Change or Die!

What if you were told that you must either “Change or Die”? Would you change?

Now that you’ve had a minute to think about that and have probably answered the question with a resounding “Yes” (or “yeah, duh” depending on your age), think again. According to Alan Deutschman, you’re delusional.

In his recent book Change or Die, Alan Deutschman (a senior writer at Fast Company) looked for answers to the question in the behavior of three high-risk groups: patients with advanced heart disease who required a coronary-artery bypass or angioplasty, repeat offenders who have come to be viewed as psychopaths, and workers in a manufacturing plant who were so hostile to change and distrustful of management that the company closed the factory and laid off all 5000 of these workers. In each case the people in question were faced with serious threats to their health, their freedom or their livelihoods. And, in each case they chose not to change.

Deutschman then looked at cases where people faced with similar threats chose change. What made the difference?

Necessary Preconditions for Lasting Change:

1. New Hope: The person facing the choice must be given hope that they are capable of choosing correctly and acting on that choice consistently — despite past behavior. According to Deutschman’s observations, people are more likely to make long-lasting change in response to hope than fear. To make this hope actionable (and not a mere wish), the person needs the support of mentors, role models and sources of new knowledge.

2. New Skills: Having made the choice, the person then needs to see that they are capable of the necessary action — time and time again. We’re told that Ben Franklin said it takes 21 days of consistent effort to create a new habit. Similarly, to make lasting change a reality, the person doing the changing has to make good choices over and over again until they become second nature. And in the process, they acquire the new skills that enforce those good choices and new habits. As they are battling their old habits and establishing new habits, the person needs the support of mentors, role models and sources of new knowledge.

3. New Perspective: The experience of making and acting on good choices, coupled with early wins begin to create a new perspective. This allows the person facing change to think differently about what’s at stake and what’s to be gained. With this new way of thinking comes the ability to approach the old problem differently. And, once the mindset shifts the behavior shifts. While this new perspective is forming, the person facing change requires the support of mentors, role models and sources of new knowledge. (Are you sensing a pattern yet???)

There definitely are lessons for knowledge management here. If people facing death, prison or job loss won’t make good choices in response to fear, threats or nagging, why do we think our colleagues who are facing only inconvenience or aggravation will respond better to fear, threats or nagging? KM professionals are going to need new methods to coax their colleagues into change. KM professionals may need to shift from being mere providers of useful tools to being mentors, role models and sources of new knowledge. Alan Deutschman’s insights provide one way of thinking about these new approaches.

If reading the book seems like too much, take a look at Deutschman’s article in Fast Company. It provides a good overview of his research and findings.

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