Reinvigorating Change Management

Top Minds from Major Fields Explore Advancements in Study of Change

By Mark Webster, former Manager of Strategic Communication at Emerson Human Capital

Leading academics and experts in physics, psychology, anthropology and communication breathed new life into the field of change management at an academic forum hosted by Emerson Human Capital (EHC) – a Bay Area consulting firm specializing in helping their clients capture the benefit of their change initiatives.

EHC founder Tricia Emerson moderated the expert panel that delved into topics including Jungian psychology, mythical archetypes, neuroscience and systems theory. The compelling discussion focused on innovative ways to help people, teams and companies manage change. Emerson, a 20-year veteran of change management, decided to host this forum because she felt the field is getting stale.

Noted Panelists

• Alfonsio Alturi, Ph.D. Dept. Chair, Transformative Studies and Transformative Leadership, California Institute of Integral Studies • James Armstrong Creative Director, Good for Business • Beebe Bahrami, Ph.D. Cultural Anthropologist, Writer and Ethnographic Consultant • Allan Combs, Ph.D. Professor, California Institute of Integral Studies • Michael Conforti, Ph.D. Founder and Director, Assisi Institute • Marilyn King Olympic athlete & performance consultant, Beyond Sports • Roger Mills, Ph.D. President, Center for Sustainable Change and Health Realization Institute • Henry Stapp, Ph.D. Physicist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

“Most of our clients know about the change acceptance curve, understand the importance that change and learning components have on their strategic initiatives,” said Emerson, a 20year veteran of change management. “But our industry has not provided an understanding of why change is so hard. Compelling science shows that physiological and psychological factors ranging from brain structure to organizational systems make managing change complicated.” EHC‟s forum brought together top minds from diverse fields to start a dialogue and reinvigorate change management.

The term “change” itself invited serious discussion on whether we need a new term that reflects the opportunity that strategic initiatives present, but without the negative connotation associated with “changing” behavior or actions.

Key Findings The dialogue at the daylong forum was free flowing and robust. “It is challenging to even point to which moments to consider as key findings,” according to Trish Emerson. “My team and I went through the notes and felt we could write a book based on the forum‟s outcomes!” Emerson narrowed some key findings from the dialogue, with the caveat that they represent a few of the many insights from the discussion. “It is challenging to boil down the myriad „aha‟ moments. When great minds are in the room doing groundbreaking work, you tighten your belt, let your mind engage and hang on for dear life,” said Emerson.

The forum drew the following conclusions and new ways to look at change initiatives:

  • Understand that attention physically changes the brain and creates brain grooves that directly counteract our ability to change. These habits can be addressed by adjusting our attention and creating new grooves. Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz‟s study of OCD patients shows that by merely showing brain changes on MRI scans, it helps stop compulsive behaviors. For organizational change, that means recognizing and articulating old behaviors and rewarding adoption of new behaviors.

  • Recognize that recent societies that have succeeded at reinventing themselves did not focus on how to change who they were, but how to capitalize upon who they already are. They reinvented themselves in a manner that was congruent with what they valued about themselves.

  • Realize that we don‟t change unless we have to and only when the current system no longer works for us.

  • Consider that we are in a constant state of creation, according to quantum theory, and that our thoughts change the physical world. For example, have you ever felt someone watching you? You physically felt those thoughts and energy. Thinking has physical impact. Olympian Marilyn King‟s passion, vision, action approach helped her become a world-class athlete.

  • Our minds are that powerful.

  • Realize that our minds absorb only 7.4% of what is going on around us; the rest is part of the subconscious. That means most of what occurs is not part of our consciousness.

  • Examine the overarching stories that define our world, society, organization and self; these create a magnetic pull that influences how we think and behave.

  • See human behavior as embedded in the collective electromagnetic fields throughout history and understand that in some sense, problems are the continual reiteration of the same drama.

  • Understand that businesses are not brands to be bought, but causes to believe in.

New ways to incorporate these findings in change work:

  • Find out why people get up in the morning – why they work where they work. Align change efforts with that calling.

  • Think about not using the term “change.” Choose a label that doesn‟t automatically make people wary. Help them be for something, not against something. Mother Theresa‟s famous quote notes something like „Don‟t bother inviting me to an anti-war demonstration, but I will go to a peace party.

  • Frame the new initiative in light of why the old way of working is no longer acceptable and why the new approach is better for each person. Reinforce the new way of thinking by tying it to an immediate reward.

  • Analyze the organization‟s dominant archetypal story, using a tool such as the Organization Team Culture Indicator (see article in the winter edition of HC@Work), and positioning the new initiative in a way that resonates with that story.

  • Understand that people on the periphery of society, and who may not be high on the org. chart, are often those who lead change.

  • Help an organization avoid being stuck in the past or overly focused on the future; the key is getting in the present state. That way you can be informed by the past, understand the current state and help realize the future.

  • Focus on what we preserve and what endures, not just what changes.

Forum panelists shared anecdotes from their fields and life work. From Dr. Coombs system‟s theory that all change is cyclical to Marilyn King‟s mindset shift and visioning to become an Olympic athlete, these leaders shared personal and professional insights that provoked and moved participants. Dr. Beebe Bahrami discussed successful changes that utilized vision, culture and sense of belonging to overcome great obstacles. Dr. Michael Conforti pointed out how hard it is to change – noting that patterns are temporal expressions of eternal feelings. Understanding an organization‟s culture and the reason why people who work there get up in the morning, to quote Jim Armstrong, is vital in helping them succeed. The forum opened a dialogue across disciplines that Emerson EHC plans to explore further, with the intent to improve the change field‟s success ratios in the process. “Understanding the brain, aligning with organizational culture and employing principles from systems theory seem to be the way forward,” she added. “Change is hard. Organizations trying to change are often vulnerable to failure,” Emerson concluded, “so finding innovations that harness advances in psychology, quantum physics and cultural anthropology makes perfect sense.”

Mark Webster, Manager of Strategic Communication at Emerson Human Capital, has over two decades experience developing messages for corporate, non-profit and political clients around the world. Visit to find out more.