“Making Change” (May 2005) is spot on. My cardiologist telling me, “You won’t survive a heart attack; you need bypass surgery right now” still echoes in my ears 13 years later. Dr. Ornish’s approach to change not only had an impact on my life, it also altered the way I work with clients. I’ve learned four things from my experience. Even when you know your life depends on it, change is hard, half-measures don’t work, no one can make the choice to change for you, and finally, you can’t make significant change alone. I wouldn’t be here if not for the support of my friends, my family, and especially my wife, Emily.
I just finished reading your article about the difficulties of effecting change, which reinforces something that I have been thinking about HIV-AIDS for some time now. Despite the fact that we’ve been preaching safer sex in this country for about 25 years, the annual new HIV infection rate remains fairly constant, at more than 40,000. In fact, I became HIV-positive in 2003 through sex, and I had to retire from my practice. Although I did contract the disease this way, it seems to me that the same principles delineated in your article could be applied to the prevention of new HIV infections.
Dr. John DesMarteau
As I was on my way to my marketing job this morning, I realized I was uninspired, bored, and in need of some encouragement to keep going. I was out of ideas. I needed inspiration to continue. In my work mailbox was the most recent Fast Company issue with the headline “Change or Die.” In my positions in life, I must be inspired and inspire those around me for personal growth to occur within the teams I care for. So the idea that “appeals rooted in emotion” are the catalyst for change was a wake-up call for me.
If you really want to study change, visit an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting. There you’ll see people working diligently for change in their lives. To them, “change or die” takes on a whole new meaning.
As a onetime senior manager in a billion-dollar company, small-business startup owner, and a leader in two smaller companies, the practice of changing behavior has been a passion. I’m glad to say that, one-on-one, I’ve been able to get people to embrace the “right kind of success,” and I’ve left some lasting change. As your article pointed out, you don’t change by the numbers but by influencing others to see themselves (and all of their priorities in life) first, then focus on the necessary changes to be made. Even so, some recognized the method of change and others did not! Let’s get with it, CEOs, presidents, and leaders. It isn’t all that difficult.
Jeffrey J. Meyer
Overland Park, Kansas
I thought Alan Deutschman wrote a great article, but your approach, particularly on the cover, went against the point of the story. You included a fact-based case of how long my odds are of successfully changing, even with my life on the line. I’ll take the power and possibilities of an inspirational vision appealing to my emotions over quantitative scare tactics any day. Too many of my senior-executive clients are seduced by a similar temptation to motivate people with “burning platforms” and negative cases for change. It’s high time we all heeded the lessons taught by Kotter, Ornish, Gerstner, Jobs, and others about how to make change really work.
Los Angeles, California
I think “Making Change” is a brilliant article, but I disagree with your statement that radical changes are easier for people than smaller, incremental ones. Each change, small or large, meets with resistance. Newton’s law states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” So smaller changes do meet with resistance, but it is easier to overcome. Radical change happens — but rarely. I teach a Japanese concept called Quick and Easy Kaizen, and I have seen managers inspire people to make change part of their culture. A year ago, Subaru received 108.1 ideas in writing per employee and saved more than $5,000 per employee. People can begin to accept the concept of making small changes if they’re inspired by enlightened management.
I’ve read hundreds of “me too” articles on change management. Yours refreshingly has added a whole new dimension. I design graphical user interfaces, so I do a lot of change management because I’m dealing directly with users. I’ve always found that the problem of change isn’t really learning new behaviors. It’s letting go of the old ones.
Dianne B. Volek
Johannesburg, South Africa
Change doesn’t stop with CEOs trying to instigate change within a company. CEOs and top-level management at the world’s largest companies also show a great deal of resistance to outside ideas that dare to challenge conventional thinking. As venture capitalist and author Guy Kawasaki points out, there are three kinds of people: believers, agnostics, and atheists. Believers already know. Agnostics are open to the idea. And atheists will never change, so don’t waste your breath.
Greenville, South Carolina
Changing Apple’s Color to Rosy
When I worked for Apple, the head of my division handed out T-shirts with the saying adapt, migrate, or die (“Making Change,” May). His biology teacher told him that these are the choices facing all organisms. I think businesses also face that same situation.
Los Gatos, California
Today, we see Apple as a sleek, hip company, thanks to its iPod revelation. Profits and sales have increased since its release. I doubt Steve Jobs’s Apple would’ve died if it hadn’t changed instantly. But surely, it wouldn’t have benefited as much as it has if it hadn’t decided to change as quickly as it did. The most important point of your story was that without change, employees can sink into a routine that keeps them and the companies they work for afloat but not thriving.
San Diego, California
Women Roar Back at “I Am Woman”
I shared many of the same feelings as Jory Des Jardins did as a female executive (“I Am Woman [I Think],” May) when I worked as an account manager for Ogilvy & Mather back in the 1980s. I have slowly come to realize that many firms are dominated by a single leadership style or personality type.
I tried working for women only to discover they can be just as intolerant as men. These days, many businesspeople mouth the virtues of diversity, but few really confront the challenges of tolerance. Supporting coworkers who are different makes work harder than most people expect.
I can sympathize with the experience Jory Des Jardins endured as a corporate executive. But I helped found the country’s first executive-leadership program for women 12 years ago, and Des Jardins’s view that women aren’t making it to the top because of a male-dominated culture is a limited one. While it’s true that women represent more than half the workforce but just some 12% of all executive positions, the fact is that women are too often holding themselves back. It’s not so much a glass ceiling as it is a “sticky floor.”
We’ve learned that women frequently fail to focus on the overall corporate picture, instead believing they will be judged solely on their work. They’re also often victims of an abundance of modesty, which propels them to downplay their power — the very thing needed in a strong executive. Only when women acknowledge their own personal strategic failures will they ascend, in droves, to the corner office.
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In “Soul Assassins” (May), we said Despair’s principals were promised stock options. They were promised stock.