In a variety of conversations, workshops, and planning sessions over the years, whether around technology adoption, organizational culture, or school climate, I have referenced the following change model out of Harvard:
Change = Dissatisfaction x Vision x Plan
Why is this simple model so powerful? At the most basic level: what happens when you have a zero for any of these elements?
It’s simple multiplication, but profound in that so many of our traditional change efforts are built on addition strategies. If we do this, and then we buy that, then it will add up to change.
But, addition alone doesn’t generate real change.
Change is multiplicative. The elements necessary for change are interdependent and are thus magnifiers of each other.
So, why do we struggle to pull this simple multiplication together on some of our most persistent organizational, educational, and community issues?
After all, we have built countless strategic, community, and organizational plans. We have crafted mission and vision statements for our organizations, collaborations, task forces, committees, and initiatives. We’ve brought in trainers, consultants, data wonks, and various other experts from out of town. We have invested millions to develop, implement, and evaluate new models and new technologies. The list goes on and on. No real change.
Applying the Harvard Change Model to largely fruitless visioning and planning efforts, we are left only to reflect on our dissatisfaction.
Now, it may seem ludicrous with all of the time, money, and effort we have invested into change to wonder if we are really dissatisfied. All those meetings…all that discussion…all those plans…the surveys…the focus groups…the new technologies…surely, all of that is proof we are dissatisfied, right?
But is it?
In expressing our dissatisfaction (and creating our visions and plans), we too often focus on the work of others. Or, perhaps, if we do focus on the real problem, we never do the ugly part of identifying how we individually are complicit. The “problem” then is this thing that just exists, but somehow isn’t created by us through our own choices and actions. We all join the chorus saying “something’s gotta change” with an implicit “but it’s not me”.
So, if a critical mass is not truly dissatisfied with our own work (and not just the work of others) then the real dissatisfaction required to generate change doesn’t exist. There is only frustration, blame, and subsequent defensiveness (and a lot of failed visions and plans).
If all of us who claim dissatisfaction, whatever the issue and wherever we work, actually changed our own practices, I wonder if it might add up to something?