Change Whisperer – Gail Severini's Blog

When Harvard professors duke it out – the ugly debate on Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation

Harvard thought leaders duke it out over strategy

If you have missed it, the gladiators at Harvard Business School are duking it out this week.

You really must catch up.

Here’s the plot line:

May 31st Harvard University is facing disruption of its own business model.  The New York Times reports on “Business School, Disrupted” (addressing the impact of eLearning and Harvard’s strategic choice) and the life’s work of Michael Porter and Clayton Christensen are applied and contrasted as “The Clashing Models”.

A relatively unknown history professor at Harvard, and former student of Michael Porter, writes a scathing, and very public, attack on Christensen’s life’s work in The New Yorker.

June 20th Christensen responds in a candid interview on BloombergBusinessWeek.

Now the players:

Michael Porter – in the back ground, perhaps represented by Jill Lepore:

  • From Wikipedia
  • “In 1985, Porter had published a book called “Competitive Advantage,” in which he elaborated on the three strategies—cost leadership, differentiation, and focus—that he’d described in his 1980 book, “Competitive Strategy.” I almost never saw Porter, and, when I did, he was dashing, affably, out the door, suitcase in hand. “The Competitive Advantage of Nations” appeared in 1990. Porter’s ideas about business strategy reached executives all over the world.” [2]

Clayton Christensen – the target of the tirade:

  • Professor of Business Administration at Harvard University
  • From Wikipedia
  • “The scholar who in some respects became his successor, Clayton M. Christensen…” [2] (catching the sarcasm yet?),
  • “Christensen has compared the theory of disruptive innovation to a theory of nature: the theory of evolution. But among the many differences between disruption and evolution is that the advocates of disruption have an affinity for circular arguments. ”
  • “Consistently described by those who know him as a generous and thoughtful and upbeat person, he is also capable of fury.” [3]

Jill Lepore – the protagonist:

  • Professor of American History at Harvard University
  • From Wikipedia
  • Takes issue with Christensen’s theories of disruption “Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail. It’s not more than that. It doesn’t explain change. It’s not a law of nature. It’s an artifact of history, an idea, forged in time; it’s the manufacture of a moment of upsetting and edgy uncertainty. Transfixed by change, it’s blind to continuity. It makes a very poor prophet.”

Let the games begin.

Read the articles in order:

  1. The context “Business School, Disrupted”, Jerry Useem, New York Times, May 31 2014
  2. The warning shot across the bow “The Disruption Machine: What the gospel of innovation gets wrong”, Jill Lepore,The New Yorker, {waiting for correct publication date – website says June 23rd but today is June 21st – will update upon advice}
  3. Clayton Christensen’s colorful rebuttal – interviewed by BloombergBusinessWeek “Clayton Christensen responds to New Yorker Takedown of ‘Disruptive Innovation’”, Drake Bennett, June 20 2014

Commentaries will keep coming (I will update this list as I find good new ones – please share your finds in the comments):

If you’ve got a little extra time, read through the comments on these articles.  It’s fascinating to see where readers land.

What are the take aways here?

I will update this post as the events develop but my first reactions:

  • Many of us look to the leading business schools for insight, advice and direction on the complexities of business issues.  What does it tell us when they don’t agree?
  • Such fissures are not uncommon.  Academics are known for fierce debate. This is generally productive―the issues get a solid airing and thorough analysis.
  • This, however, looks “postal”.  Not only is it is hostile, in disturbingly sarcastic―it is feels personal―both the attack and the rebuttal.
  • Maybe I am naïve but I expect a higher level of “professionalism” from people in these positions.  This (The New Yorker) does not seem to be the place for such debate―it’s like Lepore is “calling Christensen out” to a brawl in the public arena and, frankly, he has little option but to respond.
  • I get it that it’s only human for Christensen to be personally affronted however he stoops to cheap tactics too, for example repeatedly calling her “Jill”, then later admitting “I’ve never met her in my life.”
  • So what does it tell us when they don’t agree? We must think for ourselves―we must educate ourselves thoroughly on theory and think hard, and regularly, about its application in our own organizations and environments.
  • Personally, Christensen’s theories (and his continuous development of those theories over time) ring true in the narrow world of my own experience so I admit to being sympathetic.

What do you think about this whole thing? Please share in the Comments section.

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What is “Change Management”? And, is definition important?

Ask 10 people “what is change management?” and you will get 10 very different answers.  So YES definition is important!

Many Leaders come to the term “Change Management” and intuitively believe they know what it means – and that they are already doing it.  However, behind these innocuous words is a highly specialized discipline that has been evolving over the past 60 years.

Understanding Change Management offers untapped opportunity to drive more value to the bottom line.

The broad definition 

It’s about “managing change”, i.e. taking a strategy and managing the implementation right? Well, yes, in the broadest sense.

My own definition starts from strategic alignment and extends through delivery to seeing the results track in.

Change management encompasses an array of multi-disciplinary capabilities:

  • Leadership and Strategic Planning
  • Project specific capabilities, e.g. Strategic Marketing, Organization Design and Development, Business Process Re-engineering, Technology Implementation
  • People Change Management (PCM), Training and Communications
  • Portfolio / Program / Project Management

Realizing full ROI only happens when ALL of these are INTEGRATED and OPTIMIZED.

Of note, you will see “Change Management” appear on many position descriptions and job postings these days.  This reference typically refers to a general understanding of the nature of change and high level awareness of the process that might be required for straightforward transitional change.

Underneath this broad definition though is a deeper, more powerful, resource – what I term “People Change Management”.  It is increasingly recognized that this so-called “soft stuff” represents the highest risk to transformational change.  It also represents the greatest opportunity for driving value and for competitive advantage.

The deep definition – People Change Management (PCM)

Kurt Lewin got us started and many others have continued the work of understanding how to help people traverse change.  The business notion is that the faster we can get employees to stop doing the old thing and start doing the new thing, the faster the ROI comes in.

Some of the renowned names in the field include: William Bridges, John Kotter, Peter Senge.  Others have gone deeper and applied it to the “hows” of  managing change faster and better:  Linda Ackerman-Anderson, Dean Anderson, Rick Mauer, Jeff Hiatt and our own Daryl Conner.

How do I think of  People Change Management?  It:

  • Reduces people-related risks (eg resistance and misunderstandings) that effect costly delays, re-work, error / waste and turnover
  • Increases and expedites user “adoption, proficiency and ultimate utilization” (Prosci Learning) thereby optimizing business results
  • Encompasses a structured process and tool sets
  • Includes: Leader (Sponsor) support, stakeholder management, change readiness, business impact, communication, training, and change metrics as well as contingency planning and interventions as required
  • Engages users in the change, shares information, improves solutioning and expedites the transition to the ‘new state’ 

How does Conner Partners define “Change Management”?

Change management is the orchestration of change in a way that identifies and addresses the human risks involved in implementing change. This strengthens the individual and organizational ability to handle change well and increases the chances that the change will be put successfully into practice.

Of note, this very tactical and process-driven application of Change Management is deployed within Programs and Projects.  It is substantively different than the generic competency requirement on position descriptions and job posting.

Mastery at this level prepares Leaders and Practitioners to deal with high risk, disruptive change – transformational change.  Mastery often encompasses Organizational Development capabilities associated with: organizational behaviour, organizational design, learning and development, compensation, culture change, etc.

PCM Current Maturity Levels?

Prosci Learning has a neat little Maturity Model here that articulates a development path from novice to mastery.  My experience is that few organizations have reached level 5 – and even fewer have an integrated, end-to-end, execution approach (a PMO is not “it”).

Most organizations are great at some components of change or they would not be around today. However, few (very few) are great at the whole array.

What a great opportunity for developing competitive advantage!  In fact, many Fortune 500 companies are going beyond adding the generic competency onto position descriptions and beyond adding Change Management checklists into project management methodology.  Many are in the process of developing Enterprise capability through Change Management Communities of Practice, Centres of Excellence and even dedicated leadership positions.

Deeper still – specialties within Change Management

In a recent discussion on LinkedIn one of the practitioners I have come to respect, Faith Fuqua-Purvis, proposed the notion of specialists within Change Management (much as within engineering there are Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, etc). I see this as key, for example “Communications” in Change Management is NOT the same as broadcasting information – it is not a PR or MarCom definition – it requires engaging Change Targets in 2-way dialogue. Furthermore, the notion of “risk communication” is also important here – effectively communicating with people who are “in crisis” is very different than day-to-day communications.

The specialities could include:

  • Defining strategic intent at an operational level with a realization focus, e.g. developing Vision and Mission Statements (not as simple as it sounds – I have seen many a project set the wrong trajectory with the wrong vision / mission statement – and this is NOT something that should be a whimsical engagement ploy)
  • Training and coaching sponsors and agents in change leadership/management
  • Enrolling sponsors and targets in this change.  Surfacing and resolving resistance.  Building and sustaining commitment.
  • Developing and deploying communications (informational and conversational, commitment focussed)
  • Anticipating, designing, resourcing and deploying specific types of interventions
  • Risk Management (against proven risk frameworks)
  • Etc

And, by the way, these are not mutually exclusive requirements – to the contrary, they have mutually compounding benefits.

Only when practitioners can clearly delineate

the different specialties and competencies within Change Management,

 describe their benefits and understand their relationships

– only then are they are really prepared to deliver “Change Management” value.

So, while this does not require that our definitions be identical, I ask my colleagues to give more consideration to contextualizing what you do and relating it to what other specialists within the same space do, i.e. don’t sell just your capability. Please consider the breadth and depth of change management and build up the team to meet the client’s best interests.

If you are researching Change Management to deploy within large-scale strategic change, I’d be delighted to share more with you – you can reach me at .

_ _ _ _

Faith and I both believe that Change Management is a critical component of successful business change.  As such, and along with some others, we are committed to expanding the general understanding of Change Management and will be posting multiple articles on this topic over the next several months.  Some articles will be collaboratively written, others written and posted individually.

We hope you will visit both our sites.  To see Faith’s blog, follow this link.

If you want to know more about who we are, you can find us both on LinkedIn. You can also read more about Faith here and if you want to contact us, you can reach Faith here and me at

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How can you change your organization’s culture? Book Review: “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture (1)

If you recognize that your organization needs either a wholesale culture change (as Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop expressed this week (2)) or tweaking in certain units, this book will provide you with an excellent framework and the language to discuss it.  The authors, Cameron and Quinn, are renown in this space and the book is an expansion of decades of academic research and field application.

The foundation, Competing Values Framework, sets out a 2×2 matrix with 4 different organizational culture types (Clan, Hierarchy, Adhocracy and Market Cultures) and the authors maintain that most organizations exhibit differing degrees of each.

The beauty of the framework is that it takes the intuitive (and sometimes not so intuitive) and makes it plain, gives it structure that can be measured and discussed.  As I peeked ahead to read the model, I could immediately recognize characteristics s of organizations that I have worked with.  Even rough plotting current and desired state values seemed intuitive and suddenly easy to talk about. Further reading illuminating much more meat on the model worthy of further study – the Management Skills Assessment Instrument and Organizational Change Assessment Instrument (OCAI) are simultaneously straightforward and comprehensive.

The book claims that the approach provides six advantages: practical, timely, involving, quantitative and qualitative, manageable and valid.  I have to concur – this book delivers. 

Evidence is emerging every quarter that our most established and revered organizations are only reactive to change – are not demonstrating the capability to evolve at the pace that the market is demanding.  In my opinion, these organizations are constrained by three factors: the vision of leadership, the effectiveness of their strategies and … the ability to change the cultures of these organizations.  The success of our economies and our communities going forward will depend, to large degree, on whether we accelerate our commitment to these areas. 

In correspondence with Professor Quinn I asked for authoritative online description of OCAI to share with you and he referred me to the Competing Values Company where you can access much more information.

Of note, the third edition, published by John Wiley, is due for release in Canada on March 9th 2011 and will contain a downloadable online version of the Management Skills Assessment Instrument and the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument.

Also of note, I think we can expect to hear the reference to “the burning platform” a lot more in 2011.  It would be appropriate to acknowledge Daryl Conner who coined the phrase following the Piper Alpha explosion to articulate the notion of choice between certain death (failure) and potential life (hope).  He was interviewed recently by Luc Galoppin and described this in his own words “Burning Platform: The Misunderstanding ” (Part 1 here and Part 2 here).


(1) “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture”, Kim S. Cameron and Roger E. Quinn, John Wiley & Sons, 2006, USA.

(2)“Nokia CEO Says Company Is Standing on a “Burning Platform”, Mashable, Feb 9, 2011.

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Fatal assumptions and setting projects up for success

“If we always do what we always did, we’ll always get what we always got” – True and so what? 

Well, often (usually) we need to move ourselves and our people out of comfortable situations in order to achieve different (hopefully better) results.  And as ‘easy’ as this looks when we put together analysis and business cases – then convince ourselves even more as we buy into the initiative vision statement – we often have a nagging doubt that implementation and benefits realization are rarely that ‘easy’. 

What are the, often fatal, assumptions that could free us – could liberate our approach to do things differently?  That we ignore at our own peril? continue reading here

“Rethink, Reimagine, Reset”

Please do read this blog post “Rethink, Reimagine, Reset” – Idris Mootee, CEO of Idea Couture, is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats. His post challenges us to think harder about leveraging existing technology to improve the world around us. 

My response?  Here we go:

Agree completely – vehemently. I hear a call to action to leaders to THINK HARDER – good intentions are no substitute for good work.  And nothing less than great strategy and great execution will preserve our standard of living. Shake ups are required – paradigm shifts.

Not convinced? Peer into the future by considering the trends described here :

“For the first time since Bloomberg BusinessWeek began its annual Most Innovative Companies ranking in 2005, the majority of corporations in the Top 25 are based outside the U.S.”. 

And, by the way, expand your horizon beyond the US to the North America continent – there are ripple effects.

It is not clear that technology innovation alone will compensate for the gross growth we are losing however there is likely no single silver bullet – we need to think in terms of ‘and’ not ‘or’

I particularly embrace Mootee’s call to action:

We don’t even need to look into the future, just look around us, there are plenty of technologies that allow us to change the world. We just need more design thinking and imagination.

This reminds me of one of my favorite affirmations – a quote from Teddy Roosevelt:

“Do what you can, where you are, with what you have!”

This is the start – the thin edge of the wedge. Critical to creating traction for change.

Next?  We can ignore the change that is evidencing itself around us (and by all accounts we do this very successfully) but until we acknowledge that fundamental shifts in our economies are occurring we cannot begin to change the trends.

Change the world

Had a couple of conversations recently with friends and colleagues bemoaning various states of affairs from gun violence to proroguing Parliament.  The conversation generally drifts to ‘but what can I do’, ‘I am just one voice’. 

From time to time, when I find some cool way to answer Eric Clapton’s call to action “Baby if I could … change the world” (“Change the world”) I will post it here. 

Think you can’t change the world? Think again: “The future is always changing … in the largest of ways by the smallest of things”, PUSH, the movie.

Even the smallest of actions can begin change.

Example? Okay, it’s a bit sappy but fun and funny – you’ll get the point – start somewhere!

How about we start with what we can do and work from there?

Maybe change begins with the decision that “yes, I can” and the next obvious question: “how?”

New Year’s Resolutions 2010 – tips

Jan 1st 2010. Toronto, Ontario.  Wonderful.  There is nothing like a blank slate at the beginning of the year.  No mistakes, yet, to regret and 365 days of promise ahead. 

New Year’s Resolutions are drafted, firming them up today. 

Some excellent pragmatic tips from a UK coach here:  “Set yourself EXACT 4P goals you will WANT to keep and achieve all you aspire to!”

And a perspective on leveraging the thin edge of the wedge here:  “Deviation…New Habit” Leading from the Future Blog –

 As an agent of change I continue to find it fascinating why we do, and don’t do, all the things we do, and don’t do.

Onward and upward in 2010.  Wishing you success and happiness.

Part 3: Re-inventing your career using Change Management Best Practices – Overcoming the barriers
November 25, 2009, 10:52 pm
Filed under: - People Change Management, - Professional Development | Tags: ,

Okay, so now we understand the emotional roller coaster of change (Part 1), and we put together a Change Plan (Part 2) to get us energized. That sounded great.  So what holds us back? Why don’t we make smooth and fast progress? 

Well, putting aside personal capabilities and the job market (certainly not inconsequential), we procrastinate – right? Well, it’s natural inertia at work.  There are also, potentially, other factors at work.  

In “It Starts with One” (1) Stewart Black and Hal Gregersen explore the “mental maps” that stand in our way of unleashing the power “to deliver superior, sustained strategic change”.  It’s good stuff.  They have a model that looks at the three barriers to progress: “failure to see”, “failure to move” and “failure to finish”.  Sound familiar?  Understanding these, and other, natural hurdles enlighten us as to how to overcome them.

One of the first hurdles is the “I get it trap” – the notion that we already know or understand something; have tried it or have a solution that we are just not quite ready to pull the trigger on. Dr. Phil has a nifty colloquialism to challenge this mindset: “How’s that workin’ for ya?”.  Usually this little review generates a pause as we reconsider – and the, now self-evident, answer is “not so well”.  So, don’t duck, dodge, procrastinate or click away. Instead, with an open mind consider transforming ourselves is a project – it is work and we will need to do something different if we want a different result. 

Can you see it? “Failure to See”

The first hurdle that Black and Gregersen note is “Failure to See”.  In the case of personal transformation this means “Do you really know what you want?”, “Do you accurately and fully comprehend your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and clearly see how you want to fit them into the current job market”, “Do you have a clear vision of the desired end state?”.  Often the answer to this is “sort of”.  Well, we might have a range of possibilities in mind.  The more focused the vision, the narrower the range then the more specific your actions can be.

Consider writing out your Personal Objectives for a 3-year horizon.  This can be a draft, a work in progress, modified as the desired end state becomes more clear. It becomes a manifestation of your vision. 

Are you moving towards your vision? “Failure to Move”

So once we have a clear picture of our future, why do we hesitate?  Seriously, reflecting deeply on this will liberate us.  Several possibilities:

  • Too busy, too tired:  Make room in your schedule by eliminating or postponing other activities. To a degree it is about priorities.
  • Too expensive, other responsibilities: Can you eke out a little space, a course or a couple of hours with a Coach perhaps? Inching towards the goal is still progress.
  • Fear of inadequacy: be brave, we all experience it. But resist this. It is part of the journey to go from doing the now ‘wrong’ thing very well to doing the new ‘right’ thing poorly, to doing the new ‘right’ thing brilliantly.  There is no way around it, only through it.
    • Do a Gap analysis (i.e. what skills will I need, which do I have, what do I need to work on?). Begin filling the gaps.
    • Find great mentors – many successful people enjoy sharing their knowledge – it is a mutually rewarding relationship
    • Become a “student” of your goal – if it is Enterprise Architecture then read everything you can find, find courses, find seminars, find Associations, find Groups on LinkedIn.  There are dozens of opportunities.
    • Find ‘safe’ places to practice, e.g. volunteering for non-profit organizations that can benefits from the base that you create. Take some measured risks.

 Are you there yet? “Failure to Finish”

So we start this project, personal transformation, and we struggle.  Perhaps it is not the first attempt or perhaps it seems too big, too impossible, and we pause.

It’s important to remember that a moment’s reaction is a part of a larger context.  Reinventing oneself is not a weekend project perhaps not even a seminar or semester project.  Progress will take time and we may not always control the pace.  We will get tired and frustrated.  The challenges may seem intimidating at times. Two concepts can help us here:

1. Expect to “get tired”.  Change is difficult.  There will be times when the irritations of the status quo pale in comparisons to the frustrations of change.  It may seem easier to stop or to step back to a lesser goal.  What to do? Sometimes we need to push through and sometimes we need a break. Consider the timing and, if “life” permits, schedule a pick-up date.  You might benefit from a review of your Personal Objectives or a word with your mentor. 

2. Sometimes we “get lost” – lose track of where we are in our journey.  Look back and consider what you have accomplished:

  • Have you created a clear and compelling vision? Do you know what you want?
  • Do you have a plan for development (however general)?
  • Have you researched the requirements of the new career?
  • Have you done a gap analysis?
  • Have you networked and met people in the roles on the promotion ladder?
  • Are you developing relationships with mentors?
  • Have you taken any relevant training (including online seminars)?

Remember that your transformation is a journey – track your progress and celebrate your accomplishments.  This is not inconsequential.  Successes along the way fuel next steps. 

Anticipate that there will be set-backs and delays.  Change usually takes longer and more effort that we wish but progress proves it is possible.

If you remain committed to your vision then re-commit to your journey regularly by remembering where you are today, where you were and where you want to be.

Best of luck in your personal change journey.

Has this helped you understand your journey?  In projects, leading and managing people through change is a key success factor for executional effectiveness.  In organizations, Change Management is a powerful differentiator and strategic imperative. 


(1) “It Starts with One”, J. Stewart Black and Hal Gregersen, Wharton School Publishing, New Jersey, 2008

Beyond the “burning platform” – advancements in Change Management

Thought leadership continues to advance the discipline. And occasionally, we dare to challenge the ‘sacred cows’ of our own discipline. In this post we look at the “burning platform” and “Who Moved My Cheese”. This is done respectfully, in recognition that these were advances in their time (but times change) and that every situation is different (just because we have a hammer does not mean every protrusion is a nail). So here we go.

“Burning Platform”

The “burning platform” (1) is often used to suggest that people must fear change in order to move forward.  Likewise, Kotter’s “sense of urgency” (2) is referenced to drive people into the future.

However, considering the pace of change that teams are required to deliver today, operating with this level of ongoing anxiety is a state that is not sustainable. It is the equivalent of idling a car at 5000 rpm for weeks on end – the engine will burn out no matter how well maintained. Instead, a different social contract is required of the employer – employee relationship. Such that expectations are re-set.

A different, measured pace is appropriate – quicker perhaps a speed walking marathon (with all the attendant training and support), but not a sprint marathon.

[Of note, this was NOT the original intent of the phrase "burning platform" –this phrase was coined by Daryl Conner in 1998.  Since this post was published Daryl has published his original interpretation here "The Real Story of the Burning Platform" which is still valid today. Focusing on commitment, resolve and resilience are still revolutionary mindset shifts for many change leaders and practitioners.]

“Who Moved My Cheese?”

“Who Moved My Cheese?”(3), let’s first remember that for its time this book was insightful. However, it was written more than 20 years ago (1998). The reality is that the intuitive message in this seminal work is that it stinks to have change forced on you with no explanation. That was always true but is not helpful enough.  Explaining the change is still not enough.

Both external and internal environments of organizations have changed dramatically and Change Management thought leadership has advanced with them. The notion that change happens “to us” is often still true. However, current prevailing thought leadership advocates toward the continuum of engaging users in the solutioning process and earning their commitment as the optimal way for expediting adoption (reducing resistance).


The world is moving forward and Change Management is advancing with it – are you?


(1) The concept of a burning platform is comes from the Piper Alpha oil rig catastrophe, a massive explosion and fire in the North Sea off Scotland in 1988. 167 of 229 men died. All that survived had jumped into the frigid North Sea from a height of more than 100 feet. The choice was that of certain death vs potential death.

(2) “Leading Change”, John P. Kotter, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA, 1996. “Creating a Sense of Urgency” is the first of eight principles of leading change.  Of note, Professor Kotter continues to publish and expand the body of knowledge on Change Management since this publication.

(3) “Who Moved My Cheese”, Spencer Johnson, Penguin Putnam Inc, New York, 2002. This is a wonderful management parable of four characters – Hem and Haw are resistors while Sniff and Scurry are early adopters – who hunt around a maze for cheese. The cheese is not always in the same place so they have to adapt. The one who adapts most quickly documents his insights in ‘the writing on the wall’. It illustrates different reactions to unsolicited change and provides some advice on how to adapt.

The business of changing a country – Reflection 1

Much has been made of Obama’s election campaign – on the public rhetoric of change. Certainly one cannot argue its effectiveness – regardless of your political persuasions – this man has become the ‘leader of the free world’.

I am currently reading “The Audacity of Hope”, author Barack Obama.  It was a gift from a friend – we often talk politics and she had read it. I was skeptical – figured it would be a thinly veiled marketing pitch and, perhaps it is, but it is actually quite … good. 

It is interesting to know learn what he professes, in his own (or authorized) words and to consider whether he is walking his talk.  A couple of quotes to give you an idea:

  • “… what’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem.” (p22)
  • ” When we dumb down the political debate, we lose. For it’s precisely the pursuit of ideological purity, the rigid orthodoxy and the sheer predictability of our current political debate, that keeps us from finding new ways to meet challenges we face as a country.  It keeps us locked into either / or thinking.” (p40)
  • “What are the core values that we, as Americans, hold in common?  That’s not how we usually frame the issue, of course, our political culture fixates on where our values clash.” (p52)
  • “In every society (and in every individual), these twin strands – the individualistic and the communal, autonomy and solidarity – are in tension ….”

These are not the typical manifesto rallies – these are more complex arguments.  The challenges of getting enough of the voting public to understand these concepts to give him room to make complex change happen in an adversarial political arena is probably why most have never taken this approach. But it may be the only right way. 

This is not to say that his politics are ‘right’. It is to say that the notions of a higher bar of political debate, developing resolutions for apparently contradictory policies, focusing on the values that bring a group together while recognizing the tensions that pull them apart … these are the real challenges of leadership. 

It has become clear that no political leader is perfect (certainly Opposition parties never lets the public forget it) and that the current political environment focuses on those imperfections while real issues are undermined in the interest of getting elected in the next term.

Certainly a new order of leadership is required.  After all, to quote a more widely recognized brilliant mind:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein

The honeymoon is over for President Obama. Although it does not appear that he has taken his foot off the gas from the moment his win was announced (something I do admire), the glare of the media and the frowns of the hawks must be wearing thin. Now begins the real tests of a “president” – action under the most intense pressure.  This is a job I would not want – it’s grueling nature will run down the soul of any mere mortal, as lesser men have discovered some earlier some later.

His platform has been clear from very early on – some could argue from before this book.  He has sought the counsel and engaged of both experts and partisans. The fact that he has not wavered much from his platform should not be surprising – the planks are macro in nature and he has also stated that his bi-partisan interest lies in how one gets there. 

Is he an active and engaging sponsor – certainly publically this is an easy feat when compared to his predecessor but is it enough?  Can he maintain enough Democratic support? Can he penetrate the political requirements of partisanship to  get traction for his BHAGs?  This is not for the faint of heart – at some point one hopes that the players will take a step back and consider that some are all or nothing propositions.  The healthcare initiative faces extraordinary challenges from reaching a consensus (or close enough) appreciation for the definition of the current situation to understanding the agendas of the stakeholders (from the different segments of the population, to the different states, different government levels and agencies to healthcare providers).  This cacophony alone would torpedo many an effort. 

We have a unique opportunity in history – a President who has placed a value in transparency, in engagement (despite its risks and challenges) and front row seats.  It promises to be an interesting four years.


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