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The Magic Change Principle

The video delves into the magic of change in organizational development, drawing insights from prominent figures in the field. Emphasizing the interconnectedness of everything, it stresses the significance of small groups as the fundamental unit of change. The author advocates for a hands-on approach, integrating research and action seamlessly. Highlighting the principle that data belongs to everyone, the video encourages involving contributors in shaping outcomes. The author concludes with a formula for catalyzing change, emphasizing understanding the situation, diagnosing issues collaboratively, and linking insights to effective action. Practical and insightful, the video provides a roadmap for instigating meaningful change in various settings.


The magic change principle. This is what I learned from the giants in the field of organization development and organization effectiveness. I was very fortunate to be born when I was born and to meet the people that I met because early on in my work in this area, I was introduced to Ron Lippitt, who was Kurt Levine, who’s the grandfather of this whole change movement. He was Kurt Levine’s first graduate student, and Ron was somebody that mentored me, along with Herb Sheppard, who’s one of the people that named Organization Development, and Jack Sherwood, who was probably one of the top OD consultants in America for many, many years. So from all of these people, I pulled together what I think is kind of the magic of change. What’s the fundamental secret or the. I was a magician for many years. So what’s the secret to helping change happen? And I’m going to try to boil this down for you in about 4 or 5 minutes. Here we go. This is what I learned. First thing is that there’s no action. This is Kurt Levine’s phrase there should be no action without research. No research without action. Don’t just go in and do a program or do a training or do anything without, first of all, finding out what needs to be done. I mean, does that make sense or what? And if you do research, don’t just give it to experts to put in a file somewhere and say, isn’t that interesting? Now we know a lot about this team or this organization.

Put that information to work in the form of action, a fundamental principle. Another one is that everything and everybody is connected all the time. It’s the old story about the butterfly flaps its wings in Asia, and there’s a thunderstorm in Europe and so forth. It looks kind of strange, but when you really begin to look at organizations, anything that happens anywhere in that system has an impact on the rest of the system. Just like in a family, one person gets sick. It affects the whole family. One person gets happy, it affects the whole family. Anything that happens in the organization, in some way down the line affects everyone in that system. Change is the only constant, the only thing you can count on. The only thing you can depend on. The only thing that will be steady or constant is change itself. One of the ancient Greek philosophers said, you cannot put your foot in the river in the same place twice, right? Because the river is flowing. You take your foot out, you put it back in. The river is different. Your organization, your team, your family, your life is flowing, and every moment is different. I like to say life is not a photograph but like a movie with frame after frame after frame after frame, it’s constantly changing. The next frame is different and the next frame is different. So change is the only constant. Small groups are the best unit of change.

In fact, even in large scale change projects, which I’ve done quite a few of over my career. The fundamental unit, the place where the change actually becomes real or is operationalized or maybe discovered or put to work is almost always in a small group. It occasionally individuals will have insights. Occasionally a whole roomful of individuals will have insights. But nothing really has has reality in the operational world until they get together in their organizational teams and units and begin to work. So that small group is the fundamental unit of change. And in a conversation with my colleague Marvin Weisbord last week, he reminded me that Kurt Levine was not interested in groups when he first started this whole change stuff. He thought groups were just data points of individuals, and it was his student, Ron Lippitt, who who really convinced Kurt that that that groups have a personality, that groups are a something that’s separate from the collection of the individuals. Interesting little factoid there. Number five, I love this. This was from Ron Lippert and Jack Sherwood hammered and Herb and Herb Shepherd over and over again. When people give you data, the the people who give you the data actually own the data. So if you do a research project, if you do a survey every year, organizations do these attitude surveys or air surveys or or culture surveys, and then that data gets collected and then given to a group of experts. That data does not really ultimately belong to the researcher who designed the instrument or to the HR department or to the executive team or a small group of people.

The principle is that data belongs to everybody. So in a sense, they lend you the data, they lend it to you, they give you their their honest answers to questions, and then they wait to see what kind of return on that investment are they going to get. And most often than not, there is no clear-cut return. Even when the data is used and something good comes out of it. There’s no connection in people’s minds made between the answer they gave on a survey and this really good thing that happened. So it’s such a just a powerfully simple principle. Let the people who give you the data be involved in some way in figuring out what to do with it. I’m going to give you my summary of that in a minute. The people who do the work quite often know exactly what needs to change. They know where, as my colleague Toor Dal calls them, the log jams. I believe in the northwest when I’m not here in Europe, and in the old days they take these logs and put them on the rivers. They still do to float them down to where they can go to the sawmill. And sometimes the logs would get jammed up. There’d be hundreds of logs, and they’d be they’d be jammed up in the river. And rather than trying to fix everything, the real smart loggers realized that there was one log called a key log.

And if they could break up that log, then the whole the whole raft would go free. So the people who do the work, they know where that key log is. They know where the log jams are. They know where the blocks are in the operational effectiveness of your organization. Why not ask them to be a part of the process? I mean, is that is that smart or what? And finally, you want to break the existing paradigms with the people who need or want to change. So people talk about change management sometimes as if it’s some sort of a process that you do to people. We put people through this process and then they will change. Boy, I just don’t think that works. I mean, people might go along with it because they want to keep their jobs, but to really fundamentally change the way something happens and not just operationally above the waterline, but really change in people’s hearts how and why they do things. That needs to happen with people who see the need for change. And you actually ultimately want to make the change happen. Now, this is my formula. This is my magic change secret. I’ve taken all this and kind of summarized it. Here we go. Finding out what is actually happening with the people who are affected. That’s the research part of this. Right. And why it is happening. Doing some diagnosis again with the people if possible, representatively at least who are doing it and getting all that data on the table, so to speak, where it is seen and discussed by stakeholders, all the stakeholders in a safe environment.

Every one of these words is really critical. Getting it on the table where it is seen looked at in its raw form, discussed by stakeholders in a safe environment where what it means figuring out what it means. Sense making is another word for that. Doing that in a way that’s linked to effective action taking process. You don’t want to have it done by a group of researchers who are not at all connected. You want the executives. You want the people that the operational people to be wanting to know about this. You want them to be like, tell us, tell us, tell us you don’t want them separated from this. You want this information and stuff to be fed into the decision-making process. When you do that, that has the power to change people and systems. That’s my summary of the that’s my change secret. I’ve applied it. It’s action. Research is what it is. It’s what it’s called. It’s my version of it. And it’s been applied by me and by my colleagues around the world, over and over and over. Put this principle to work in your team, in your, in your family, for Pete’s sake. Anywhere you have people gathering who need to have change, try this. I think you’ll find it works really, really well.


This insightful video delves into essential survival skills for navigating today’s workplace challenges. Covering skills seven to ten, it emphasizes the importance of developing courage to face challenges (symbolized by “tigers”), mastering cross-functional teamwork, adapting to rapid change, and finding purpose beyond routine tasks. The author encourages readers to view their work as contributing to a larger purpose, urging them to quit a mundane job and discover work that aligns with personal passions and makes a meaningful impact. With a focus on personal development, organizational growth, and effective teamwork, the video provides practical advice for thriving in the dynamic modern workplace.

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