I’m currently rereading Change and trying to see if I can learn to apply some of the ideas. At a very high level, the book makes the argument that there are two types of change. The first type of changed is described by the common saying:
The more things change the more they stay the same.
And this is described as first order change. The second type of change – second order change, has a more lasting effect. If we are dreaming we are being chased, there is nothing we can do within the dream to escape the dream. We must wake up – which is a completely different state of being. Or if we are driving a car, the gas pedal can only take us so far. To accelerate beyond the given boundaries we need to change gears. Second order change is like waking up, or changing gears.
I hope you’re with me so far 🙂 Theoretically this makes sense. And being in the agile transformation space, I can see most of the current agile adoptions suffering from the fact that they are only first order changes. Therefore, little really changes in terms of end results. However, in the few great successes – it is like being in another world. Things are different, and can’t be explained as a result of just the agile practices.
So, what does it mean to create second order change on a team or organization? What does that mean in business? What is second order change in software development? How does this theory translate into something concrete? An example from Change makes a good illustration:
One of the changes affected by the Red Guards during the early stages of the Chinese Cultural Revolution was the destruction of all public signs (of streets, shops, buildings, etc.) which contained any reference to the reactionary, “bourgeois” past, and their replacement by revolutionary names. Could there be a more radical break with the past? But in the wider context of Chinese culture this break is fully in keeping with that basic rule which Confucius called the rectification of names and which is based on the belief that from the “right” name the “right” reality should follow – rather than assuming, as we do in the West, that names reflect reality. In effect, therefore, the renaming imposed by the Red Guards was of the first-order change type; it not only left an age-old feature of Chinese culture intact, but actually re-emphasized it. Thus there was no second-order change involved, a fact that the Red Guards would probably have had difficulty appreciating.
That’s what I’m exploring. I’ve participated in several successful and failed agile adoptions. I have observed the keys of success were in the individual human dynamics and the culture created by leadership. So it seems to me that the change of mindset of the individuals and the change of culture have created that second order change.
The change of mindset supported by culture creates second order change.
By changing our perceptions of the world, we “shift gears” or “wake up from the dream”. Changing mindset, however, is a very intimate event. It is the moment that the proverbial light bulb turns on. And that lightbulb can easily flicker off if not followed by actions and feedback that feeds that initial spark (yes I’m mixing metaphors – sorry). This is really cool!
But for me, as a change agent, it is still unclear. I cannot consciously repeat it, even if I have unconsciously, by gut, done so over the past several years. I know there is something here – and making it concrete help me and my clients, and help me communicate it to others and if I’m extremely lucky be a real contribution to our community. I am increasingly sure that this way of seeing the world of change is a piece of the puzzle.
So here is my proposal: let’s all go back to the moment(s) where the light-bulb turned on and we drank the kool-aid. Let’s describe those moments. Here, on you personal blog, or an email to me. I’ll create a catalog and we can look at them for patterns. I will publish the results and make them available to all at regular intervals.