Disruption after transformative events: the Satir Change Model

July 28, 2009
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The impact on group performance of a well assimilated change during the five stages of the Satir Change Model

Steven Smith has a very interesting post discussing the Satir Change Model – a model of group process which charts the impact of innovations in organisational dynamics.

Smith discusses the impact of change on organisational dynamics.  The Satir Change model is derived from family psychology, which tracks the changes in family behaviour after the introduction of a new or disruptive event.

What the model finds is that after a new way of acting or behaving is adopted, there is a drop in performance often followed by a period of chaos or disruption.  This then restabilises to a higher level than before after group members internalise and embrace the circumstances of the new condition.

Clark Quinn then comments upon this, applying the model to organisational change.  He suggests that breaking new conditions or changes of behaviour into small, bite sized chunks might actually help reduce the negative aspects associated with change adoption.  Introducing these at the right time, and in the right order, may be the key to progressive, ongoing organisational change.

Smith then summarises this process in a table, reproduced below:

ctions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.

Actions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.

Many thanks to Steven and Clark for discussing this issue in the context of organisational change.

What lessons might this hold for humanitarian bearocratic change in the face of increasing numbers of disruptive, change-inducing events? Depending on the magnitude and frequency of these events (both increasing), it is possible that such organisations could hypothetically be driven down a process of ever decreasing performance if such changes happen fast enough.  On the other hand, embracing and understanding a model such a this (if it works in the context of your organisation) could help managers better navigate these changes.

UPDATE – This also suggests that in order for organisations to learn and improve, they must be subject to creative, disruptive, potentially even destructive events.  If one is serious about change management and organisational adaptation, doesn’t it make sense to bring about such small events in order to help agencies and organisations better strengthen their “immune systems” in this regard?  In this case, do the ends justify the means?

Learning from children: strategy, tactics and games in times of rapid change

July 20, 2009


Are there lessons in how children learn that might help us adults, and the organisations we run, learn from turbulent environments and make better decisions in times of change?

Watching my 9 month old child grow up, I was struck by how inventive and experimental his learning style can be.  Like all children, his life is a constant stream of novelty and change.  He has very little control, has no sense of why or how things work, yet learns quicker and more effectively than most adults and at a rate which makes organisations look positively glacial.  He also seems to enjoy it much more than most adults I know as well.

A colleague recommended reading the classic book “How Children Learn”, by John Holt.  That book is reviewed here, here and here.  I have transcribed relevant excerpts below, and interpret them in the context of organisational learning and strategic change management.

When children attack a new problem, they begin to play, almost at random.  This generates a tremendous amount of sensory data. A scientist might say that, along with his useful data, the child has collected an enormous quantity of random, useless data.  The trained scientist wants to cut all irrelevant data out of his experiment.  He is asking nature a question, he wants to cut down the noise, the static, the random information, to a minimum, so he can hear the answer.  But a child doesn’t work that way.  He is used to getting answers out of the noise.  He has, after all, grown up in a strange world where everything is noise, where can only understand and make sense of a tiny part of his experiences.  His way of attaching a problem is to produce the maximum amount of data possible, to do as many things as he can, [in as many] ways as possible.  then, as he goes along, he begins to notice regularities and patterns.  He begins to ask questions – that is, to make deliberate experiments.  But it is vital to note that until he has a great deal of data, he has no idea what questions to ask, or what questions there are to be asked.

This is a marvellous phrase, “he has no idea what questions to ask, or what questions there are to be asked.”  How many of us have felt this way, when honestly considering the complexities we face in our daily lives?

The young child, at least until his thinking has been spoiled by adults, has a great advantage in situations… where there is so much seemingly senseless data that it is impossible to tell what questions to ask.  He is much better at taking in this kind of data; he is better able to tolerate its confusion; and he is much better at picking out the patterns, hearing the faint signal amid all the noise.  Above all, he is much less likely than an adult to make hard and fast conclusions on the basis of too little data, or having made such conclusions, to refuse to consider any new data that does not support them.

Reading Holt contains excellent lessons for decision-makers faced with complex, changing landscapes.  They must first understand what kinds of problems they are facing and what kinds of questions must be asked.

This can only be done through experimentation.  But not the kind of experimentation taught to us in the science lab.  The kind of experimentation that doesn’t need to be taught, that is, through play.

But not just any kind of play.  Play doesn’t work if it isn’t fun.  Play minus fun equals labour, which doesn’t have the same learning benefits.

The spirit behind [children’s games] should be a spirit of joy, foolishness, exuberance, like the spirit behind all good games, include the game of trying to find out how the work works, which we call education.

Only through play, then – through random, iterative, and fundamentally joyful experimentation – can we begin to understand how and why the world is changing.  And only through play can we generate the notions and motivations necessary to interact successfully with it.

Surprising insights from an author who specialises in, well, children’s games.  Perhaps management strategy need not be as serious and we like to think.

UPDATE – See my similar post on “Rules for Emergent Experimentation“, which reaches similar conclusions and proposes guidelines for play in the context of organisational learning.

Reviewing the American Red Cross Social Media Strategy Handbook

July 6, 2009

Wendy Harman at the American Red Cross just posted a draft of their proposed Social Media Strategy Handbook.   We think it is great.

Note, this is only a screenshot.  Unfortunately WordPress doesn't let you embed Google presentations yet.

One of the core tenants of HFP is that humanitarian aid organisations must become more savvy with social network technologies (and tactics).  This collaborative document, built on top of the shared policies of many other organisations, is an excellent example of this is practice.

The document is remarkable in at least three ways:

  1. It was produced collaboratively, built upon the shared policies of other organisations.
  2. It is being shared over the web, in full and in an easily shared format, for comment and discussion
  3. It is very clever, practice relevant, and a great example of practising what you preach

The entire strategy can be found here as a text version.  The Google Docs slideshow is excellent as well.  Well done Wendy!

Internet “not so hot” at motivating action

May 18, 2009


Social activist Ralph Nader suggests that the Internet “doesn’t do a very good job of motivating action” in a recent speech.

In a great review of a recent Ralph Nader speech over at, Ars Technica, long time social activist Ralph Nader suggests that, while excellent for gathering information, use of the web as a social activism tool may be limited.

The Internet has become more of an extension of market life than civic culture, he warned, the latter dwarfed by the shopping mall. Nader asked the students to indicate by a show of hands how many had ever been to a city council meeting or a court trial as an observer. Then, he queried, how many had been to Wal-Mart or McDonalds? The audience was understandably reluctant to cooperate with this rhetorical set-up, but everybody got the point.

“In fact, it’s worse now than ever,” he scolded the students. “You spend six times longer listening to music than we did when we were your age. And last I knew there were only 24 hours in the day. And you’re always on the [at this point Nader mimicked a cell phone] ‘Where are you? Two blocks away?’ Massive trivialization of communications.”

Sure, Nader conceded, there’s moveon.org. “They generate a lot of e-mails. But then it goes down fast after that, in terms of anything else.” And then there was the Obama online victory. But “they’re wondering why their 13 million e-mail list isn’t translating into a power force on Congress, to get his agenda through.”

The problem, Nader warned, is that whatever benefits the Internet offers, “it’s a huge consumption of trivial time. That’s the real negative. You can just lose yourself.”

He challenged the young crowd to project themselves years into the future, talking to their grandchildren. “What are you going to say to them?” he rhetorically asked.

“You know. The world is melting down. They’re nine years old. They’re sitting on your lap. They’ve just become aware of things that are wrong in the world: starvation, poverty, whatever. And they ask you, what were you doing when all this was happening: Grandma? Grandpa? That you were too busy updating your profile on Facebook?””

“Are big corporations afraid of the public use of the Internet? Does Congress fear the civic use of the Internet? Does the Pentagon fear the civic use of the Internet? Those are the questions you want to ask,” Ralph Nader told an auditorium of college students in Washington, DC on Monday. “My tentative conclusion,” he continued, “is that the Internet doesn’t do a very good job of motivating action.”


This is an interesting counter trend to the “Twitter is Salvation” crowd, which I’ve found echoed in many places recently.

For example, at a recent futures workshop for consultancy outsights, Vinay Gupta suggested that the web was useful for organising people around some kinds of problems, some of the time.  It was suggested that problems requiring extensive, drawn-out collaboration between large groups tended not to work on the Internet, where problems requiring short, quick intervention do.  See the recent success of flashmobs or crowd sourced fundraising for some examples of successful mass collaborations empowered by the web.

But are these really collaborations?  What about the really difficult, contentious things?  Research has found that the web actually tends to fragment political dialogue more than unite it.

Does the web actually promote collective social action around difficult, collaboration, negotiation intensive problems?  Or does it just facilitate the quick and easy wins, leading to ever greater political and social fragmentation?

Conference on geospatial science and technology for sustainable development in Africa

May 14, 2009

There is an interesting looking conference on technology, mapping, and sustainable development at Harvard at the end of June.Geospatial

Science & Technology for Sustainable Development in Africa: Partnerships and Applications

Conference at the Harvard Kennedy School, May 28–29, 2009The conference brings together members of public and private donor organizations with those from institutions and industry engaged in the application of geospatial science and technology to assess development needs, formulate responses to those needs, and successfully implement sustainable development programs in Africa.  Its goal is to insure that public and private sector initiatives that rely on geospatial tools, techniques, and applications achieve a high level of integration in the areas of database requirements and standards, methodologies, and strategies for sustainability.  Enhancing private sector linkages with government and nongovernmental initiatives already underway, as well as with ongoing academic and scientific research efforts, will help further capacity building and coordinate public policy applications across regions and themes.

Conference details here.

Us Now: a new film about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet

May 11, 2009
Vodpod videos no longer available.

“In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?”

A new film highlights some of the amazing possibilities and new potentials of mass collaboration and its impact on governance.

From the website:

New technologies and a closely related culture of collaboration present radical new models of social organisation. This project brings together leading practitioners and thinkers in this field and asks them to determine the opportunity for government.

“We are living in a different world now. THe value of the human being, the connected human being is coming through.” – JP Rangaswami

The site has an amazing collection of clips and interviews, which can be found here.  I was struck by how one Alan cox, an open source software pioneer, reflected upon the impact of these approaches on political power.  In the video below, he states that such tools aren’t having that big of an impact on power yet, because the people who benefit from them are so far down the political food chain.  But as with projects such as the One Laptop Per Child programme, such tools offer the benefit of vast amounts of education and information to those traditionally deprived from it, this sowing the seeds, potentially, for future change.  This is a beautifully real assessment of open-source which gets beyond much of the management hype.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Explore the entire site, or skip directly to the page with wonderful video interview clips.

Scientists: stop criticising each other on how you communicate with the masses

April 27, 2009

A leading expert on the public understanding of science argues that scientists should stop criticising each other’s attempts to communicate science to the masses.

From the BBC:

Kathy Sykes, professor of sciences and society at the University of Bristol, has argued that experts are always attacking each other either for “dumbing down” or being elitist. She discusses her comments with Ben Goldacre, who writes a science column for the Guardian.