It Starts With One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations

Reading is fun. But not every book is really worth reading it – especially when it comes to business books. Therefore I already started the “Book of the Week” Series, where I share comprehensive abstracts on my favourite books.

Now I want to start another series called: “Business Books” – featuring information on books in a more compact way. Today I would like to present you “It Starts With One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations” by J. Stewart Black and Hal B. Gregersen (2008).

According to J. Stewart Black and Hal B. Gregersen in It Starts With One, the key to successful organizational change does not start with the introduction of large, company-wide initiatives or top-down policy revisions, but somewhere much smaller. Successful change starts with the individual. Organizational change is difficult, expensive, time consuming, and, increasingly, the way of the business world. In the global marketplace, the pace of radical adjustments due to shifting markets, cultures, supplies, and technologies is gathering speed. These unsettling issues are also increasing in magnitude and becoming more and more unpredictable.

The typical business response is to look for advice in an “organization in” fashion, where the company as a whole dictates new standards for everyone at once, from the top down. Unfortunately, say Black and Gregersen, in spite of many companies’ best efforts, more than 50% of all change initiatives fail. To address this issue, It Starts With One begins with the opposite of “organization in” thinking, presenting valuable change-ready advice from the perspective of the “individual out,” and asserting that lasting success lies in changing people first. After that, the organization will follow.

Unfortunately, humans are psychologically adverse to change. Every person creates “mental maps” that guide their actions. Once a “map” is shown to work, the person will travel that procedural route again and again, expecting the same favorable result each time. Redrawing the path is difficult, scary, and replete with barriers:

  1. the failure to see the need for change,
  2. the failure to move when the need is identified, and
  3. the failure to finish. The key is breaking down—and breaking through —these obstacles.

And the answer, say Black and Gregersen, lies in the individual.


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