Saturday, 27 June 2009

Premature clarity is a dangerous thing

I  have been involved in a number of discussions about the future in various organisations, particularly in the context of financial downturn,  and there is a tendency to want to make decisive moves with long lasting implications. Sometimes we need to check. Michael Fullan's book Change Forces With A Vengeance  offers some asssistance here 

Change Forces with a Vengeance

In a chapter on 'New lessons for complex change'  which can be viewed online  he talks about how 'Premature clarity is a dangerous thing.'


Fullan suggests that when you are facing a complex problem with a sense of urgency there is nothing more seductive than an off the shelf solution, the clarity of charisma or anything that provides the comfort of a clear direction. He asks that we resist it. 

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‘People refer to gurus because they don’t know how to spell charlatan.’   Peter Drucker


Fullan comments that Heifitz and Linsky in their book 'Leadership on the line: staying alive throught he dangers of leading' (2002)  make the distinction between technical and adaptive change.  We tend to know the answers to the former but not the latter. Technical change is hard enough, in education for example, it is improving numeracy and literacy.  But adaptive change is more fundamental - it is transformation of the system.


‘Everyday people have got problems for which they do, in fact, have the necessary know how and procedures.  We call these technical problems.  But there is a whole host of problems that are not amenable to authoritative expertise or standard operating procedures . They cannot be solved by someone who provides the answers from on high.  We call these adaptive challenges because they requirenew experiments, new discoveries and adjustments from numerous places in the organization or community.  Without learning new ways – changing attitudes, values and behaviours – people cannot make the adaptive leap necessary to thrive in new environments.   The sustainability of change depends on having the people with the problem internalise the change.’   Heifetz and Linsky 2002

 Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading

The authors suggest that in transformational change ‘peoples hearts and minds need to change not just their preferences or routine behaviours’ 

Fullan summarises his section on premature and false clarity by suggesting that:

'Clarity generates through interaction, problem solving, and communities of practice, delays premature closure enough so that the checks and balances of complexity theory serve to scrutinise ideas’ 


groove1950 said...

I have been waiting for this comment Phil -- what took you so long? smile

groove1950 said...

thanks, Steve