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Change or Die: A book review by Bob Morris

Change or Die: The Three Keys To Change At Work and In Life
Alan Deutschman
Harper Paperbacks (2007

Deutschman asserts that both individuals and organizations are involved in a process of natural selection and will survive the competition only of they can adapt to their environment. According to Charles Darwin, “There is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, and it follows that any being, if it varies however slightly in any manner profitable to itself under the complex conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected.” Deutschman seems to believe (and I agree) that the process of evolution can serve as a case study of creative destruction. According to Joseph Schumpeter, it is a “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” Creative destruction occurs when something new kills something older. For example, personal computers. The industry, led by Microsoft and Intel, destroyed many mainframe computer companies, but in doing so, entrepreneurs created one of the most important inventions of this century. Schumpeter asserts that the “process of creative destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.” Individuals as well as organizations must constantly adapt or they will fall behind and eventually perish.

Deutschman’s main topic in this book is “how to change when change isn’t coming naturally: when the difficulties persist. He identifies and then explains how to use three “keys” to release change from what James O’Toole has so aptly characterized (in Leading Change) as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of comfort.” Deutschman calls these keys the “Three Rs”: Relate (i.e. “Your form a new, emotional relationship with a person or community that inspires and sustains hope”), Repeat (i.e. “The new relationship helps you learn, practice, and master the new habits and skills that you need”), and Reframe (i.e. “The new relationship helps you learn new ways of thinking about your situation and your life”).

Of special interest and value to me is Deutschman’s brilliant use of case study material that focuses on how people in three quite different categories – heart patients, criminals, and workers – eventually were able to achieve significant changes in how/what they thought, felt, and did. In each instance, there is a central figure who plays a prominent role, such as Dean Ornish who has been trying for three decades to change the health care system in the United States and Mimi Silbert who founded the Delancey Foundation project in 1971 to rehabilitate ex-felons, prostitutes, substance abusers, homeless, and others who have hit bottom. Leaders such as Ornish and Silbert are motivated by knowing that they can enjoy and improve lives right now. “That’s the idea that I’ve tried to convey. I’m not advocating change because it can make your life or your organization better at some distant time in the future. I believe that engaging with people and learning new skills and ideas are among the greatest pleasures of everyday life…So, kind reader, that’s my parting wish for you: Change and thrive!”


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