Words to Remember

Inducing Big Time Change is the inadvertent topic of several of today’s Blogs. So I must direct your attention to my pick as “most profound statement concerning ‘change management.'” It comes from Bob Stone, who created a mini-revolution in facilities management at the Department of Defense 20 years ago; then topped himself by leading VP Al Gore’s surprisingly successful and mostly unsung effort in the ’90s to “re-invent government.”

My favorite Stone-ism: “Some people look for things that went wrong and try to fix them. I look for things that went right and try to build on them.” (From Stone’s Lessons from an Uncivil Servant; also see Chapter 17 of my Re-imagine!)

That is, Stone understood the utter futility of attempting to “overcome resistance to change” that inevitably occurs when one frontally attacks the current establishment and their icons of past success. Instead, success/change most often emerges from blithely ignoring the establishment’s entrenched kingpins—and, instead, prowling organizational byways in pursuit of pioneers who, through sheer guts and grit, have been nefariously installing Exciting New & Revolutionary Ways of Doing Things, simply because they believed it was the Right Thing to Do. Next, our Ignore-the-Negative/Accentuate-the-Positive Change Agent (or Uncivil Servant like Stone) publicizes and celebrates the hell out of the Exciting New Stuff (and its Heroic Purveyor-Champions) … and openly invites others to emulate this new cadre of Hero-exemplars.

If you stayed awake in Psych 101, you know Bob Stone’s approach is the Basic Tenet of Rat Psychology. If you punish bad behavior, the net effect is not, as intended, to wipe it out—but, instead, to drive it underground and inadvertently entrench it. Rather, reinforcing positive behavior causes more and more positive behavior to be emitted—thence simply crowding out the negative stuff until it simply vanishes. It ain’t that easy—with rats or bureaucrats—but it ain’t that hard either if (if!!!) you stay the course.

Tom Peters posted this on August 27, 2004, in Execution.
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