Dynamics of Change

Edgar H. Schein in his book Organizational Culture and Leadership, discusses the general stages of change within human systems such as a group and organisations, drawing from his own consulting and research. Kurt Lewin wrote an article back in 1947 and concluded that for people and group performance to change there appears to be three stages that they go through to establish new levels of performance:

  1. Unfreezing the current level.
  2. Moving to the new level.
  3. Freezing the new level.

Edgar augmented this in the following manner (page 299):

  1. Unfreezing: Creating the motivation to change.
  2. Learning new concepts, new meanings for old concepts and new standards for judgement.
  3. Internalising new concepts, meanings and standards.

While reflecting on these observations I started to think about the application of jobs-to-be-done theory from jobstobedone.org, in particular the progress making forces. It led me to ponder that the observations of people change and customer switching are closely related for they have one thing in common, being involved in a situation; the realisation that there is a problem causing motivation to be established.

When a person decides to stop doing one thing and start doing another we call this a Switch in jobs-to-be-done language. Combining this thinking with Lewin/Edgar’s stages of change caused me to think that a customer appears to go through three distinct stages within a Switch:

  1. New situation arises in their life.
  2. Work towards resolving it, leveraging products and services
  3. Establish a new way.

To navigate these stages we think of it within jobs-to-be-done as a set of forces. They can be broken into 4 distinct areas and have an impact on each other:

  1. Push of the situation.
  2. Attraction of the new.
  3. Anxiety of the new.
  4. Habit of the present.

Forces 1 and 2 are progress generating (pushing forward) whilst 3 and 4 are resistive in nature (pulling back). Edgar Schein groups these forces in anxiety terms:

  1. Survival Anxiety - Must do something, learn what it is.
  2. Learning Anxiety - Unlearning something so it can be learned.

My perception is that the progress generating forces in a switch are the same components we can find in Survival Anxiety. In that for a person (customer) to survive they must actually learn something and likewise the resistive forces are akin to Learning Anxiety; the confrontation that a person will have to unlearn something. In social or group settings this threat is quite alarming.

It’s easy to learn new things when there is no unlearning and explains to me why it is easier when we are younger to learn as we simply have nothing to unlearn! And also why people tend to find it hard to give up their present habits, because those very habits are learned and must be unlearned if they are to make the Switch. Unlearning can generate a complex set of emotions which can cause all sorts of defence mechanisms to kick in.

When studying the four forces through the perspective of jobs-to-be-done we learn that the progress generating forces always come with a side-effect; the more you focus on them the more resistive forces you potentially generate. It is as if you are stretching the customer further and further away from their old habits that has them unconsciously more and more concerned. Edgar Schein describes the same relationship between Survival and Learning Anxiety and describes two principles for transformative change aka Switching:

Principle 1 - Survival anxiety (progress making forces) or guilt must be greater than learning anxiety.

Principle 2 - Learning anxiety (resistive forces) must be reduced rather than increasing survival anxiety.

I believe these schools of thought overlap and blend nicely so I have created a hybrid diagram displaying the dynamics of change for a person which in turn is a customer.



  In my mid-years as a programmer I started to become aware of change matters between people as I experimented with pair programming and TDD from eXtreme Programming fame. Many programmers are self taught, as was I, and we tended to enjoy thinking, developing and solving alone; interaction would be on a need to ask basis.

Therefore to pair program with another can actually be an incredibly painful experience for many programmers learning this practice. For me the pairing experience was challenging my built up assumption that people got in the way of coding and all I wanted to do was shout out aloud:

 “Let me solve this problem, myself! The computer and I get along fine, you on the other hand, are simply in my way.”

I never actually said this but I am sure I was projecting my frustrations and I am sorry about that.

I would often go home and think on this. Before I was a programmer, I had experienced a career change and it was a difficult time. This event caused a theory to stick in my head; if something is uncomfortable it might be worth understanding it better, a learning anxiety perhaps.

I soon discovered, in the pair programming situation, that if I resisted the temptation to solve the problem and instead shifted my perspective and questioning to understand how the other person is observing the problem, I could actually participate in their learning process. I didn’t have a name for it at the time, but now I think of it as helping (Schein E.)


  Now that I am practicing to write, exercising deliberate practice, I am having a terrible week and it’s only Tuesday. I set the alarm at 5:30am today, and yesterday, and I feel like a constipated  zombie with a hang over. The problem isn’t that I have nothing to say, ask any of my friends and family, but that I have so much going on in my mind it’s all jammed up at the door of explainability. I was reflecting while driving back on Sunday from Healesville, what perspective should I be writing from? Should it be stories of things I encounter? The ideas that come from them? I’m thinking what have I forgotten already? When I got home I jump on my Kindle and flicked through Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird again:

Do it everyday for a while, my father kept saying. Do it as you would do scales on the piano. Do it by prearrangement with yourself. Do it as a debt of honor. And make a commitment to finishing things.

Good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs to understand who we are.
— Anne Lamott

  The anxiety of feeling lost subsided, but then I couldn’t stop thinking about how did this happen, what is causing this jam in my head? Because last week the thoughts came more gracefully. Well I have a theory, I’m back at work in the thick of other problems, the mind has become a soup of got to do this and plan for that, such and such wants to talk about X, do your timesheet, get your expenses in, a fight for my attention!
  Prior to this, over the Christmas period, I had 10 days off and to my surprise, I found myself stumbling into some nice deep thought periods, quiet time to reflect and make sense of matters. Sitting out in the waters of Bondi Beach waiting for a wave, I believe, allow me to think clearly again and therefore turn that thinking into words on a page. Some might call this meditation or relaxing but it is the opposite. It is thinking deeply over matters of knowledge and letting your mind search for truths.

Drained of Meaning

There appears to be words that get popularised, shafted, mash, bash and twisted with the times. Right now these come to mind–Agile, Digital, Innovation and Disruption–all within, I figure, the last five years. I don't really know what causes these words to become popular, is it something to do with our desirous of new possessions? But the problem with this is these words originally had precise meaning and have been around a long time, they were not new and derivate from Latin.

  It is probably unfair to just focus on the word, these words are combined in phrases and used as tag lines throughout the Internet. Maybe it's the advent of socialising more via the Internet with the likes of–Twitter, Tweet, Snapchat, Facebook, Tumblr and many more. Ah Twitter now that word makes sense. I remember asking myself the question, what is Twitter and a Tweet? I went and found out and those names mean exactly what they are for now. But–Agile, Digital, Innovation and Disruption–are vague and mushy to me, I need to visit my local therapist to be sure I am thinking straight, they have become drained of meaning.

Just exactly what is a Digital Disruptive Agile Innovation? Is any of this really new?