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Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed Paperback – August 7, 2007

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Editorial Reviews


Getting to Maybe addresses making big, significant change actually happen. It is thoughtful, insightful, sobering and inspirational. The ideas articulated are new and practical. Anyone from the business, government or not-for-profit world who wants to understand change better, and change the way things are, should read this book.”
—Courtney Pratt, chairman of Stelco

About the Author

Frances Westley has published widely in the areas of strategic change and visionary leadership, and led the Dupont Canada—fostered think-tank on social innovation, based at McGill University’s Desautel Faculty of Management, where many of the ideas for this book were developed.

Brenda Zimmerman, a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, has been studying and writing about how complexity theory applies to organizations for twenty years.

Michael Quinn Patton is an independent organizational development consultant and has written five major books on the art and science of program evaluation.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Canada; Reprint edition (August 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067931444X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679314448
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,270 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on November 5, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I head about this book at the 10th Regenstrief Biennial conference on system transformation of healthcare in the United States. It was mentioned particularly by Paul Biondich and Burke Mamlin with regards to their work to create effective treatment for people with HIV/AIDS in Africa through an open source electronic medical record. (See more at [...])

The book essentially describes a Zen-Canadian approach to social change. Although loosely based on complexity theory (the one where a butterfly creates a hurricane), complexity theory is very complex, so I would have to say that it is very loosely based.

Reading its stories of how profound changes had occurred in social systems such as Muhammad Yunus' Grameen Bank and anti-poverty and anti-racist activists in Canada, it makes a case the change proceeds from a number of phenomena:

A deep and human level understanding of social ills nurtured over time which leads to tentative hypothesized solutions rather than a one-size-fits-all quick fix or a certain recipe.

A sense of being called to action in a way that almost makes taking action a non-decision for the change agent.

An openness to feedback in the problem solving work (a fair amount of time is spent pointing out the ultimate futility of structured plans given the complexity of the world.)

A willingness to confront the powerful - be that oneself, ones fears or other social stakeholders who may oppose change.

Of interest to me as program staff person at a medium sized US foundation, there is a fairly extensive discussion of the sins of philanthropy with regards to social change. We tend to require more specific objectives and reporting than is realistic given this model of change.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By James Moore on August 23, 2011
Format: Paperback
I'm a little surprised that all the reviews of this book Getting to Maybe are so overwhelmingly positive. To be sure, I thought it was a fun book to read--used it a couple of times in a grad program. The authors provide great examples and the book is overall well-written and designed. Working for an NGO I find it helpful to get different perspectives on change-thinking and social innovation. In the context of my organizational work I regularly advice people to read this book. That's the good part.

What I'm not so happy with is the dogmatic philosophical stance of the authors on Complexity Science. It permeates everything they write. Life is completely unpredictable it seems. (If you believe this, please, don't board a plane again. The science behind flying is based on predictability.) Admitted, there is some truth to that--life is at time hard to predict--but to absolutize that observation is what bothers me about the book. It undermines the credibility of this otherwise wonderful contribution to social change. (Took one star off for that.)

What bothers me most about the book is that the authors in their convictions of complexity science have a chip on their shoulder about funders and logic frameworks for planning (read: results-based management). I bet you they have had some bad experiences with funders... and obviously are having difficulty dealing with it a little more maturely. Here is an example (from page 170):
Social innovators offer visions and dreams. Funders and the evaluators they often hire want concrete, clear, specific and measurable goals. They also want to know step by step, in advance, how the goals will be attained, an approach doomed to failure in the complex and rapidly changing world in which social innovators attempt to work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Lois Kelly on March 6, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In the movie Jerry Maguire, Renee Zellweger's character tells Tom Cruise that he had her at the first hello. Well, this warning to the book "Getting To Maybe: How the World is Changed" had be at the first page:

Warning: this book is not for heroes or saints or perfectionists. This book is for ordinary people who want to make connections that create extraordinary outcomes.

What riveted me to this book on social innovation were seven key things:
1. The authors fascinating yet easy to understand application of scientific complexity science as a way to understand social innovation.
2. The book's thorough research and presentation of patterns of social innovation
3. The compelling stories of diverse social innovators - what triggered them to start, how they navigated their journeys, and the shared patterns of those diverse journeys
4. The use of poetry to ground each chapter, counterbalancing the art of change with the science of systems change.
5. More thoughtful, original, and thought provoking insights than I usually find in a professional book.
6.Many, many practical ideas that I can see how to apply both to my professional organizational change management work and my responsibilities as a trustee on non-profit organizations.
7. How relevant it is in today's world with nations in the Middle East transforming and our school systems, unions, health care institutions and governments undergoing complex, profound and needed change.

I'm a voracious reader, and highly recommend this book for those involved in innovation, organizational change and social transformation, or for those who wonder and perhaps worry about how we can solve today's seemingly insolvable social issues.
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