Here's a funny thing. Well, not exactly funny - more like disquieting or sobering. Not funny at all, actually. Perhaps I'd better start again.
Here's a sad thing. Researchers tell us that when people are told by their doctors that they will surely die unless they change the way they live, only one in seven of us will change. One in seven! What's up with that? The other six want to change, have reason to change, have urgency, but only one actually changes. I know I would change, and so would you. But, for every two of us, there are a dozen more that wouldn't change no matter how much they wanted to. What's wrong with them?
Here's another thing. You know all that leadership training and development we do? What if it's all a bunch
of hooey? What if it makes no lasting difference? What if only a fraction of the participants can become the leaders they want to be - no matter how strong we think our programs are?
This is the stuff I'm thinking after reading Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, both of Harvard. They don't call leadership programs "hooey," but they sure make you wonder when they demonstrate that we humans have a built-in system to avoid change. They call it "immunity" because it acts much like our immune system - invisible to us, but highly effective.
Kegan and Lahey have worked together for several years shedding light on the way the mind develops. This book tackles an interesting problem - how can we help people do what they intend to do when they have a built-in and unconscious aversion to the change needed to do it? They think they've cracked that nut, and they describe a pretty impressive track record to support their claim.
The Kegan-Lahey premise is based on two interesting discoveries from a series of longitudinal research interviews. The first is that the adult mind continues to develop much more significantly in the years after adolescence than previously thought. Great news, no? There is neuroplasticity in the mature mind, whereas before it was thought to be static. True, the developmental capacity of the adult mind is not as impressive as, say, that of a toddler, but it is now known to have remarkable capacity for increasing complexity.
The second discovery is what they call the "immunity to changea hidden dynamic that actively (and brilliantly) prevents us from changing because of its devotion to preserving our existing way of making meaning." Most of us are at the mercy of our immunity. A very few of us (you and me) are able to rise above it to a more complex mind.
The authors identify three types of minds: the Socialized Mind (I just want to fit in and be a team player); the Self-Authoring Mind (I want you on my team, because I have the vision to lead us to victory); and the Self-Transforming Mind (Who says the hockey team can't excel at synchronized swimming? I'm open to hearing the possibilities - even if they come from others besides me. And, no, it's not obvious that they have to remove their skates).
The essence is that change comes from transformed thinking - stepping outside our framework and our assumptions, holding contradictory ideas, opening up to new inputs from unexpected sources.
The book has three parts. The first lays out the argument; the second shares concrete examples of individuals and organizations that have overcome their immunity and how they did it; the third lets you examine your own immunity and gives you tools and processes to overcome it.
This is a cool book for anyone wondering how to build a leadership program. It starts out strong, gets a little slow in the middle, but becomes interesting in the end when the topic of study is, well, you. It's worth a read.
I give it three cups.