Let’s Break Rules!


In his book “Successful Management of Instabilities”, Peter Kruse stated it concisely when he opined that “whenever we generate long-term stabilities, we lose creativity”. We find ourselves in a world with a dynamic which we have not yet experienced: A dynamic which generates uncertainties in many areas. And nonetheless I repeatedly observe that we want to address these uncertainties with the old-time and often also tried-and-tested methods. However, dealing with dynamic environments requires much more. The times, in which we could simply follow Kurt Lewin’s three phases’ model of change, are long gone. 


Our environments require a permanent change condition in which we can realize stabilities and instabilities at the same time. However, this also requires that we possess the abilities to create a balance between stability and instability. This often appears to us to be impossible because they are nonetheless excluding conditions. In addition, instability is nothing which we like to define as a goal. As humans, but also as living players in the organizations, we always have a natural tendency towards stability. But this is precisely the issue during change processes: From the stability, to generate instability which produces that creativity to find new solutions for our new challenges. While, based upon their momentum, the individual brains find it easier to break through the tendency, this willingness to change must be actively generated within organizations. Organizations are social systems which have a high stability character due to their cultural values. Thus, a change in models during transformation processes will always be associated with a cultural change. And how difficult cultures are to change–unfortunately, we know this from history.


But we have no other choice! In the dynamic markets, a straightforward future forecast is no longer possible. Thus, it is necessary to prepare organizations for the unknown by our increasing the organizational agility. But there is also the problem in this regard: Many of us don’t by nature strive for the unknown. Thus, we must awaken the incentive of experiencing something new within ourselves (and our organizations). Thus, we once again return to the emotional level by increasing the emotional willingness to embrace change. The emotions control our reason. What is new is often associated with anxiety because we are not yet familiar with it. Anxiety can then oftentimes be perceived as a threat. If we feel this willingness, then the reason can support the change which reduces the feeling that a threat exists.


Thus, during the change projects, I was always interested in observing how this willingness within the organizations is generated. During difficult times economically, the “anxiety card” is often played. A minimal anxiety level even stimulates the brain to invent and try out new models. However, if the anxiety reaches the panic level, the brain reverts particularly to behavioral models which are old and firmly anchored in our limbic system: Flight, fight or play dead; that is to say, lay off employees (flight), block the change (fight) or opt for the “internal termination” (play dead).


Thus, anxiety can generate this willingness. However, the issue of sustainability arises. I have often asked myself why so often the necessity of change has been argued with (existential) anxiety. My hypothesis in this regard is because the management perceives this existential anxiety and thus more easily communicates these emotions by conveying this anxiety which management itself feels to the employees. The management indeed perceives the instability. Thus, changes are always created then when the supporters of the old order are willing to address these instabilities. However, the problem in this regard also lies in the selection of the managers. Because we are oriented towards stability, we thus also seek out managers who, based upon their personality, are better suited to these times; they include people who prescribe the goals, recognize differences as well as introduce and control measures. 


In my opinion, we need approaches that are more creative in order to stimulate people to embrace new paths. We must awaken the fascination in them to try out these paths, to make mistakes and to learn from these mistakes. This requires, firstly, resources in the form of time-related flexibilities–because each change requires time–and, secondly, management personalities who can awaken in us this inexhaustible and positive source of human creativity and change. People who also have the courage to break rules now and then and to feel the appeal of consciously addressing instabilities. However, they are also oftentimes other managers than those whom we require for stability. We need communicators–managers who appeal to their top performers through their visions because as Peter Kruse concisely stated, “The convincing communication of a jointly-held vision is fundamental for change and always a very personal management task” ... nothing more needs to be added!

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