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10 Principles for Transformational Change

2020 November 15
by Greg Satell

It’s been clear to me for some time that 2020 would be a pivotal year. Globalization and digitalization, the two major forces of the last generation, have disappointed. The corporate mantra of shareholder value has proven to be bankrupt. The end of the Cold War has led not to a democratic utopia, but a rise in populist authoritarianism.

Much of what we believed turned out to not be true. At the same time, there is great cause for optimism. We are undergoing profound shifts in technology, resources, migration and demographics that will give us the opportunity to drive enormous transformation over the next decade. We are likely entering a new era of innovation.

We need to learn from history. Positive change never happens by itself. We can’t just assume that we can just set up some basic “rules of the road” and technological and market forces will do the rest for us. Any significant change always inspires fierce resistance and we need to overcome that resistance to bring change about. Here are 10 principles that can guide us:

1. Revolutions don’t begin with a slogan. They begin with a cause. The vision always needs to be rooted in solving problems people genuinely care about. That’s why you can’t bribe or coerce change. Once you start trying to engineer change through incentives, you are signaling that this is a change that people don’t really want to make.

2. Transformation fails because people oppose it, not because people don’t understand it. For any significant change, there are going to be some people who aren’t going to like it and they are going to undermine it in ways that are dishonest, underhanded, and deceptive. That is your primary design constraint. Change of any kind threatens the status quo, which never yields its power gracefully.

3. To be effective, change efforts need to be rooted in values. Values represent constraints and constraints bring meaning and credibility. A movement without values is nothing more than a mob.

4. Resist the urge to engage those who attack and undermine you. In fact, as a general rule, you should avoid them until you have gained significant momentum.

5. Focus on building local majorities. You want to be continually expanding your majorities within communities and clusters. When you go outside your majority, however, you get pushback. Stay on the inside pushing out.

6. Shift from differentiating values to shared values. Differentiating values are what make people passionate about an idea, but shared values create entry points for people to join your cause. You overcome your opposition by listening and identifying shared values in what they say that can be leveraged to attract others to your cause.

7. You design effective tactics by mobilizing people to influence institutions. Every action has a purpose. You are always mobilizing someone to influence something. For everything you do, you ask who are we mobilizing and to influence what?

8. Scale change and weave the network through cooptable resources. Instead of trying to get people to do what you want, find people who want what you want and give them tools to help them take action. It is through taking action, not taking orders, that people take ownership of the movement and make it their own.

9. Survive Victory. The victory phase is the most dangerous phase. You need to think about how to “survive victory” from the start. It’s not enough to make a point, you have to want to make a difference.

10. Transformation is always a journey, never a particular destination. The most important thing you can do to bring change about is simply to get started. If not now, when? If not you, who?

– Greg


Image: Unsplash


One Response leave one →
  1. December 5, 2020

    I’ve had this sitting here open for a few weeks now.
    I’ve read a lot of articles by you and I have to wonder where you came up with this one from. Yes, you write about transformation, but almost always it seems to be organizational transformation. This is about social transformation and it seems a bit of a leap. I’m not complaining any. It is an amazing article. It just seems … surprisingly developed about a topic that isn’t often addressed.
    I’ll keep it open for a bit longer…

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