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When You Face Obstinate Opposition, Don’t Create A Conflict, Create A Dilemma

2022 July 24
by Greg Satell

In the summer of 1982, Poland was under strict martial law. The leaders of the revolutionary Solidarity movement were either in jail or in hiding. As the regime tightened its grip, any kind of protest risked arrest. People were demoralized, forced to sit in their homes with nothing to do but watch propaganda-laden “news” and old movies.

Yet the resident’s of Świdnik, a small city in central Poland, refused to take it sitting down. Instead, they walked. Every night at 7:30, when the evening news program began to spew the regime’s lies, they went for a walk and, just to put a fine point on the matter, some took their TV sets with them, in wheelbarrows and baby carriages.

It was fun—and funny. Similar “walking protests” soon spread virally to cities across Poland, which put the regime in a bind, they either had to shut the protests down or let people thumb their nose at the regime. This is what’s known as a dilemma action, a brilliant strategy that allows you to avoid conflict while at the same time putting your opposition into a bad spot.

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Why We Need To Put Human Agency Back At The Center Of Decision-Making

2022 July 17
by Greg Satell

We live in an automated age. From the news we read and the items we shop for, to who we date and what companies we choose to work for, algorithms help drive every facet of modern life. Such rapid technological advancement has led some to predict that we’re headed for a jobless future, where there is no more need for humans.

Yet in their new book Radically Human, Accenture’s Paul Daugherty and H. James Wilson argue exactly the opposite. In their work guiding technology strategy for many of the world’s top corporations, they have found that, in many cases, the robots need us more than we need them. Automation is no panacea.

For over a century, pundits have been trying to apply an engineering mindset to human affairs with the hope of taking a more “scientific approach.” So far, those efforts have failed. In reality, these ideas have less to do with science than denying the value of human agency and limiting the impact of human judgment. We need to stop making the same mistake.

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Designing Effective Change Tactics Starts With Viable Targets

2022 July 10
by Greg Satell

When we’re passionate about something, we want to take action. We want to launch an initiative, start a business, hit the streets, get stuff done. Yet our bias for action can be a trap that undermines—or even completely derail—our efforts. No matter what our intentions, actions without a sound strategy are doomed to fail.

Corporate change initiatives often start with a big kick-off campaign. These rarely convince anybody of anything, but can trigger opposition and kill the effort before it ever really gets started. People who feel strongly about social change often start by organizing a march. Yet marches are a very flawed tactic, vulnerable to sabotage and rarely achieve anything substantial.

Effective transformation strategy always involves mobilizing people to influence institutions. That’s where you start. Once you’ve determined what your strategy needs to be targeted at, you can begin to design potent tactics. There are time-tested tools that have proven out over decades that can help you do this. If you’re serious about change, you should learn them.

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The Transformative Power Of Purpose

2022 July 3
by Greg Satell

Wherever I go in the world to speak and advise organizations, I always get the same question: “How can I get people to listen to my ideas?” The truth is that no one wants to listen to your ideas unless they solve a problem that is meaningful to them. So many initiatives fail because leaders get so focused on their passion for an idea that they fail to communicate it effectively.

People already have enough going on in their lives with their own responsibilities, ambitions and dreams. They have families to take care of, friends that they want to spend time with and their own ideas that they want to pursue. The status quo always has inertia on its side and never yields its power gracefully.

The truth is that good ideas fail all the time. In the two decades I have been researching and advising leaders about transformation, what I have found is that few have trouble coming up with new concepts. The hard part is to get others to buy in and work together towards a common purpose. That can only be done in the context of shared sense of values and mission.

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Revolutions Don’t Begin With a Slogan, They Begin With A Cause

2022 June 26
by Greg Satell

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenski has been compared to great orators like Winston Churchill. He vowed to the English House of Commons to fight “in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets.” In a speech to the US Congress he told President Biden, “​​Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”

While new to politics, Zelensky is no neophyte when it comes to delivering a line. A longtime actor and comic who was the voice of “Paddington” in the Ukrainian adaptations of the hit movie, his production company Kvartal 95 produced a series of hits. It would be easy to boil his effectiveness down to his communication skills.

That would be a mistake. Zelenski’s eloquence derives its power from the plight of his people, their passion for freedom and their unwillingness to return to an often troubled past. One reason why change so often fails is that we spend so much time focusing on wordsmithing that we neglect why the need for change arose in the first place. That is where we must start.

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4 Ways Hucksters, Gurus And Consultants Fool Us (And Usually Themselves Too)

2022 June 19
by Greg Satell

When I lived in Poland, it was common to say that “life is cruel, and full of traps.” From an American perspective, the aphorism can be a bit of a culture shock. We’re raised to believe in the power of positivity, the American dream and the can-do spirit. Negativity can be seen as something worse than a weakness, both an indulgence and a privation at the same time.

Over the years, however, I came to respect the Poles’ innate suspicion. The truth is that we are far too easily fooled and taken in by those prey on the glitches in our cognitive machinery. Sometimes the ones peddling bunk have fooled also themselves. Their claims seem to be supported by logic and evidence, but their promises never quite pan out.

We’re taken in because we want their claims to be true. We’d like to think that there is a secret we’re missing, that there’s a black magic that we’re not privy to and, if we prove our worth and obtain access to a few simple truths, we’ll capture the success that eludes us. Yet these frauds follow common patterns and there are telltale signs we can learn to spot.

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Here’s How You Build Transformative Teams

2022 June 12
by Greg Satell

One of the most common questions I get asked by senior managers is “How can we find more innovative people?” I know the type they have in mind. Someone energetic and dynamic, full of ideas and able to present them powerfully. It seems like everybody these days is looking for an early version of Steve Jobs.

Yet the truth is that today’s high value work is not done by individuals, but teams. It wasn’t always this way. The journal Nature noted that until the 1920’s most scientific papers only had a single author, but by the 1950s that co-authorship became the norm and now the average paper has four times as many authors as it did back then.

To solve the kind of complex problems that it takes to drive genuine transformation, you don’t need the best people, you need the best teams. That’s why traditional job descriptions lead us astray. They tend to focus on task-driven skills rather than collaboration skills. We need to change how we evaluate, recruit, manage and train talent. Here’s what to look for:

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We Need To Stop Cheerleading Change

2022 June 5
by Greg Satell

Today, everyone seems to want to associate themselves with change. Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric’s former CEO, loved to call his firm a 124 year-old startup. Its value fell by 30% under his tenure and would later collapse. Bill Gates pointed out that the culprit wasn’t innovation or disruption, but basic mismanagement.

It seems that, these days, Immelt’s leadership is closer to the rule than the exception. Everybody wants to be an innovator. Nobody wants to be associated with the status quo. Even political conservatives describe themselves as a “movement,” a seeming contradiction in terms. Change has become gospel, an end in itself rather than a mere means to an end.

The truth is that innovation is less about new ideas than it is about identifying meaningful problems. Too much happy talk about change can actually undermine meaningful transformation. If your focus on the fabulous yonder obscures your view into the day-to-day, you’re most likely headed for trouble. We need to start taking change more seriously.

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Summer Reading List: Books That Will Help You Understand The War In Ukraine

2022 May 29
by Greg Satell

No matter what’s going on during the year, I always look forward to summer. I love the heat and, despite spending 15 years in frigid Eastern European countries, I hate the cold. Every year I find myself counting the days before I can slap on gobs of sunscreen and while away the hours underneath the sun.

Of course, one of my favorite things to do at the beach or by the pool is to read. There’s something about summer that helps me block out whatever else is going on and focus on the book in front of me. So every year I find myself looking for good books that will make the time and effort worth it.

Today, the world is focused on a country I know well, but most people are unfamiliar with. To a surprising extent, Ukraine finds itself at a crossroads of world affairs, with conflicts between east and west, democracy and authoritarianism, populism and globalism in the balance, it’s a war we must win. This summer’s list focuses on understanding why.

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Don’t Hate Your Haters, Leverage Them To Your Advantage

2022 May 22

What can be hardest about change, especially when we feel passionately about it, is that at some point, we need to accept that others will not embrace it. Not every change is for everybody. Some will have to pursue a different journey, one to which they can devote their own passions and seek out their own truths.

Yet there’s something about human nature that makes us want to convince those who vehemently oppose our idea. That’s almost always a mistake. Often, the reason for their opposition has less to do with any rational argument than their identity and sense of self. For whatever reason, it offends their dignity.

Still, we can learn to love our haters, because they can often help us find the way forward. All too often, we end up preaching to the choir instead of venturing out of the church and mixing with the heathens. That’s how change efforts fail. On the other hand, if we can learn to use their tactics and rhetoric to our own advantage, we have a powerful weapon for change.

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