Starting Fires: Leadership and Pyrotechniques

Second order change always requires doing something in or to the system previously not done, everything else is simply a repeat performance.

Peter Berquist, The Postmodern Organization

We want to learn to start fires as often as possible. 1st order change, while periodically effective, rarely produces the kind of permanence we desire. Here are some of the things to look for:

When attempting to implement a change, and stubborn resistance seems to prevail, ask this question “Is my approach applying a ‘more of the same’ solution?” Are you simply yelling a little louder, applying a little more grease to the same squeaky spot or trying to motivate the same tired component into effectiveness? These are “more of the same” solutions.

Step back and refuse to look at pieces of the system and instead view the entire system. “More of the same” is usually inability to see the forest because of moving from tree to tree. Component enhancement, fixing and tweaking are always pendulums and never fire. Remember our Pendulums and Fire discussion? Ask instead how could the whole system or situation be altered? This usually occurs through the introduction of a new component into the system. This by definition changes the relationships through the system of the various components.

Last, always look at the place of greatest resistance in the system. This is generally the place the fire should be lit. Change will be massive and swift. Often a “why didn’t I see that before” will result once the change is implemented, proving you finally set a fire and are on your way to systemic 2nd order change.

And let me just say if you haven’t read Berquist’s book quoted above.  You are missing out.  Even as old as it is it might be one of the best to read on pomo orgs.


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