Immunity to Change

…fully titled Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.

Immunity to Change is like many of the “personal growth” books I’ve read: the big ideas of the book make it worth sorting through the fluff. Like a number of books of this kind, it spends a lot of time telling you about why the ideas are worthwhile. But, the many stories and examples do help to bridge from “head” to “heart”.

The big ideas of Immunity to Change are:

  • We have the ability to grow, increasing our ability to process complex situations, throughout our lives.
  • Our environment brings an increasing need to deal with complexity. The book looks at three levels of complexity, and intends to move its users to higher levels on the spectrum. The first is the socialized mind, who relies on others for direction. Next is the self-authoring mind, an independent person who  has a vision in mind, holds himself accountable to it, and recruits others to it. Finally comes the self-transforming mind, who uses the tools of the self-authoring mind but seeks to continually learn. He can hold competing ideas in his mind, and is aware that efficiently achieving the wrong vision is of no value. He learns from others, and is interdependent with them. He is able to look at some of the mindsets that he could previously only look through.
  • Some problems can’t be solved by technical learning, but must be approached adaptively. Most of us know how to lose weight (the technical solution): eat fewer calories and burn more of them. Many of us, though, need to adapt–to change who we are and how we think–in order to actually lose weight. We need different tools for adaptive solutions than for technical ones.
  • Most problems requiring adaptive solutions come from a mental “immune system”, which is protecting hidden goals. For example, you might sincerely want to lose weight, but your eating habits reflect that you just as sincerely want not to be perceived–by others or yourself–as “a health nut”.  Those commitments in turn are driven by assumptions, which you can test–and in so doing, possibly change the way you look at the world.
  • Part of the book’s value is in the processes it lays out–processes for engaging in adaptive change. It’s easy to say “yeah, I need to change the way I think about this”, but it’s hard to actually make such a change. Immunity to Change lays out a process for figuring out what your “competing commitments” and the assumptions beneath them are, and then for figuring out whether they’re valid.
  • Both individuals and groups can have “immunities to change”. The processes for figuring out immunities are similar, but looking at group immunities and assumptions does need its own process–which the authors describe separately.
Overall, I do recommend this book. It feels like it could be trimmed down quite a bit, but its core ideas of “immunity to change” and of developing mental complexity make it worth reading. The concrete steps for figuring out your own or your organization’s immunities to change, how they may be harming you, and how to change them if they are are invaluable. The book’s premises echo the ideas in Carol Dweck’s Mindset, and you’d likely find synergy in reading the two together. I also found A Sense of Urgency, by John Kotter, to be a synergistic read with this book (with a similar blend of “fluff” and substance). I hope to write about both books in the next while.
This post exceeds Godin’s minimal “paragraph a day” for the last few days. I really do want to write sustainably, so I’ll try to pace myself–i.e., it may be a few days before the next post.

What’s To Come

My recent reading has included a lot of books about growth, both of individuals and of organizations.

I’m interested in learning about myself and the way I (and humans in general) think, both because I enjoy learning and because that’s the first step in being able to change myself.

I’m interested in learning about organizations because, well…we live in organizations. Whether it’s a nation, a church, an association, or just a few close friends, each of us is part of a lot of groups–each with its own “syntality” (cool word meaning “group personality”, its own goals and assumptions, and its own efficiency in achieving those goals. I want to live in a world where most groups have good goals and are good at pursuing those goals. Since I can’t magically transform the world, I at least want to help my groups to pursue the right goals well.

A lot of the posts in the next while will result from re-visiting (usually “skimming”) books I’ve read recently, often related either to self-awareness/self-transformation or to awareness of group dynamics and how to re-engineer them.

If you have recommendations of books I should read, please let me know.

Introduction

Seth Godin recently gave some sage advice for improving your writing: “Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better….Do it every day.” I may not reach that standard, but I do want to write well. For a time, that may mean writing poorly. It will mean exposing my pet ideas and their presentation to your criticism, which I welcome. If you can help me improve–either in my writing style, or in writing about things you find (and think I’d find) interesting, let me know.

I expect to have a number of book reviews or brief summaries on the blog–books that I’m reading and find interesting. I’m not sure what else will make it onto the Web with my name attached.