I wrote something this past weekend for everyone who is trying to change a large, complex, emergent system like a corporation.


If you’re trying to make work better, you may be feeling, as Margaret Wheatley writes, “exhausted, overwhelmed, and sometimes despairing even as you paradoxically experience moments of joy, belonging, and greater resolve to do your work.”

I hear about this wide range of emotions in people across all the companies I visit who are trying to changes things and I experience it myself. And there are good reasons to feel discouraged sometimes.

Even those who are doing the best work and who have the most experience are keenly aware they’re not driving the kind of change they want as quickly as they want. They’re still daunted by the tremendous challenges they face – cultural, legal, technical, political, organizational.

It’s not because they’ve misread the potential for change or because the technology isn’t good enough or anything like that. It’s because it’s still early. Because, collectively, we still don’t know enough about how to change these complex organizations, their people, and their deep-rutted ways of working. Because the corporate antibodies come out in force to attack anything that threatens the status quo.

Because it will take a long time, if ever, to realize the possibilities we see.

For myself, I find strength and support in other people.

People, indeed, are the key to surviving the vicissitudes of working on something you know to be good and right but which might very well fail, at least for you and your firm.

To fortify your resolve, seek out the people in your firm whose work and life are better as a result of your efforts. To help you be more effective, reach out to those leading change at other firms – not just to commiserate but to collaborate on solving common problems that slow your progress. Give generously to other change leaders who are just getting started. Extend your networks so that others in trouble have a safety net.

If you’re trying to change your company, you probably won’t. But draw on your connections with other people to give you “the courage and the ability to persevere.” And never, never give up.

If you're fighting against the odds to make a difference, what keeps you going in difficult times?