When I worked for the government, our Executive Director asked each manager on her team to read Robert Quinn’s Deep Change. In my undergrad church ministry class, we were assigned the same book. In one of my MDiv classes, once again Deep Change was on the syllabus. Now, here I am in my final semester of coursework for my doctorate, and Quinn’s Deep Change is part of our menu, this time in the form of the Deep Change Field Guide that Quinn published in 2012 to help walk individual leaders through the process of deep change. I have returned to Quinn time and again – even when it wasn’t assigned – to look for wisdom and help me discern where chaos is calling me to change. I will return to this Field Guide again, once the pace of life post-doc shifts, to work my way slowly through the questions and journaling assignments as I assess the next phase of change.
Honestly, the best part of this Field Guide is the invitation to view and dissect some of the greatest movies of my life (yes, even Money Ball, don’t @ me). Seriously, he starts with Norma Rae and rolls on through to Dead Poets Society posing questions I had not really considered about the characters and the influences framing change and leadership in the stories. I fully intend to spend a week or so binge-watching these movies and considering Quinn’s questions and viewing the stories in a new way (after graduation, of course). I’m so impacted by the way Quinn has used movies to look at leadership and change, that I caught myself evaluating characters in a Netflix series I’m watching to see where the portrayed leaders, change-makers and transformational mentors embraced deep change or continued to fall back on ineffective systems. (And in case you were wondering, yes, this does make me annoying to watch with.)
It’s pretty obvious that the essence of Deep Change applies to multiple systems, from families to finance companies to churches and denominations. It’s not purely academic. Quinn’s initial book and this Field Guide show readers how to apply these principles, where to notice roadblocks, and the importance of recognizing and challenge internalized assumptions. Dealing with roadblocks and assumptions is crucial to deep change. We see this in design innovation thinking, which is shaping the way businesses work and embrace a new normal. Our assumptions, left unrecognized and unchecked, can lead us to reject innovation and deny blind spots in our thinking and processes. Simply put, we fail to adapt.
Every time I have read Quinn’s work, I have been faced with the fact that fear paralyzes us. At the root of our failure to change, our denial of the need for change, and our insistence on setting the parameters of “normal” or acceptable in our culture is a deep fear. Somehow, we think if we make room for change or for a broader view of acceptability, we will lose control. The problem is, we don’t really have control in the first place. When a leader hangs on tightly to false assumptions and rejects ideas for innovation, not only is the leader NOT maintaining the control she or he seeks, but is setting in motion events that will eventually rip all control from her or his grasp. At every reference to this in the book, I noted in the margins places in my career or life where I or someone else had tried to control a situation or process and ended up watching it spiral out of control. Some of the most poignant instances of this were when I tried to parent through control rather than collaboration. It didn’t happen very often because of an agreement my husband and I made when our kids were young, but in those places where I exerted control or denied a need for change the results ranged from disappointing to disastrous. Some I can laugh about now, but others still sting because I see the results of my ego taking over. Learning is rough, right?
If you have been reading this blog over the past two years (!) you probably know that I like to pull quotes from our books and put them above my desk as a reminder for the future. The only exception in this book is that I found so many to choose from that it took me several days of looking over the quotes to decide which one will go on my board next to De Pree, Friedman, Li, Cavanaugh, and the others who continue to speak to me. I finally settled on this:
“The deep change process involves taking risks and learning how to live in new ways.”
Taking risks and learning to live in new ways has been rocking my world in this past (almost) decade I have spent in grad school. There have been some really awful moments where I wondered if it was all a mistake but, as Quinn notes, deep change begins with self-change and I committed to that early on in this entire process. Self-change is really messy. It causes us to shift directions and that disrupts relationships. It asks us to reconsider assumptions and attitudes, and that disrupts our lives. It may even lead us to uproot ourselves from just about every seemingly solid piece of ground and plant new roots elsewhere. Like I said, messy.
I wish I could end this on a happy platitude or a winky emoji, but instead I think I will end with a question:
Where is deep-change calling you to messy, self-changing work? What’s your answer to that call?
. There are many design innovation programs and companies, one of the forerunners being Stanford University’s “D.School” program. (https://dschool.stanford.edu/) Programs such as Stanford’s offer people from CEO’s to University administrators the opportunity to learn new ways to do business through the design innovation process. Companies such as Chick-Fil-A employ directors of design innovation to continually look at current processes and products as well as to design them for the future.