Martin Luther King Day

In his book “The innovators mindset” George Couros discusses the characteristics of would-be change agents and identifies five things they need. His first two are Clear Vision and Patience/Persistence.

The first is often lacking, today, because many desired changes are negative. They are about making sure that something bad no longer happens or protecting a person or organisation from the consequences if it does happen. They call for things to be abolished or made illegal but pay little attention to what will happen instead. They do little to define what positive benefits change will bring. They fall short of the completeness offered by Martin Luther King in his famous “I have a dream” speech. He went on to show what his dream would look like on the ground. He made the dream come alive for people.

To provide clarity of vision there must be an examination of “What might happen”. There must be possible futures to allow distinction between the likely and the unlikely and to prove the would-be change agents have done their homework. Methods frequently used to support organisational change include scenario planning and management games and simulations. Games and simulations use experiential learning, a process that involves participants actively experimenting to provide a concrete experience. They then reflect on the experience, learning, and creating a new position from which to take the next action. The participants themselves are making the decisions and creating the new reality. This process invites questions like “Is this where we want to be? Did the changes we made produce the hoped-for result?” All of this can be achieved in a safe environment where the decisions made are not critical and where real time can be condensed so you can experience a period of years in a day.

If the would-be change agents can agree the vision they then need the patience and persistence to make the change a reality. A high profile position helps! Martin Luther King gave change a hefty shove. Right now, consider the newly created Duchess of Sussex (wife of Prince Harry). Here is a woman who has a vision of how she would like to change society, has a significant position, high visibility, and a personal background in line with her views. She will have credibility. She will be inundated with requests to open events and patronise charities. The choices that she makes will show what changes she wants to promote and what she wants to ignore. What she says and does will be widely reported.

The would-be change agent in commerce, industry or any large organisation may feel powerless to win an audience. Can anything be done? One answer is to work for constructive change at the level one currently occupies. Stop saying “nobody will ever listen”. Think through the “what will happen” scenarios and be persistent. Do what you can, where you are. Above all, try to answer the question “What’s in it for me?” The motivation theorists, from Maslow onwards, have told us that people want security, and are afraid of change. Too often, change agents promise a better future without specifying “better for who”. Human nature usually interprets that as meaning “better for them. Worse for us”.

Before railway carriages had public address systems, station staff shouted “All Change” when the train was going no further. Today the message is all around us. Everybody is being urged to change their habits in response to a changing world. The web site of offers the chance to create a petition and offers many examples of petitions that have succeeded. So, if there is something you want to change then give it a go.