In 1970, Arnold Beisser, MD, wrote about The Paradoxical Theory of Change.
Addressing the psychiatric and psychological establishments, he built upon the work of Frederick Perls and his Gestalt therapy, to point out a fundamental challenge at the heart of human change. Namely, that change occurs when an individual becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not.
Or to put it another way, change cannot take place by ‘trying’, or by another person, or by persuasion, insight or ‘any such means’. The person can only change when he first focusses on what he is.
While this change theory has its roots in psychotherapy, its observations seem equally applicable to organisational change.
Most organisations start off their change journey by focussing on what they need to become. But they ignore the reality of who they currently are. Unsurprisingly, upon being told ‘they need to change’, employees react with a mixture of confusion, cynicism or irritation. Without understanding the reality of what they are today, the instruction to change contains no context, relevance or reason. If anything, it creates additional friction that works against the stated intention.
So if you’re thinking of any organisational change, start with seeking clarity on what your organisation is today, before exploring what you should be. Without it, your efforts are likely to fall on deaf ears.