My Inconvenient Truth – part 2
published by , on 17/07/2008

Last week I explained how naivety and co-incidence have more to do with innovation than intelligence and analysis. That was my inconvenient truth number 1. The second one comes from the same session that I conducted with my co-speaker and this one was a bit tougher for me to take. But the feedback one resists the most is the truest of all.

So here we go. At the end of the session each participant had the freedom to share their thoughts. One of the participants gave me some food for thought: ‘when you promote involvement, naivety and pragmatism aren’t you just manipulating people into believing that they control the situation? Isn’t your profession all about making people believe different things than they really do?’

No need to mention that I wanted to defend myself from that ‘judgment’. I had plenty of ammunition and an itchy trigger finger. Luckily the facilitator told me that the only answer I was allowed to give was ‘thank you for the feedback’. Now – a few months later – I am grateful for that.


So here’s my answer to that question: yes, we are manipulators. Accepting this truth is a first step to achieving excellence in our profession as an organizational change practitioner.

Let me explain. Our profession is one of getting people out of a comfort zone, into a new reality and making sure that they adapt and cope with that new reality. I can assure you that this takes a nudge (manipulation) from time to time.  Here’s the thing: people don’t like to change, not for the worse, not for the better. Democracy will not get this job done, military discipline gives a higher succes rate.

The question is: how can we do that with integrity? Well, being aware of the fact that you manipulate people is the key to seeing and respecting some boundaries.

Boundary 1: Don’t touch the simple truth (lying). People are interested in the truth, not the details. And people are not stupid. We construct the meanings of things based on reasonable explanations of what might be happening rather than through scientific discovery of “the real story.”  Instead of adding cosmetics to the truth, our job is to help people making sense of it.

Boundary 2: respect the freedom of choice (coercion). Sometimes people will opt out. Consciously or unconsciously. People have the right to experience the consequences of not changing. We should not rescue them for that matter.

Are there other boundaries you can think of?

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