Tag Archives: transformation

Change vs. Transformation: What’s the Difference?

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Transformation involves changing your frame of reference. Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Last week, on the Lean Six Sigma Worldwide discussion group, Gaurav Navula (CEO of Perky Pat India) asked us to reflect on the difference between change and transformation. Change management was a major thrust in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, but you don’t hear as much about it anymore. Today, the tools of change management (making the business case, aligning strategy with tactics, engaging stakeholders, instituting goal-directed training and education programs, etc.) have faded into the everyday landscape of management. Leaders seem to be focused more on “surviving and thriving” in the midst of rapid and disruptive innovation, which enhances the importance of transformation.

But what’s the difference? Just a couple months ago, Ron Ashkenas (on the Harvard Business Review blog) asserted that we don’t know the difference: “We really do know how to execute discrete changes. What we know much less about is how to engineer a transformation.”

But I think we do know how to engineer a transformation, and we can use this recipe. I’ll explain more towards the end of this post, but it acknowledges the relationship between larger-scale changes and transformation: that change is required for transformation, and all transformation involves change, but not all change is transformational. This is based on the idea that all observable changes come with “shifts in state” – from the quality management perspective, you can think of these as observed changes in system performance (cost savings, more efficient or effective use of time, increasing throughput, enhancing return on investment).

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What this says is: transformation is what you get when you adjust the frame of reference that you observe the world with, and then add to that new perspective the product of all the shifts in state that have occurred as a result of incremental changes. I say “when you adjust the reference frame,” but that’s somewhat misleading. Usually there is some sort of transformational experience… an “a-ha” moment or event… where the scales fall from your eyes and you see the world in a completely different way. The shift in reference frame always involves relationships: either your relationship to other people or other groups, or your relationship to yourself and how you see yourself, or maybe both. 

“My sense is that there’s an underlying semantic problem, stemming from confusion between what constitutes “change” versus “transformation.” Many managers don’t realize that the two are not the same. And while we’ve actually come a long way in learning how to manage change, we continue to struggle with transformation.” — Ron Ashkenas, HBR blog

Here are some of the qualitative descriptions that have been offered to further articulate the differences between change and transformation. Notice that they do not conflict with the expression for transformation above.

Change:

  • Finite initiatives which may or may not be cross-cutting (HBR)
  • Desire to improve the past directs what we do (Mohanty)
  • Makes the system better (Mohanty)
  • Any time an organization asks its people or systems to stop, start, or execute in a new way a process, behavior or location of performanc (Holtz)
  • Making setups in different format within the given system to achieve improvements in performance (Bob Matthew)
  • Incremental (Anand)

Transformation:

  • A portfolio of open-ended initiatives which are necessarily cross-cutting (HBR)
  • The future directs your actions and only the limits of imagination and courage constrain possibilities (Mohanty)
  • Makes a better system (Mohanty)
  • The base of transformational is the word “formation” – the stuff things are made of or the structure – that needs to change for the change to be transformational. (du Plessis)
  • Encompasses bigger, more radical shifts (Holtz)
  • Makes a total change of system, procedure and a total mindset to get a better transparency and communication within the process owners including the customers. (Bob Matthew)
  • Should be informed by strategy (Kshirsagar)
  • Transformation is not a preference; it’s a necessity as a result of resistance to change. (Aydin)
  • Major; result of many changes (Anand)

Think about the last time you experienced a transformative change, perhaps even in your personal life. For example, think of a time when you were able to truly and completely forgive someone for some way they had wronged you. There were certainly a collection of changes in state that occurred — prior to, during, and after the forgiveness experience. But as a result, didn’t you also come to see the world in a completely different way? Your frame of reference with respect to that person… and probably, other people you have relationships with… also shifted.

What #BIF9 and Burning Man Taught Me About Transformation – Part II (via Deming!)

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Even the phones at Burning Man tell you that you’re in Black Rock City, NV

In Part I, I described some observations from my experiences at BIF and Burning Man, and alluded to the notion that I might have uncovered a very simple “secret sauce” they share. Here are the observations:

  • Both communities consist of active and engaged participants who could be considered “innovation junkies”. Whereas the BIF crowd focuses on more traditional organizational and social innovation, the Burning Man crowd spans the extremes of experiential innovation (through art, technology, interactions with other people, or even just figuring out how to navigate life in the Black Rock Desert).
  • “Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects” (#RCUS) is the norm in both environments. First, the “unusual suspects” seem to be attracted to opportunities to be inspired and get their brains re-wired; second, the participants in both environments seem predisposed to the notion that serendipity is working on their behalf — and they let it happen.
  • People at both BIF and Burning Man tend towards non-judgment, seeking to appreciate and learn from their differences (rather than to resist, deny, or challenge those differences).

The common thread is that both environments have something magical designed into them, and this is the secret sauce: the push to drive out fear. Many of the BIF storytellers have been through Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and make themselves vulnerable so that the audience can vicariously (and often emotionally!) experience their transformation; at Burning Man, you’re stripped of your usual identity and thus unburdened from the fear you might carry as a result of having developed that identity over so many years.

When quality guru W. Edwards Deming formulated his 14 Points decades ago – principles for managers to transform business effectiveness – he expressed that the purpose of the points was to enable everyone to work with joy. One of the points (my favorite one, in fact) is to drive out fear so that everyone may work effectively.

If you are to fully embrace innovation, there is no room for fear! You must work towards fully being yourself, to push your own boundaries, and by extension, to push the boundaries of others, and to push the boundaries of traditional and accepted ways of doing things (“business models”). You are encouraged to own your own story, to TELL your own story, and to connect with others to help them identify with their own stories – and chase away the fear of being authentic, of being able to contribute to your greatest potential.

Why do we hold back? Why are we fearful? (I do it too, all the time.)

  • I am afraid you won’t accept me. I am afraid you won’t like me.
  • I am afraid you will disagree with my choices or decisions, and struggle with me or reject me as a result.
  • I’m afraid you won’t think I’m smart enough, good enough, worthy enough.
  • I am afraid that if you know who I really am, it might have consequences for my health or well-being (e.g. I could lose job, my reputation, my standing within the organization or community).
  • I’m afraid that what I’m trying to do – or be – just won’t work.

 

FEAR **IS** THE BOX.


To think “out of the box,” you must be living out of the box, and it’s an ongoing (and lifelong) process to do that.

I have not yet achieved healthy fearlessness as my steady state – I’m still awaiting bursts of my own personal transformation.  According to Ignite.me:

Joseph Campbell talked about the ‘Hero’s Journey’ whereby the hero is beckoned to enter an unfamiliar world.  When the hero enters this world, they are met with challenges, hurdles, and eventually a seemingly insurmountable confrontation which is achieved by using skills they picked up along the journey.  By overcoming this obstacle, the hero attains new self-knowledge which they can bring back to their people in the ‘ordinary land’ as their gift to the world.

Common themes of ancient mystery traditions are secrecy, death of the ego, participating with archetypal reality, and a rebirth of a new self.  The Eleusinian Mysteries took place over almost 2000 years and were shrouded in mystery from the uninitiated. Shamanic initiation often comes with the shaman being psychologically and experientially deconstructed and put back together.  Some tribal societies had rites of passage where children are ripped away from the bosom of the mother and left in the bush to learn how to become a warrior.  Rites of passage are transformational experiences where the old you is transformed into a new YOU.  That’s where we want to take you, and we create the container for that transformation.

What that means is that you may come as a journalist, or a chef, or a bike messenger, or a computer programmer but for the duration of our journey, you may choose to leave that behind to lose yourself in the present in workshops, dance, yoga, and celebration.  Transformation is disruptive and disorienting and actually occurs when past beliefs are shattered, habits are broken, and futures are rewritten.

By temporarily suspending fear, you create the space for transformation – the space for new experiences to redefine what you know and feel about yourself, and your interactions with other people and the world around you.

But this concept has been around for thousands of years… more on that tomorrow.

What #BIF9 and Burning Man Taught Me About Transformation – Part I

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Registration Desk for our “Transform Learning” Unconference at Burning Man 2013

I spent the last week of August at Burning Man, and two days in September at Saul Kaplan‘s Business Innovation Factory Summit (BIF-9). On the surface, these two events couldn’t seem more different – the former is a counterculture festival of art and technology and spirit in the middle of the barren Nevada desert, whereas the latter is a traditional conference with TED-style talks punctuated by opportunities for business-card networking — in metropolitan Providence, Rhode Island. 

So why did I emerge from each of these vastly different experiences with the exact same, buoyant, intellectually inspired feeling? I’ve been curious ever since my plane touched the ground at DCA last week, and I emerged from the jetway with the same bittersweet resignation that I’d need to return to the “default world” in the morning. Granted, there’s a little bit of overlap… Peter Hirshberg, one of my 2013 neighbors from Playaskool, gave a great BIF talk about “retribalizing the city” and specifically cited Black Rock City as the kind of vision for the future that might have been celebrated at a World’s Fair of the past. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, also briefly noted the shared vibe of the Maker movement, Burning Man, and BIF when he was on stage — a vibe he aims to capture in his Downtown Project in Las Vegas.

But what’s the overlap? Why did both events inspire similar feelings in me?

Thanks to BIF-9 (and @AngelaMaiers), I remembered that I am a genius and the (default) world needs my contribution! And when Matt Murrie of What If? published his article yesterday on the Huffington Post, he provided another clue:  He reminded me that the spirit of BIF is easily captured by the phrases on those giant yellow slides that stay up on the screen in between BIF talks: think transformation, and try more stuff.

Think transformation! Try more stuff! And I’m needed… I’m an important part of all this!

That’s precisely how I felt as a resident of Black Rock City… and as a member of the BIF community sitting in the Trinity Rep theater. But the real secret sauce is… well, I’ll save that reveal for the end 🙂

First, some observations about the shared vibe between Burning Man and BIF:

  • Burners and BIFfers are, by their nature, “innovation junkies”. At a Burn, you are released into an environment where the normal rules and societal standards of engagement are temporarily suspended. The playa provides experiences that will snap you out of the way you thought life was, is, or should be. Want to send a postcard at the Post Office? OK, but you might have to do some cartwheels or tell the entire post office staff a good joke before they’ll take your mail. Nothing is impossible. At BIF, the same spirit prevails in the storytellers’ presentations and the conversations that happen over breaks and at dinner. I don’t have to be afraid of sharing crazy ideas with anyone in either group. I’m not shunned, looked at weird, or talked down. If anything, recommended refinements to my ideas will come with authenticity, insight, and a genuine feeling of support.
  • “Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects” (#RCUS using the tweetable parlance of Deb Mills-Scofield) is the norm in both environments. It is very difficult to wander around Burning Man without stumbling into unusual suspects (the guy who stopped traffic to give out hugs; the guy in the Superman costume who sprayed people with water so they could cool down; the people dancing with the giant jellyfish at White Ocean). BIF welcomes, with open arms, the same type of crowd but in different clothing (quite literally): the inspiring techno-matriarch, Deb Mills-Scofield (what I imagine Jane McGonigal will be like when she’s a grandmother — or as @sandymaxey beautifully observed, Deb is more like a “Fairy Godmother”), Amelia Friedman (who’s trying to help westerners learn widely used languages like Bengali), Evan Ratliff (who decided to create a story for Wired by “disappearing” – and then have people hunt for him), Jonathan Katz (who had a traumatic brain injury that wiped out his sense of taste and smell, and yet he works in a lab making new artificial flavors and scents!) and the girl who’s going to give me a numerology reading soon! OH!! And the guy wearing the nested alien suits at BIF. (Yeah, he would fit in well at Burning Man.)
  • At BIF and Burning Man, people tend towards non-judgment. In the “default world” it’s common to be criticized, ostracized, “tolerated” for your behaviors or beliefs, or (the worst case) expressly demonized, shunned, or outright excluded. At Burning Man, the principle of radical inclusion is honored as a core value of the community:

Burning Man is for absolutely everyone. Everyone. That’s what Radical Inclusion means. If you’re a starving artist, you should go. (if you want to, of course!) If you’re a plumber, you should go. If you’re a billionaire, you should go. If you’re a Saudi Prince that can only go if a turnkey camp is provided for you, please, please come. I’ll make you a sandwich. If you believe you’re a member of the class of people who actually deserve to be there, well then I definitely want you to keep going. One day, you’ll get it. Elitism in all forms distracts us from the truth of our common humanity.
— Dustin Moskovitz, inRadical Inclusion vs. Radical Self-Reliance at Burning Man

At BIF, I noticed that people tend to just naturally accept and honor differences – to get excited about differences, in fact – because if we’re different, we’ve got unique perspectives to share with one another! I met Jeffrey Sparr and Matthew Kaplan, for example, from PeaceLove Studios. They want to remove the stigma associated with mental illness so that people who need help are more receptive to getting it – and with support, can contribute their own gifts to society.

As a personal example, after having a rather open and vulnerable conversation with Greg Satell and his wife Liliana over beer and oysters (where I shared some things about myself that I ordinarily would be completely hesistant to admit to anyone) — Greg’s body language told me he was clearly a little bit uncomfortable. For a moment, I thought I’d misjudged the openness of the BIF crowd. I started to feel hesitant, weak, as if I’d miscalculated and really shouldn’t be making myself vulnerable. But then he spoke up: “Well, I can’t say I feel the same way for me, but if that’s what works for YOU – I’m glad you’ve figured out a way to make it happen.”

Greg’s response, for me, encapsulated the secret sauce of BIF, of Burning Man, and of transformation in general… which I’ll talk more about in a day or two in Part II.

(Ahhhhhhh… the anticipation! Yes, I’m doing this on purpose.)

Continue to Part II —->