Interconnected Systems

I just finished "Leading Change" by John Kotter. It's a fantastic book for leaders who are attempting to help their organizations be better in fundamental ways.

In the book, Kotter talks about the difference between leading change in unconnected and interconnected systems. His insight is brilliant.

Imagine walking into your office and deciding you're ready for some change. Probably, you'll do it on your own. Shift the desk from one side of the office to the other side, take down a picture and use a hammer to nail a new picture on a different wall, move the bookshelves from one place to another. And by the end of the day, you'll be able to look at your office and say, "Wow. That looks better."

That's an "unconnected system." And, it's the kind of change most leaders have led successfully throughout their leadership.

Now, imagine walking into the same office for the same project, only now the bookshelves are connected to the desk with steel cables. The pictures are tied to the books on the shelf. Tables and chairs have wires attaching them together, and they're connected to the desk and the bookshelves.

That's an "interconnected system." It's the kind of change that's extraordinarily difficult for leaders and for those he leads.

The leader thinks he's simply moving the desk. Everyone in the office knows the desk needs to move. But when he moves the desk, the books fall off the bookshelf and everyone (including the leader) is surprised. Everyone knows the picture needs to go but can't figure out why nobody can seem to get the picture to budge from the wall.

Leading change within an interconnected system is tough work. The end-result is this: You'll likely have to change things that aren't intuitive to everyone in order to keep the bookshelves from falling over; expend more energy than your team initially expected; and make more changes than you imagined at first. It's tough, but it's the only way to the office everyone dreams of.

Have you experienced this? What other insight would you add to Kotter's discussion of interconnected systems?