Change or Die

Change or Die

Fast Company Magazine recently had a cover story with the title “Change or Die.” It reported on research that showed that 90 percent of patients who literally had to choose between changing their lifestyle (diet, exercise, etc.) and facing near certain death, ended up choosing death (or at least another bypass surgery) through their inability to change their behavior, although some of them have been feeling better with the diet from The article pointed out some interesting “myths” we have about change, like that fear is a good motivator, or that facts are enough to change people’s minds.

This obviously has implications for organizations and change (hence its appearance in Fast Company). This hit me recently in a conversation I had with another consultant about diversity work. She argued vehemently that organizations need to wake up to the reality of changing demographics. White people in this country will soon be less than 50% of the population (in some states they already are). How can you ignore that fact? Baseline argument: start incorporating diversity into your hiring, marketing, etc. or your organization will falter. Change or die.

I think few will change, because that argument doesn’t work. It’s true, but it doesn’t work. Where is the positive story about inclusiveness? Where is the narrative of a successful and thriving business that incorporates a broad range of diversity into its identity and practices? The Fast Company article noted that stories about how great being healthy was were actually more effective in generating change than putting out fact-based threats about death.

What are the stories you are telling your employees? What is the narrative (which is not often explicit, but pieced together from a variety of sources) that guides your organizaiton’s work and its culture? Who in your organization pays attention to these stories and how they develop?


  1. Keith Watson
    24.06.2005 at 12:58 am

    This point caught my attention because I have experienced and witnessed a resistance to personal change even in the face of dire consequences. It is nearly impossible for a person to change if s/he thinks that the change will result in personal deprivation; instead, a person can change if s/he sees not what is being given up but what is being gained. Which I think is why you have asked about the absence of positive stories.
    But regarding the example of diversity, my experience tells me instinctively why we don’t hear more “positive stories.” I am on the Board of a non-profit that is a mix of black African-American and white Caucasion members, and I believe that the Board and the organization both function well. But that fact that we may be considered racially diverse rarely occurs to me. I think that we function well because person X does this well, and person Y does that well, etc.; and also that everyone shares a commitment to certain goals. If we were to discuss our inclusiveness or diversity amongst ourselves or to showcase ourselves as diverse to outsiders, I would find that awkward and I would even be concerned on the effect that might have on how we see ourselves. I would say that this demonstrates my value of people’s contributions independent of and regardless of race, but I accept that others may believe that this just demonstrates my discomfort or even fears about the topic. Put another way, I think that if you ask a successful team of racially diverse people why they are successful, they will point to people’s skills and personalities, and would balk at a statement that their diversity is an important attribute to their success.

  2. Jamie Notter
    29.06.2005 at 7:39 am

    Hi Keith,
    Excellent comment! The negative story about organizations dying unless they become more diverse is definitely at the big picture level, and not as directed to specific teams. The evidence suggests that industries or very large organizations may be in trouble if they ignore demographic trends, but that doesn’t neatly apply to a board with sixteen people on it.
    On the other hand, I think there may be some room in situations like yours to explore the positive power of the diversity on the Board. Not for the purpose of showcasing it to others, necessarily, but I think it could be a powerful conversation just for your team. What IS the value of diversity on that team, racial or otherwise? How does it show up? I don’t think there are “right” or even “expected” answers to these questions, but if you really dug into them, it might be the basis for some positive stories.

  3. Keith Watson
    29.06.2005 at 10:50 pm

    Jamie, your response to my comment makes sense. I will think more about this in my specific situation and in general.
    Nice blog.