“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

A metaphor for organizational change

I was talking to my boss today about how I felt there were lots of little glimmers of hope that things were changing within our organization, but that they never were sustained, and thus extinguished. During this conversation I came up with a way to describe why lots of small glimmers of hope never really amount to true cultural change.

The thought occurred to me when I took the metaphor of glimmer to it’s nth degree. So a successful glimmer would start to gleam as it was nurtured, till it finally shown brightly. However, most glimmers disappear, as if while they were trying to break the darkness they were sucked back into the opaque black of the status quo.

Then I thought of light in motion, and that as light moves towards you it gets brighter, and what is the one thing that keeps light from moving forward, a black hole, that has an event horizon. If you are to escape past the event horizon of the black hole (or for that matter the gravity well of any large cellestial object) you will need to have enough escape velocity.

Most corporate change fails due to the lack of escape velocity. There is a break in inertia and that is noble, but unless we are able to accelerate (build upon in a comprehensive and additive manner) at a rate that prevents the old ways from clogging its path and adding friction and gravity, that break in inertia will be in vain.

I would love to hear in the comment here, success stories of folks who were able to break that inertia and make an reasonable “escape velocity”. I’d also be interested in what people have figured out about the gravity wells in a cultural change scenario and how to best negotiate it.

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  • Brett Lider

    I have seen it, both for offices/regions and project teams. On project teams, it was clearly communicated that we were not meeting client expecations and that we were in it together. We had an aggressive leader who forced us to reconsider our habits and we slowly improved. The same could be said of the office turnaround, but on a larger scale. I’d be happy to connect you with the two leaders I am speaking of if you want to know more, or with fellow doers if you like.


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