Not simply a book about organizational transformation, Immunity to Change is a challenging analysis of how our well-developed methods of processing information and experience become barriers that hinder our attempts to achieve adaptive change. The first section of the book describes the theory and can be pretty tough going. The second applies the theory to case studies of organization change. The last is a primer on how to detect and overcome change immunity in your own organization.
At the risk of being overly reductive, I will try to summarize the theory.
People deal with fear and anxiety as a normal part of life. They don't feel this fear most of the time because they have created effective internal anxiety management systems. Those frameworks for evaluating experience are beneficial and necessary but can also form a hidden barrier to the desire to achieve adaptive change. The development of a more complex mental framework (the "self-transforming mind") help the individual recognize the filtering effect and limitations of his/her own frame of reference. This recognition will allow the individual to begin to negate the effects of an internally imposed change immunity.
Looked at this way, any change which is adaptive rather than technical will, as a matter of course, put at risk "a way of knowing the world that also serves as a way of managing a persistent, fundemental anxiety." The authors argue that we can only succeed with adaptive changes by recognizing the seriousness of the internal challenge we face. The desired change can put at risk "what has been a very well-functioning way of taking care of ourselves."
This all begins to explain why diets fail, smokers continue their habit in the face of a life threatening diagnosis or a manager does not increase flexibility even if his/her job depends on so doing.
If the authors are wrong, reading this book may add unnecessary complexity to our efforts to affect the change process. If they are correct, however, they are providing the beginnings of a critical understanding of the barriers to fundemental change as well as a methodology both to detect and resolve the problem.
Many business books present somewhat simplistic reformulations of problems with which managers have long wrestled. This book, on the other hand, offers a complex psychological and epistemological methodology to detect the seemingly insurmountable barrier to individual and organizational change. I found the arguments insightful and compelling but think it unlikely I could apply the approach suggested in section 3 without the assistance of a professional coach. Given that caveat, if the outputs can be as significant as the authors suggest, it would be worth the cost and the effort.
on February 27, 2009
I write this review from the perspective of an Executive Coach who has been practicing for 15 years and who has used this methodology with executives/leaders over the past three years. I can vouch that it works, not only with individual leaders but in a team development context as well. Working well means that individuals have changed behaviors; in the case of the team, that it learned to overcome difficult communication challenges resulting in a measured increase in trust among its members.
In clear language, Kegan and Lahey lay out a step by step methodology that facilitates a person's conscious understanding of his or her intentions, aspirations and goals to an identification of hidden "competing commitments", which may unintentionally hinder reaching these goals. The articulation of these competing commitments ultimately lead to an uncovering of the assumptions, beliefs and systems of meaning which can then be critically evaluated for their ability to promote or hinder success in the achievement of the goals and aspirations that anchor the process.
Their methodology helps people to reflect on themselves and their competing committments in a clear way. As an Executive Coach, I have repeatedly observed that leaders are limited most significantly by their inability to not only take the time to reflect but to know how best to use this reflection space. I also appreciate the fact that Lahey and Kegan link their methodology to a theory of development,demonstrating the process of increasing complexity of mind. This important link between practice and theory moves the user from an increase in self awareness (a very important step) to a broadening of how the leader thinks and acts.
I and my clients find their methodology very user friendly, specific and actionable. There are distinct actions one can take, experiments to design and run. It is an active process; the act of designing and running learning experiments while engaging others in the process puts the developer in the driver's seat encouraging agency and ownership for learning. Many of my clients have expressed excitement at their self generated discoveries. Other contributions: the positive frame and non-judgmental stance of their methodology bring people to their big assumptions gently, maximizing receptivity to learning and change. "Defenses" potentially can relax, respecting individual needs relative to the pace of change.
This is a very important tool for any Executive Coach's tool box, yet it is more than at tool. It is a way into developing a "bigger" world from which to lead others and that's what leaders need most.
on March 26, 2009
As a worksite wellness specialist, I am constantly reminded of how difficult sustained behavior change can be. Despite strong desire and sincere commitment, most people fail in their attempt to permanently change their behavior. This book offers an explanation as to why.
According to Kegan and Lahey, behavior change consists of two types: technical and adaptive. Technical behavior change involves the acquisition of new knowledge and/or skills which are then applied to achieving the new desired behavior. The necessary knowledge and skill are usually easily identified and straight forward in nature.
Most behavior change, however, also involves an adaptive element within the mind. This adaptive element requires a change in mindset, in addition to the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. Our mindset is made up of feelings, anxieties and motivations based on unconscious assumptions that can and often do result in equally strong desires and commitments not to change. The mindset is driven by "big assumptions" which create an immunity to change. Our mindset often sees our attempts at behavior change as being "life threatening."
This book lays out a theory and framework for how individuals and organizations can identify and change their mindsets and their underlying supportive assumptions.
The book is divided into three sections. The first lays out the underlying theory and change framework. Chapter 1 is especially tough reading, so don't get frustrated, discouraged or bogged down in it. The rest of the book is better. Section two is about case examples which serve as good illustrations of the theory and framework. You can gain an understanding from the cases that will help you to make sense of what you read in Chapter 1. The cases also do a good job of filling in the blanks, or in clearing up any confusion. The third section walks the reader through the process of applying the immunity to change framework to your own personal or organizational change initiatives.
By recognizing the need to identify and address the "sociocentric and psychocentric perspectives," of behavior change, this book adds to the current change management literature. If you are involved in the world of behavior change, you will definitely want to read this book.
on February 27, 2009
I am delighted to give my highest recommendation to Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey's newest book Immunity to Change. I have used their material (How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work) for nearly eight years in my capacity as a minister and in my work as a business school instructor. I have observed remarkable changes in individual lives using these tools.
Immunity to Change takes Kegan/Lahey wisdom to the next level. It elaborates and expands their tools for dealing with the invisible assumptions that run our individual lives. It clearly spells out how to create safe, effective tests of these Big Assumptions to subtly shift our foundational perspective. It then extrapolates these tools to team process to help us discover and change the Big Assumptions that stifle team productivity.
It is rare that a tool serves both spiritual development and the deepening of leadership capacity. This is one of those rare tools, expressed clearly and passionately. Buy it and enjoy.
Rev. Tom Thresher, Ph.D.
There are many reasons why it is so difficult to overcome what James O'Toole aptly describes as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom." In my opinion, one of the most formidable barriers frequently involves a paradox: Whatever enabled an organization to prosper has become the primary cause of its current problems. To paraphrase Marshall Goldsmith, "whatever got you here may well prevent you from getting there." No one defends failure (except as a source of potentially valuable knowledge) but many (if not most) people will vigorously defend the status quo because "it isn't broken," they prefer a "known devil" to an "unknown devil," or because they have developed what Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey describe as an "immunity to change." In was in an earlier book of theirs, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work (2001), that they introduced what they describe as "a deceptively simple process - distilled and refined over many years - by which people can uncover the hidden motivations and beliefs that prevent them from making the very changes they know they should make and very much want to make" whatever the given goal may be. They have developed what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton characterize as a "knowing-doing gap."
As do so many other outstanding business books, this one focuses on three critically important problems that need to be solved: First, the aforementioned "knowing-doing gap" and our need to understand what it is and how to overcome it; next, "a deep-seated private pessimism about how much people really can change"; and finally, the need for a better understanding of human development (what it is, how it is enabled, how it is constrained) in order to transform the operating system itself. Kegan and Lahey identify and then explain with rigorous precision "a route to genuine development, to the qualitative expansions of mind that significant increase human capability at work - not by rehiring but by renewing existing talent." They divide their material into three parts. First, they suggest new ways to understand the nature of change; then they demonstrate the value of their "deceptively simple process" by which achieve and then sustain improvement of individual, team, and organizational; then in Part 3, they invite their reader to complete a self-diagnosis to identify various "immunities" (at the personal, group, and organizational levels) that need to be overcome.
I was especially interested in the various devices that Kegan and Lahey provide. For example, the "X-ray" that consists of three columns on which to identify Behavior Goals (e.g. be more receptive to new ideas), Doing/Not Doing Instead behaviors that work against the goals (e.g. giving curt responses to new ideas with a "closing off," "cutting off" tone-of-voice), and Hidden Competing Commitments (e.g. "To have things done my way!"). Throughout their book, Kegan and Lahey use this device to demonstrate how both individuals and organizations have specified desired goals, changes needed to achieve them, and "hidden" but nonetheless significant elements that could delay, if not deny, achieving the desired goals. In Chapter, "Overcoming Groupwide Immunity to Change," they introduce another column: Collective Hidden Competing Commitments. Check out Figure 4-1 on Page 90. The question raised is "Why are junior faculty in a humanities department so rarely promoted?" In the fourth column, two collective competing commitments are identified: "We are committed to not increasing our workload on advising, teaching, and committee fronts. We are committed to preserving the privileges of seniority." Not all applications of the X-ray device need four columns. (Figure 4-5 on Page 100 doesn't whereas Figures 4-6 and 4-7 on Pages 106 and 107 do.) Other variations on the device include a different four-column matrix such as Figure 9-1 on Page 231 that a reader can use to create her or his own immunity X-ray.
For me, some of the most valuable material is provided in Chapter 8 as Kegan and Lahey focus on three "necessary ingredients" that, for shorthand purposes, they identify as "gut," "head and heart," and "hand." The extent to which a person is connected to all three will almost certainly determine the extent to which that person will be able to achieve and then sustain the significant changes that are desired. The two-pronged challenge is to establish and then sustain a tight connection with each of the three necessary ingredients, and, to then get them and sustain them in proper alignment/balance with each other. Kegan and Lahey examine each of the three ingredients, stressing the unique role of each: the "gut" functions as a vital source of motivation to "unlock" the potential for change, "head and heart" work simultaneously to engage both thinking and feeling throughout change initiatives, and the "hand" metaphor correctly suggests the importance of doing what the mind perceives and the heart yearns to be done. The authors quote Immanuel Kant's observation that "perception without conception is blind." In this context, I am reminded of Thomas Edison's assertion that "vision without execution is hallucination."
Near the end of this chapter, they list and briefly discuss what those who have helped to accomplish adaptive change share in common. For example, they change both their mindset and their behavior. They are keen observers of their own thoughts, feelings, and actions to learn as much as they can from them, not only about themselves but also (and especially) about their impact on others. One of their more important, indeed compelling objectives is to create more mental and emotional "space" for themselves; that is, to create more opportunities to learn, stretch, and (yes) to fail because they realize that every so-called "failure" is a precious learning opportunity. They take focused, bold and yet prudent risks and thereby "build on actual, rather than imagined, data about the consequences of their new actions."(In this respect, they are "betting" on themselves.) And paradoxically, the more they experience and the more disciplined as well as enlightened they become, the greater their sense of personal freedom. They find an increasingly more numerous - and more significant - opportunities to apply what they have learned. Their new as well as their more highly developed mental capabilities can be brought to bear on other challenges, in other venues, both in their work and in their personal lives. In the final chapter, Kegan and Lahey list seven crucial attributes of those individuals and organizations that take "a genuinely developmental stance."(Pages 308-309) I presume to suggest that those about to read this book examine this list first, then the Introduction and twelve chapters. I think this approach will guide and inform a careful reading of the material provided.
When concluding their brilliant book, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey reassure their reader "that there is no expiration date on your ability to grow." That said, "We wish you big leaps and safe landings." In personal development as in climbing the world's highest mountains, attitude determines altitude. Let the ascent begin!
on May 23, 2013
A wonderfully practical book that outlines one of the main reasons why people might not change their behaviours. It takes you through a process that has proved successful for the authors with a variety of business leaders. I love the part about conducting experiments to test the validity of competing objectives. Once again, however, it could have been said in half as many pages.
on October 28, 2011
Change is difficult, but it can be easier. Kegan and Lahey show you why and how. Drawing upon Kegan's version of Constructive Developmental Theory, the authors show individual readers and organizations how to reveal the counter forces we ourselves hold in protective opposition to our own goals, change, and evolution; most importantly, step-by-step they reach to teach you to become the author of your own change. Not a book for seekers of the mere "change your thinking" or mere "awareness is curative" approaches to change, this is a manual that cuts into the realism of the intrapsychic forces - our "assumptions" - that we ourselves hold against our own adaptation. Helpful for clinicians, managers, CEO's, and really "anyone" who really wants to get at making some changes. Revealing, stimulating, and vitalizing, once you utilize it in earnest for yourself (with any arena of your life/self) you really do have a greater take on your self, your life, and your view of what's possible. Perhaps most importantly, the way you think about change is never the same. Indelibly solidified that its "both" Insight into Assumptions "and" designed experimental Behavior that lead to change, something both the self-help world at large and formalistic approaches have long been missing.
on November 26, 2013
This is one of the most useful, applicable books for helping people change behavior. When someone has the skill, opportunity and motivation to change but continues to revert their behavior, what can you do? The genius of this work is its simplicity. While it is based on adult developmental theory, Immunity to Change leaves the theory inside a black box. The approach is so simple and yet incredibly powerful. Four questions:
- what do you want to do?
- what are you doing instead?
- what are you afraid of?
- what is your big assumption?
The approach can be applied individually or with groups. Kegan and Lahey also offer training for facilitators and coaches wishing to learn more about I2C at a deeper level.
on February 28, 2009
In Immunity to Change, Lahey and Kegan synthesize their years of research and connect the dots for us in a way that I was beginning to see in my own work. They demonstrate a practical approach to digging into behaviors that we want to change and have found ourselves trying over and over again to change without success. The authors bring the work of Heifetz and Linsky (Leadership without Easy Answers, 1994, and Leadership on the Line, 2002) who describe the differences between our "technical" work and our "adaptive" challenges, to a place where we as individuals and teams and as coaches and consultants can make real lasting progress. The practical application of immunity mapping helps us to discover the adaptive challenges underlying our problems and evaluate the values conflicts that stand in the way of changing our behaviors and attitudes. Our own system of meaning-making is perfectly designed to get the results we are getting...so...we need to dig into our way of making meaning before any approach to change will be successful.
They ask us to discover our big assumptions which prevent us from making progress on our individual or collective adaptive work by leading us through a four column system that they define as immunity maps. They illustrate the work with examples of individuals and teams with whom they have worked. The additive power of insight coupled with a practical plan of action to test that insight makes the iterative work of growth and development doable. This deeper way of looking at our work transforms the challenges we face as individuals and systems giving us a structured approach to our own development
This book builds upon the work of Kegan's In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life, 1994 and Lahey and Kegan's previous book, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, 2001. The main value of this latest book, for me, is its ability to synthesize the previous work AND provide a framework for making progress on adaptive work. My work in leadership development has led me to the conclusion that our organizations need people that can exercise leadership from a more developed and broader perspective of meaning-making in order to make progress on the complex issues facing us today. Immunity to Change takes a giant step forward in helping me see how to do that work.
on February 3, 2012
"Adapt or Become Irrelevant" should be the title of this book, although I do like the actual title: Immunity to Change by Harvard professors Kegan and Lashey. All of us have something that we wish we could change about ourselves or our teams at work. As individuals, maybe we want to be less thoughtless, lose weight, or change a habit that's nagged us for years, like procrastinating or interrupting people. Groups or teams also get stuck in patterns of "anxiety management behavior" (immunity to change) that don't work, such as not changing a process, a product or service when we know the world has moved on. So, we adopt a philosophy of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," even when we know "it" is no longer relevant. Building on the work of two other Harvard professors, Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky's theory of adaptive change, Kegan and Lahey have given us a great diagnostic tool to help us "x-ray" our own situation and test our assumptions that often lead to the exact opposite of what we say we really want to change. Their diagnostic tool is simple but elegant and composed of four steps captured in the form of four columns. Column #1: Our improvement goal (What do we want to do?); Column #2: Our fearless inventory (What are we doing or not doing instead of Column #1?); Column #3: Our hidden competing commitments (What are we secretly committed to that makes us do the stuff in Column #2, which competes directly with Column #1 desire(s)?; and, Column #4: Our assumptions (What big assumption(s) are we making that support our Column #3 hidden commitments?). To make real change happen, the authors instruct us to attack our assumptions. They suggest we conduct small, incremental experiments, collect data that runs contrary to our big assumptions, deconstruct them, and eventually clearly evaluate their accuracy and relevance. In short, we must test our assumptions for their validity. People and teams who can resist the easy temptation to just do the opposite of things in Column #2 (merely make technical, surface changes) and instead take on the adaptive changes (more comprehensive and difficult experimental changes) will find a better world to live in. This is the kind of a book that an entire company should read and practice over a year. This is a very important book--BIG stuff between these covers.