The Science of Successful Organizational Change

The Science of Successful Organizational Change

The Science of Successful Organizational Change: Re-read Week 2 Led by Steven Adams: Introduction

This week we begin to get into the meat Paul Gibbons’ book The Science of Successful Organizational Change “The Science of Successful Organizational Change” (Remember to use the link to buy a copy to support the podcast and blog).  In this book, the meat starts in the introduction!


Gibbons begins by alerting readers to “Mind the gap,” (p. 2) this is not referring to the London subway, but that gap between people’s intentions (agreeing with something) and people’s actions (doing it).

Gibbon uses two stories to illustrate this “gap”.  A 3 million dollar change study and report that failed to generate action, despite it critical acclaim.  And a personal story about smoking, even though the evidence of the health consequences were (and are) well known.

The Three Sections

Gibbons groups the contents of the book into three sections:

  • Change-Agility
  • Change Strategy
  • Change Tactics

Example:  chapter 6 explores the topic of over-hyped research in psychology that is assumed to-be fact, but lacks evidence.

Gibbons challenges to us:  question what we do is actually working.  It is very difficult to prove cause and effect in a business context – “complexity theory tells us that cause and effect are never possible with any confidence in a complex system? (p. 7).

Gibbons is also pragmatic and states (later in this book), in business, you cannot always wait for an idea to become validated before trying it.

The Whole Book in One Diagram

To this end, Gibbons provides “The Whole Book in One Diagram” (Figure 1, p. 10).

  • A 2 by 2 quadrant
  • X-axis goes from Harmful to Useful
  • Y-axis goes from Invalid to Valid
  • The Valid & Useful quadrant (top-right) being where Gibbons would like to see things move towards

“This is a short book with enormous breadth of topics, many of which are extremely complex.” (p. 14)  Each topics represents a field of study of its own (a bit of foreshadowing – Gibbons provides useful references and annotations throughout the book that can be used to go deeper into many topics). This book goes wide covering many subjects related to organizational change.

Gibbons states his intention for each topic presented in order to:

  1. Challenge a common belief,
  2. Update the reader with newer research,
  3. Bring in well-understood concepts from the change community,
  4. Introduce the author’s own ideas that may receive broader traction

Gibbons ends the Introduction to “The Science of Successful Organizational Change” by distinguishing concept and theory.  A quote from the last paragraph makes the point nicely,  “The devil is not in the detail, but in the application.  The heavy lifting of applying it to organizations you lead must be up to you.”  (p. 15)

My favorite quote from the introduction is “Mind the gap,” (p. 2), what is yours?   Chapter 1 next week.

Previous entries in the re-read of book The Science of Successful Organizational Change

Week 1: Game Plan