In mid-October 2009 I gave a closing keynote speech to the 2009 Institute for Oral Health conference on defining quality. They had asked me to address the question of how one goes about promoting systems change. The podcast of my talk is now available here.
To provide some insight on making systems change, I went back to the well of my days directing a program in Whole Systems Design, and to the material on managing change that we incorporate into our work in long-range strategic planning. Systems so resist being changed, and there is a formula that helps one to understand how to overcome this resistance. The formula is: D x V + a > R.
That is, Dissatisfaction, times Vision, plus action must be greater than Resistance before systems change can begin. If a system resists change, and they generally do, one can increase dissatisfaction, for example by pointing out the consequences of not changing. Or one can develop and communicate a compelling vision that is so attractive that people want to move toward it. And, one can couple that with clear winning steps or actions. Of course a combination of all three are usually necessary to overcome the inertia caused by resistance.