A commenter called Zakamundo has an insightful comment that Hugh turned into a posting. I left a lengthy comment of my own – got carried away there a bit – which I shall reproduce here for two reasons. It describes something of what I do and it gives me something to blog about during a week with a client.
"The way corporate life works is that change needs to come from the top down, as well as the bottom up. Feverish activity in the middle is at risk of being wasted."
Yes, and yes again. I see change as a laborious and slow building of a momentum (finding the genie and the neck of the bottle), which must be based on the understanding that you CANNOT change a system from within. What you can do is build a parallel alternative system/process/network with the notion of bypassing the existing one. Do this by doing things that work i.e. small projects under the radar, borrowing the motivation and dynamics for them from the internet…(tools, autonomy, simplicity). Then stand back and watch the bad bits of the company and its culture fight it. Whenever I get this far with my clients and the change to their companies, it always involves getting them into their discomfort zone. There is no ’safe’ way of doing this. Think of it as a controlled implosion.
I also know what Hugh means, small things/changes can impact even a big entrenched system but generally they tend to be too minute and therefore too fragile. Occasionally they start a snowball or tap into something bigger and cause a fundamental shift. This however does not offer companies much consolation as it cannot be easily understood, let alone replicated.
The change may be driven by people from within a system (and yes, they have to be at the top as well as bottom) but they really have to understand that they can’t use the system and its dysfunctional process to change it. There is too much resistance and by the time they crack it, the outside world has overtaken the company by a long way. And that is no route to innovation.
In my experience, the people who become part of change I try to bring to companies have what I call an ‘oh fuck it’ moment. They have tried to use the approved processes, implement tools and generally do things by the book. They run against a wall and attitudes that firmly hold it in place. When they realise this – it’s time for ‘oh fuck it, I am going to do this anyway’. And that’s when we get really started.