New Definition of Insanity – Learning the Same Lessons In Each Generation

Can you believe 2020 is right around the corner?  A new decade is about to commence in the 21st century and I am finding myself in that ‘what’s old is new again’ circle.

Recently I read a McKinsey article entitled Organizations do not change. People change! The article goes on to talk about how important people are to successful changes and without their support, no change initiative can succeed.

Wow! They are really onto something.  And, of course, it makes perfect sense…to me.  But clearly, there is a new market for this revelation because I and many of my change and transformation colleagues, if not all of them, have been talking about this and trying to get executives and leaders to understand this for over 20 years.  Some even longer.

So maybe we made inroads with some of our clients.  OK, maybe all of them.  But clearly they haven’t been passing this often hard-won knowledge down to the next generation.  Or maybe this article is speaking to executives we didn’t reach and that don’t “believe” in the role of people in change success.

Either way, it boggles my mind that in almost 2020 we are still talking about this as if we’ve discovered something new and exciting.

This article makes it seem like the greatest discovery since sliced bread.  Sigh.

In 2016 a blog called The Context of Things written by Ted Bauer, published a great article about the crucial need for companies to be really good at managing change entitled Change Management: The 2016-2020 waveI usually say that executives and leaders need to be really good at managing themselves and others through change, but it is essentially the same thing.  In this blog, Ted Bauer talks about three critical success factors behind any change.  These critical success factors need to be executive by senior leaders – senior decision-makers he calls them.  They are: Care, Listen and Align.  He says companies can’t be successful without these elements and they need to be modeling them by the year 2020.

Well, we have just a few weeks left and I think we will miss the deadline.

In Care, he says leaders need to ask themselves some questions.  I say they need to ask themselves these questions consistently and throughout the process, not just before it begins.  The most important question is why are we doing this [change management process] now?  Or in my words, why are we undertaking this business initiative at this time?  There are other questions, but honestly, this is the most important one.  And if there isn’t a good answer or the answer is vague, the change doesn’t have a chance on earth to be successful.

I can’t tell you how many times I walk into companies and ask the Why question and get blank stares or a lot of stuttering or worse yet “because senior leadership wants it”.  Yes, often there is a money target associated with it – but that isn’t the first answer I get.  And half the time people working on the change don’t see how it will meet the money target anyway.

Senior leaders think they know better because they have more experience.

That speaks to the second success factor – Listen.  The blog says senior decision-makers need to listen all over the organization – not just to their direct reports or even their direct reports.  But to the janitor or the people who work in the lunchroom.  Listen to those who are closest to the customer.  Wow, that’s a radical concept.  And this is really great advice.  When I work with companies I encourage them to talk to all levels of the organization, even the receptionist at the front desk before they embark on a major business initiative.  When it is done, the results are powerful and directly contribute to the success of the project.  When it is done.  Here’s what I often bump up against when I raise this idea.  Those higher up in the hierarchy think they know better than the person who stands across from the customer and looks them in the eye.  Senior leaders think they know better because they have more experience.  I would contend that they know more, but not always better.  That’s why both perspectives are so important to integrate.  Your junior, customer-facing person can learn from the experience of the senior leader – but the senior leader has just as much to learn from that junior, less experienced person.

Which brings me to the final success factor – Align.  The blog talks about needing to align organizational goals with KPIs with employee tasks with employee goals.  But I think it goes deeper than that.  I believe that differing perspectives within an organization need to be aligned.  And by aligned, I mean understanding why the person believes the way they do.  Not just what they believe, but why.  The why gives you so many more insights into how your organization ticks.  For example, if you run a sales organization and your sales rep has a perspective that is diametrically opposed to the perspective of your VP of sales they must be aligned before success can be guaranteed.  The VP of sales needs to understand why the sales rep thinks that way – what is it about their experience has influenced their opinion.  And vice versa.  The sales rep needs to understand why the VP of sales thinks the way they do.  Sadly, I rarely see anyone wanting to take the time to even have a simple conversation about it let alone a difficult one.  And it is why strategies don’t get executed and why we then just move on to another strategy hoping this one will succeed.

So what is old is new again.  I can see how that would be good for my business, but honestly, I was hoping we’d have moved on and gotten deeper into the full human impact on a company’s bottom line by now.


Beth Banks Cohn
Beth Banks Cohn
BETH is dedicated to helping individuals and companies implement business changes that actually work. Beth believes in the ripple effect – that change handled well benefits everyone in an organization, over and over again. As a recognized expert in change as well as corporate culture, Beth consults domestically and internationally with a wide range of disciplines and businesses. Beth is the author of two books: ChangeSmart™: Implementing Change Without Lowering your Bottom Line and Taking the Leap: Managing Your Career in Turbulent Times…and Beyond (with Roz Usheroff).

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  1. Great article, Beth! You obviously have a lot of fo experience guiding companies into the direction that would be beneficial to them. Businesses can be like children in that they hate and will resist change. We certainly cannot live in the past but we should not run from it as there are many valuable lessons to be learned that may eliminate future mistakes.

  2. Hi Beth. I appreciate your post and the sense of humor you bring.

    “…it boggles my mind that in almost 2020 we are still talking about this as if we’ve discovered something new and exciting.”

    I don’t know fuels the dynamic you describe here, but I’ve seen it too, one too many times. Thank you for bringing your voice to this observation.

    And, the model you offer senior decision makers is on point!

    • Thanks so much for your comments Melissa. The ‘why’ is often neglected so I wanted to shine a bit of a light onto it.