quickly after a friend pointed out the unnecessary nature of the last “to change” and it was readily dropped.  (Proof I take criticism well.)  In that post I called Driving People and Driving Change terms and methods.  Sometimes in the past I’ve called them concepts. Lately though I’ve begun to think of them as the names of two distinct change philosophies.

Philosophies are (according to the Wikipedia entry): particular schools of thought, styles of philosophy, or descriptions of philosophical ideas attributed to a particular group or culture.  Driving People and Driving Change seem to fit that definition as philosophies because if you accept the definition of one or the other then your behaviors logically flow from that first thought and they frame how you proceed with each new interaction.

You can quickly classify the change philosophy (or lack thereof) of any business book purporting to tell you how to make your organization better.  Some books and articles (okay most) are clearly about driving people, some wholly about driving change (Deming’s work fits here), and some flip between both demonstrating a lack of an underlying philosophy.

Let’s take the first set first: Consistently Driving People.

I ranted about books and articles that emphasize driving people in May 2012 post titled, The Failed Model of Executive Led Change. Back when this blog first began I tore about a Six Sigma improvement article in a January 2010 post called Can You Fail Less? What Actions Would You Take? I hope those two posts are enough to get the point across.

Now for the second set: Consistently Driving Change.

Deming is someone who keeps a consistent driving change philosophy throughout his writings.  In The New Economics, he says,

The first step is transformation of the individual. This transformation is discontinuous. It comes from understanding of the system of profound knowledge. The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people.”

This quote paired with Deming’s many attacks on reward or punishment systems to induce behavior in workers clearly shows his understanding of the difference between driving people and driving change, though he never labels the two approaches.  Instead he offers good behaviors to copy and bad behaviors to avoid.   This is enough to get you started on a journey to a better organization, if only you’ll submit to Deming’s advice (i.e., drive change starting with yourself).  Maybe that’s why forced Deming implementations struggle so much, they are at their root philosophically incoherent.   If you’re not familiar with Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge or his 14 Points, you can check them out quickly in a fantastic blog post by Ralph Soule.

Finally, the third set: The Inconsistent Philosophizers.

This set is the worst because they are usually the people with the most “credibility.”  Yes, I did just put that word in quotes.  I’m holding it out for derision because their inconsistency–I hypothesize–comes from their “credibility” building training in business departments.  Many of the philosophical flip-floppers are business professors or worse, MBAs turned executive consultant.  I say they are the worst because their method of teaching relies on cobbling together stories (okay, just case studies–calling them stories is often too kind) of what other people did, leaving the story surface intact but the theory driving the actions unanalyzed. Then they claim that “if you just mimic what they did you too will succeed.”  Gag!  I got caught in their glossy trap too many times before I fought my way out and started to get what Deming calls a view from outside on the system.

I’m going to stop here before I start to ramble.  This isn’t finished, but it is done for the night.  For further reading, poke around the EFC archives from Jan – March 2010.  There are some old gems hiding in those first posts.  Or, search Deming in the side search box and see what other rants and bird walks you can find.  Happy weekend.  Good luck driving your change.  I, for one, believe in you.

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