Systems experience different types of change, and each requires its own approaches for support and leadership.
- Static change is the simplest, being two-dimensional, it depends on direction and force. It is also predictable. Static change is about moving from Point A to Point B by applying force or external motivation/incentive. In human systems, the following types of assumptions emerge from this perspective of change.
—Only the outcomes of a process or effort are considered, with little or no attention to how those outcomes are achieved.
—Incentives and rewards, or punishment, provide the motivation for change in behavior or performance.
—Projects can be managed by tracking only the before and after.
- Dynamic change is more complicated, being multi-dimensional. It can best be described as moving along a smooth trajectory toward a predictable end point. Like water shooting out of a hose, if pressure and angle are known, you can predict height and distance of the arc of water. In human systems, the following types of assumptions emerge from this perspective of change:
—Change occurs according to developmental stages that can be described, tracked, and predicted.
—If people understand the stages of change they will experience, they are more likely to move through those stages gracefully and smoothly.
—You can use externally-derived standards and benchmarks as incentives for change.
- Dynamical change is complex and results from multiple forces acting in unpredictable ways, generating surprising outcomes. Think about water dripping from a faucet. The rate of drops depend on too many factors to predict, precisely, when each drop will fall. These forces include: the amount of deposit in the pipes; the temperature, wind, and humidity in the room; and the amount of water in the pipe. These factors and others interact in unpredictable ways to determine when drops will fall—non-predictable and maddening in the middle of the night. In human systems, the following types of assumptions emerge from this perspective of change:
—While you can neither predict nor control how change will happen, you can set conditions that will be more likely to shape the emergent change.
—Change on the large scale is dependent on change at the local scale.
—A short list of simple rules can help to shape change across a large system by establishing conditions that have the potential to shape the desired patterns.
Each type of change is present in a system to some degree. Human systems, however, are highly diverse, open to influence from inside and out, and have the capacity to learn from past events. These characteristics put them squarely in the realm of dynamical change. Leaders who understand this, shape their decisions and interactions to take advantage of this complex nature of the systems where they work and play.