Gaming Change: Four Enablers of Implementing Disruptive Change

I recently facilitated a one-day change readiness workshop for an organisation embarking on a significant organisational change initiative. In essence, the change initiative invited the organisation to shift is cultural mindset from one of ‘problem finding, solution identification‘ to ‘possibilities thinking, opportunity creation‘.

In designing the delivering the workshop, I used two foundational orienting frames. The first was Appreciative Inquiry (AI) which focuses on identifying and accentuating what is already working within the organisation and its broader eco-system. In essence, AI is a strength based approach to guiding generative change. the second concept was flourishing and P.E.R.M.A. (a foundational aspect of positive psychology). To flourish means to live within the optimal range of functioning (both individually and collectively) – it is an experience grounded in goodness, generatively, growth and positive resilience.

The guiding intention for the workshop was to provide the organisation’s senior leaders with an experience of what it might be like to lead in co-creative ways and to generate a more possibilities focused and opportunity oriented organisation. The process we used was underpinned by our Collaborative Conversations For Change (CC4C) approach. The CC4C approach is immersive and guides groups to co-create pathways for addressing the challenges they face using a rapid prototyping process (groups create boardgames that showcase solutions their current challenges). Then groups cohere around these solutions (using World Cafe or similar dialoguing process), and commit to implementing change pathways by creating a personal and collective manifesto for the change journey.

Towards the end of the day one the organisation’s senior leaders asked me “So, do you think we can make the change we need to make?” I responded, “Sure, it is definitely possible [NB: using generative approaches to change anything is always possible!], and I think the organisation and its leaders need consider how you break through the inertia of minting the status-quo.” “How do we do that?” they asked.

In response I considered a simple metaphor The Holos Group uses to describe how we initiate and implement disruptive (and transformational) change.

A rocket sits on the launch-pad counting down to launch: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Launch!

The thrusters ignite and massive force pushes that rocket away from the Earth, driving it towards the edge of the stratosphere.  The Earth’s gravity on that rocket is significant. It is only through immense quantities of  thrust (resulting in speed) and constant re-correcting of the rocket’s course (to account for the forces working again the rocket’s progress) that it breaks through into space and ‘effortless momentum’.

Disruptive change towards preferred futures occurs in the same way. Velocity is key and the rocket’s velocity can be determined by the following equation:

Velocity = (Speed + Direction + Precision)/Resistance

Failure to generate enough Velocity in enabling Disruptive Change will result in the rocket either crashing back to Earth or orbiting the Earth without ever escaping the Earth’s gravitational field or the Earth’s atmospheric drag (the inertia of status-quo; Resistance). The further the rocket gets from the Earth the less the resistance and the more velocity.

To successfully implement Disruptive Change (a transformation in the very identity and structure of an organisation), four factors need to be considered.

1) Thrust (Speed)

To break the gravitational pull of the earth a rocket needs generate significant qualities of speed towards its destination. In initiating and guiding transformational change (disruptive by its very nature), the organisation’s leaders need to act quickly to implement any initiative that reinforces the change initiative – systems, structures of relationships, and ways of doing things, etc. Any initiative that takes too long to implement without its benefits being realised will perish and with it the change initiative.

2) Experimentation (Direction)

The challenge with most disruptive change efforts is that we cannot fully predict the journey of the change effort prior to commencing.  The map is not the territory. Sure we have a vision (the map) of the preferred future, but the ideal pathways (the territory) for realising that vision can only be identified in undertaking the change journey itself.  Disruptive change is adaptive and highly agile, it relies on continually validation of what is and experimentation of what could be in order to identify the ideal  pathway to realising the desired result.

3) Rapid Cycle Feedback Loops (Precision)

When certainty becomes fluid – which it does when we undertake transformational change – we need regular, instant and useful feedback for us to know how we are progressing towards our desired future. It allows us to make more precise changes in order to continually realign us with the result we want to achieve.

4) Enhance people’s Risk tolerance by rewarding transformative behaviour (addressing Resistance)

The reasons why people resist change are many and varied. One of the primary reasons is a fear of the consequences of failing to achieve what is most desired. But change involves trying things that have not been tried before. And in disruptive change tho involves doing many things differently both simultaneously and in quick succession to each other. In disruptive change failure is a sign of progress – failing forwards indicated that we have conducted an experiment that did not yield the desired result, but provided invaluable evidence for how to re-calibrate our change efforts to get closer to our desired future going forward. Rewarding failure enhances our Risk Tolerance, which in turn drives our willingness to partner with the inherent uncertainty of changing.

So, what happens when we actively generate Speed for the change, clarity of our Direction through the change, and Precision in implementing the change coupled with addressing the Resistance to change? Velocity.

Achieving Escape Velocity

We achieve escape velocity when the resistance to change dissipates and we break free of the status-quo. Continuing with the rocket analogy, escape velocity is effortless change – that is, change without propulsion (thrust). Energetically, it is the ceasing of a ‘pushing away from’ and the initiation of an unrestricted ‘exploration towards’. Once a rocket achieves escape velocity it is turn able to utilise other ‘gravitational forces’ (e.g., planets, moons, stars) as ways of pulling it in a direction, and is able to do do so without being trapped in another’s orbit – ‘sling-shotting’ itself through space. Change in organisations becomes ‘effortless’ when the resistance to change dissipates and the organisation is able to look outwards towards what wants to become (utilising the energy and insights of other organisations to further ‘slingshot’ its progress) without being pulled back by the inertia of the status-quo.