Transforming Fear into Agile Innovation: Lessons from Mary Lynn Manns, Pixar, Adobe, and More

Photo of Selda Schretzmann
Selda Schretzmann
13 min. reading time

Change is a constant in the world of agility, yet it often brings with it a shadowy companion: fear. The fear of the unknown, the fear of disruption, the fear of failure-all can paralyze organizations and individuals. However, what if we told you that fear can be harnessed as a catalyst for growth? 

This enlightening journey not only gleans transformative insights from Mary Lynn Manns, Ph.D., a distinguished figure in change management but also integrates pioneering perspectives from industry giants such as Pixar, Adobe, Microsoft, Lego, IBM, and GE. These leading entities, known for their innovative approaches, provide compelling, real-world examples that complement Mary Lynn Manns' practical wisdom. Together, they offer agile leaders and organizations actionable strategies to not only confront fear but to turn it into a powerful driver of progress in the dynamic world of agility. 

Join us as we weave these varied strands into a cohesive narrative, spotlighting how embracing change can lead to remarkable breakthroughs.


Mary Lynn Manns is an esteemed figure in the field of change management. With a 39-year tenure as a professor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and now a professor emeritus, Mary Lynn has dedicated her career to studying and facilitating change, particularly in the context of organizational and community settings. She co-authored "Fearless Change" and "More Fearless Change" with Linda Rising,  focusing on empowering leaders and individuals to embrace change with less fear.

1. Understanding and Addressing Fear

"Fear can be paralyzing in organizations... Understanding and addressing it is crucial."

Mary Lynn delves into the natural fear accompanying change, rooted in uncertainty and the unfamiliar. Stress isn't limited to chosen changes like new jobs or moving houses; imposed changes can be even more daunting. It's the adaptation process, not just the change itself, that breeds fear. To address this, Mary Lynn suggests engaging with individuals in safe, communicative environments, like workshops.

Here, fears are not just acknowledged but actively worked through, transforming them from obstacles to growth opportunities. Leaders play a pivotal role, employing emotional intelligence to make this shift, viewing change as a path to personal and professional development.

Case Study

Pixar's Approach to Managing Fear in Innovation

Background: Pixar, renowned for its cutting-edge animation and storytelling, faced significant periods of change, especially as technological advancements in animation were introduced. Such changes naturally induced fear among employees, concerned about keeping up with new skills and adapting to new ways of creating animation.

Addressing Fear through Engagement: Pixar's leadership, including figures like Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, recognized the fear associated with these changes. They adopted an approach of openly discussing these fears in team meetings and workshops. For instance, when transitioning to more advanced animation software, which required employees to learn new skills, Pixar conducted extensive training workshops. These sessions were not just about skill-building but also served as platforms for employees to voice their anxieties and concerns.

Transforming Fear into Opportunity: Pixar's environment, known for its open communication and emphasis on continuous learning, helped in transforming fear into an opportunity for growth. Leaders within the company employed emotional intelligence to understand the fears and stress points of their employees. They focused on assuring teams that learning and adaptation were part of the company's culture, and that exploring new territories was a shared journey.

Outcome: By acknowledging and addressing fears directly, Pixar was able to smoothly transition into new technologies and methodologies, maintaining its industry-leading position. The approach helped in retaining talent, fostering innovation, and ensuring that the organization's creative output remained top-notch.

"Each pattern is a tool... like a tool in a toolbox, you need to choose the right one for the job."

Mary Lynn discusses the practical utility of the 61 patterns of change management outlined in her books, likening them to tools in a toolbox, each uniquely suited for different scenarios in agile environments.

These patterns, distilled from real-world success stories, provide agile leaders (and actually any leader) with specific, adaptable strategies for navigating organizational change. Rather than one-size-fits-all solutions, these patterns offer flexible frameworks, crucial for tailoring change initiatives to the distinct needs and challenges of an organization.

This approach not only resonates with the agile principles of adaptability and continuous improvement but also ensures that solutions are practical and grounded in real-world experience.

Case Study

Patterns of Successful Change in LEGO's Innovation and Adaptation Strategies

Background: LEGO, a leading company in the toy industry known for its iconic plastic bricks, has a rich history of adapting to market changes and embracing innovation. This adaptability is in line with the agile change management patterns described by Mary Lynn, showcasing the company's ability to apply specific, adaptable strategies for navigating organizational transformation.

Implementing Agile Change Patterns: LEGO's journey through various industry challenges highlights its effective use of agile change management strategies that mirror the 61 patterns of change management. These strategies are customized to address the unique challenges and opportunities LEGO faces.

One significant pattern LEGO has implemented is its strategy of continuous product innovation while staying true to its core product - the LEGO brick. This reflects a pattern of balancing core values with innovation, ensuring that new product developments are in harmony with the brand's identity and heritage.

Another pattern evident in LEGO's strategy is its expansion into digital and multimedia platforms. Recognizing the shift in children's play habits, LEGO adapted by creating video games, mobile apps, and even a successful film franchise. This adaptation demonstrates a pattern of diversifying product offerings while maintaining brand consistency.

Adapting to Changing Consumer Preferences: LEGO has also shown a pattern of responsiveness to customer feedback and market trends. The company's foray into more gender-neutral and diverse product lines, and its focus on sustainability by investing in eco-friendly materials, are examples of adapting to societal changes and consumer expectations.

Outcome: LEGO's application of agile change management patterns has been crucial in its sustained success and industry relevance. The company's ability to innovate while staying true to its core values, adapt to digital trends, and respond to consumer preferences, illustrates the effectiveness of employing flexible, real-world grounded strategies in managing organizational change. LEGO's strategies show how a company can evolve and grow by applying adaptable patterns of change management, setting a standard for others in the industry.

Discover more about Lego: "Innovating existing markets: Three lessons from Lego"

3. The Centrality of the Human Element

 "Change is about the people...people are unpredictable."

Mary Lynn emphasizes that at the heart of change lies the human element: it's about transforming behaviors and mindsets, not just processes and tools.

In agile environments, where adaptability and responsiveness are key, understanding and addressing the human response to change is paramount. Leaders need to employ emotional intelligence to navigate the complexities of these shifts, fostering an environment where open communication and empathy are not just encouraged but are foundational.

For instance, when introducing a new agile practice, a leader might hold open forums for team members to voice concerns, using these insights to shape the implementation strategy.

This human-centric approach ensures that change is not just effective but also resonant, aligning with the needs and experiences of those who are most impacted by it.

Case Study

Microsoft’s Transformation: Prioritizing the Human Element under Satya Nadella

Background: Satya Nadella's ascension to CEO of Microsoft in 2014 marked the beginning of a significant shift in the company's culture and strategic direction. Faced with the challenge of revitalizing a tech giant, Nadella focused on the human aspect of the organization.

Emphasizing People and Mindset Change: Nadella's approach was deeply rooted in transforming the behaviors and mindsets of Microsoft's employees. He championed a shift from a fixed 'know-it-all' mindset to a 'learn-it-all' mentality, emphasizing empathy, collaboration, and a customer-centric approach. This represented a move away from purely process-driven strategies to a more human-centric philosophy.

Open Communication and Emotional Intelligence: Central to Nadella's strategy was fostering an environment of open communication and empathy. He encouraged team members to voice their concerns and ideas, used these insights to shape the company's strategies, and personally engaged in dialogues with employees across various levels. This approach helped in navigating the complexities of the transformation, ensuring that changes were not only technically sound but also resonant with the employees' experiences and needs.

Outcome: The shift in focus to the human element under Nadella's leadership proved highly successful. Microsoft saw a revitalization in its innovation, employee engagement, and market performance. The company's ability to adapt to rapid changes in the technology sector was significantly enhanced, demonstrating the effectiveness of a human-centric approach in agile environments.

To dive deeper, we highly recommend Nadella's book "Hit Refresh"

4. The Role of an Evangelist in Change

You need an evangelist... someone who believes in change and can energize others.

Mary Lynn highlights the indispensable role of evangelists in championing change initiatives. These individuals are not just believers in the change; they are its driving force, using their conviction and enthusiasm to inspire and galvanize others.

In agile settings, an evangelist acts as a bridge between management's strategic vision and the team's operational reality, turning abstract goals into tangible actions. For example, an evangelist in a software development team might passionately advocate for a new agile methodology, illustrating its benefits through pilot projects and engaging team members through hands-on workshops.

To be effective, these evangelists need not only passion but also resources, training in leadership, and opportunities for visibility. Their ability to communicate, connect, and adapt is crucial in navigating the complexities of change and ensuring its successful adoption.

Case Study

Adobe’s Transition to Subscription-Based Model: The Role of an Evangelist

Background: Adobe, known for its wide range of creative software, faced a significant shift in its business model around 2013, moving from selling perpetual software licenses to a subscription-based model. This was a major change, not only in Adobe’s revenue structure but also in how customers interacted with their products.

Evangelist's Role: The success of this transition was heavily dependent on the role of evangelists within the company. One notable figure was David Wadhwani, then the Senior Vice President of the Digital Media Business Unit at Adobe. He was instrumental in advocating for this change, both internally among employees and externally to the customers and broader market.

Internal Evangelism: Internally, Wadhwani and his team worked tirelessly to communicate the vision and benefits of the subscription model to Adobe's employees. This involved addressing concerns, highlighting the long-term benefits, and ensuring that the staff understood and supported the new direction. This level of internal advocacy was crucial in maintaining morale and focus during a period of significant change.

External Evangelism: Externally, Wadhwani played a key role in evangelizing the new model to customers and the industry. He articulated the advantages of the subscription model, such as constant access to the latest updates and a more scalable pricing structure. His ability to communicate these benefits helped shift customer perception and acceptance of the new model.

Outcome: The transition, though initially met with skepticism, proved to be a remarkable success. Adobe's subscription model not only stabilized its revenue streams but also drove significant growth. The company’s stock price and market valuation soared in the following years.

Broaden your knowledge base with additional information available here:
Reborn in the cloud
7 lessons from Adobe's successful transition to SaaS

5. Diverse Team Composition

"Diversity in team composition... ensures a comprehensive approach to change."

Mary Lynn stresses the crucial role of diversity in teams. She points out that diversity goes beyond job functions; it encompasses various thinking styles, cultural backgrounds, and perspectives. For instance, in an agile software development team, a mix of roles like connectors, skeptics, and late adopters ensures that different viewpoints are represented. This is not just about innovation; it's about resilience. 

A diverse team is more equipped to tackle the multifaceted challenges of agile projects, from initial brainstorming to final implementation. They bring a variety of problem-solving approaches, fostering a more creative and comprehensive strategy towards change. In this way, diversity becomes a cornerstone of agile success, enabling teams to adapt more effectively to new situations and challenges.

Case Study

IBM's Global Team Diversity: Enhancing Agility and Innovation

Background: IBM, a multinational technology company, has long recognized the value of diversity in its workforce. Their approach to diversity encompasses not just demographic aspects but also cognitive and experiential differences.

Diverse Team Composition in Action: One notable instance of this approach is seen in IBM's global software development teams. These teams are often composed of individuals from different cultural backgrounds, each bringing unique perspectives to the table. This diversity is not limited to ethnicity or nationality; it includes a range of professional backgrounds, skill sets, and problem-solving approaches.

Promoting a Comprehensive Approach to Challenges: In agile projects, such diversity proves invaluable. For example, when IBM tackled the development of new AI-driven solutions, the diverse makeup of their teams enabled a more holistic and innovative approach. Team members with different viewpoints could challenge assumptions, offer alternative solutions, and foster a more robust brainstorming process, leading to more effective and creative outcomes.

Impact of Diversity on Resilience and Adaptation: IBM's emphasis on diverse team composition has shown significant benefits in terms of resilience and adaptability. Teams are better equipped to handle the multifaceted challenges of agile projects, from initial concept to final implementation. This diversity ensures a broader range of problem-solving strategies and a more comprehensive approach to change.

Outcome: IBM's continued success and leadership in the tech industry, particularly in innovative areas like AI and cloud computing, can be partly attributed to its commitment to diverse team compositions. This strategy has not only driven innovation but also enhanced the company's ability to adapt to rapidly changing market demands.

Learn more from IBM on this subject by visiting this link: Upholding the Values of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion - IBM Blog

6. Engaging with Skepticism and Resistance

"Engaging with skepticism constructively can lead to more refined and effective change strategies."

Mary Lynn emphasizes the constructive role of skepticism in agile change initiatives. Rather than viewing resistance as a barrier, agile leaders are encouraged to see it as an opportunity for refinement and growth. Skepticism, with its critical perspective, often brings to light potential issues or unexplored aspects of a change initiative.

For instance, in an agile software project, skeptics might question the feasibility of a proposed timeline, prompting a more thorough review and potentially more realistic planning. Engaging these individuals in dialogue helps not only in addressing their concerns but also in refining the strategy, making it more robust and inclusive.

By incorporating skeptics into the decision-making process, leaders can transform skepticism from a challenge into an asset, fostering a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement. This approach ensures that change initiatives are not just top-down directives but collaborative efforts, enriched by diverse perspectives.

Case Study

General Electric’s Transformation: Leveraging Skepticism for Agile Change

Background: GE, one of the largest and oldest industrial conglomerates, embarked on a significant transformation journey under Jeff Immelt. The goal was to shift from traditional industrial manufacturing to becoming a digital industrial company, a move that naturally met with considerable skepticism internally and externally.

Engaging with Skepticism: The leadership, particularly Immelt, recognized the importance of addressing this skepticism head-on. They actively engaged with critics within and outside the company. For example, when GE introduced its ambitious Predix platform, aiming to turn industrial machines into smart devices, many engineers and industry experts were skeptical about the feasibility and the company’s ability to execute such a digital transformation.

Constructive Dialogue and Adaptation: Instead of dismissing these concerns, GE’s leadership used this skepticism as an opportunity for dialogue, inviting feedback and criticism. This approach led to more robust planning and strategy refinement. For instance, feedback from skeptics led to a more realistic timeline for Predix’s development and a clearer communication strategy around its capabilities and benefits.

Outcome and Learning: While GE's transformation journey had its ups and downs, the approach to engaging with skepticism proved beneficial. It allowed the company to refine its strategies, align its teams better, and proceed with a more grounded and realistic approach to its digital transformation goals.

Find out more about this topic here: Jeff Immelt on transforming General Electric

In Conclusion:

As we conclude our exploration, integrating the invaluable insights of Mary Lynns with perspectives from industry leaders at Pixar, Adobe, and Microsoft, a multifaceted understanding of the agile journey emerges. This journey transcends mere processes and methodologies; it fundamentally revolves around people---their fears, their growth, and their potential to drive change. Fear, traditionally perceived as an impediment, is reimagined as a catalyst for innovation and resilience.

Mary Lynns' teachings, enriched by diverse industry viewpoints, emphasize practical change patterns, the critical role of evangelists, the power of diverse teams, and the necessity of constructive skepticism. These elements collectively highlight the pivotal role of individuals in steering agile transformations.

In this agile odyssey, recognizing and addressing fear is not just a hurdle to be surmounted. Instead, it presents a unique opportunity to unleash the full capabilities of agile teams and organizations. Guided by Mary Lynns' insights and echoed by leaders in the field, we are reminded that adopting an agile mindset transcends mere adaptation to change---it's about flourishing amidst transformation, advancing with confidence and determination at every step.

"Change is not easy, but it is possible."

Dive into the detailed transcript below to explore the depth of the conversation between Marry Lynn and Sohrab:


[00:00:00] Sohrab: Hello and welcome everyone to our next episode of "Agile Insights" conversation. Today I'm hosting Mary Lynn Manns, the author of "Fearless Change". I think there's...

Sohrab: Hello and welcome everyone to our next episode of "Agile Insights" conversation. Today I'm hosting Mary Lynn Manns, the author of "Fearless Change". I think there's two books called "Fearless Change" with some addition to that. And before we jump in, as usual, first of all, welcome to the show, Mary Lynn. And second of all, I'll give you the stage to briefly introduce yourself to our audience.

Mary Lynn: Well, thank you so very much for inviting me. I really appreciate it. I'm thrilled to be here. Really am. I love talking about change and that's the first thing you need to know about me. And again, my name is Mary Lynn Manns and I'm the coauthor of "Fearless Change" and "More Fearless Change". And I wrote this book with Linda Rising, these two books with Linda Rising. And I've done a variety of things in my life but my major job was in academia and I was a professor for 39 years at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. And I am now a professor emeritus and I work primarily with fearless change doing fearless change things such as writing and presentations and a variety of other things. I'm thrilled to spend the next 30, 40 minutes talking about change.

Sohrab: Cool. I'm also thrilled to talk about change but before we go there, whenever someone mentions the University of North Carolina, I have to think about Michael Jordan. Is that the university? Were you teaching at the university where he went to?

Mary Lynn: Well, there's many campuses in the UNC, University of North Carolina system and I was not on his campus. No. I was in Asheville, beautiful Asheville, North Carolina which is gorgeous if you ever want to visit. It's a beautiful place.

Sohrab: Your university colors were not this North Carolina blue or were the same?

Mary Lynn: No. No, but we are blue but it's not the same blue and it's kind of funny because there's different colors of blue for some of the campuses and when you buy a T-shirt or a sweatshirt, you have to be careful you buy the right color blue. Isn’t that silly?

Sohrab: Yeah. All right. Mary Lynn, let's jump into the conversation about change. And you mentioned that you co-authored both of the books with Linda Rising. I had the fortune to also speak to Linda several times and had her present at one of our conferences. And I reached out to her again and will schedule another conversation with her at some point in the second half of this year. But today the focus is all on the work that you've done. And I want to ask you this first question. Why did you name both of your books "Fearless Change"?

Mary Lynn: It sounds like that you should a leader of change, you should be completely free of fear. And really what was meant in the book and this is described in the book...this is about less fear. Entering change as a leader with less fear and as a person who has to accept change with less fear. That was why we named it fearless. And so, the patterns that we have in the book, the strategies, the techniques, whatever you want to call them are to help you get through change with less fear.

Sohrab: Yeah. I get that. Now let's take a step back. Why would we fear change in the first place? Because as human beings, probably, we've had to change a lot through our evolution. But what is it about change that makes most of us, maybe all of us fear it?

Mary Lynn: Well, first of all, biologically, the body is always looking for stability and we could go into all the reasons for that. But really, it's not as much about the change as it is about the process of change. If you think about the number of times that you actually were...chose something to make a change, you moved to a new house, you moved to a new, exciting job, you got married, you had a baby. Those things were usually something that you chose to do. And still they were stressful, there were times of stress. Imagine if you have a change sort of forced upon you, it wasn’t your choice. And so, you have that to deal with. But also, it's the process of getting from where you are to where you need to be that people do not like. And also, it isn’t necessarily about the change but it's how people identify with the change. Some people will like it, other people will think of it as a threat and we can talk about some of the things that skeptics and resistors deal with. And in fact, I'm going to Germany where you are in just a week to do a keynote on skeptics and dealing with change when you have people resisting it which is pretty much always.

Sohrab: Yeah. Okay. In general, the body is seeking stability. Our mind is seeking for stability and certainty and change basically breaks that. But I like the point that you mentioned, that it's not so much about the change itself but the process. And you brought up some examples like when you even make the choice yourself, that it still can be stressful. I would add, and feel free to correct me on that, another dimension to it. I have an immigrant background. Everybody can see I don’t look like a regular German. And when I look at the journey that my parents took with my sister and myself and fortunately our life in Germany became better. Something becoming better is also change. We moved from a very small apartment to a bigger apartment. We moved from an apartment to a house. My parents' income changed over the years. And this change being something that's better was always easy for us.

Now I can imagine in addition to the dimension that you mentioned whether it's your own choice or someone is forcing it onto you but also whether it's positive or negative could result in some fear. Does that make sense? Is that something that's also part or was revealed as part of your research?

Mary Lynn: What I've come to believe, that fear drives so many things whether we admit it or not. And even when it comes to people disliking change, yes, it's about the body that is looking for equilibrium and change messes around with that but it's also about the fear of the unknown. Humans don’t necessarily like to move into the great unknown. You talked about houses and when I moved to my present place, I was so excited about it. It's on the river. It's beautiful. But the process of moving from one house to another house was just full of stress and chaos. And that was my choice. And yeah, there was fear involved in it. Was I really going to be able to pull off all the remodeling? Could I really afford this? That's in the background and yet, it was my choice. Think about the number of times that it's not your choice and you're looking at the things you don’t understand because it wasn’t your choice. And so, you are just by...because as being a human, you've got to have some fear about that. That would be a natural reaction.

Sohrab: Yeah. No, I absolutely get that. Now let's go a bit deeper. You mentioned that your book, "Fearless Change" or your book, "Fearless Change" are not about removing fear completely but having less fear. And you speak specifically about tools and techniques that can be used within organizational change initiatives to do that. Can you walk me through some of those tools and what kind of intention or what kind of result they ultimately have?

Mary Lynn: We call them patterns because we...and I speak for Lin and I, spent years specifically writing the book. It took us 10 years to write the first one, because we spent that time talking to people who were making change happen. All different ages of people, all different types of people from very, very young people to people mid-career to C level people that are at the top of their careers and in all different countries, in all different places, kinds of organizations, small organizations, for profit, not for profit and people leading community change too. And we listened to their stories. Not all people were successful. But we listened to their stories and we asked questions to prompt them. And then we pulled out the strategies, the successful strategies that they used to make change happen as they were a a leader of change.

And then we looked for those strategies in more than one context. If we heard somebody talk about a specific strategy that they used and they were in a country, let's say in Buenos Aires, Argentina and then we heard the same thing from somebody who was in a different kind of organization in New York City and we went, "Wait, we've heard that twice from two different people in two different kinds of organizations." That perhaps is a pattern. We don’t call them strategies because a strategy is something that may or may not work. For example, if you're late for something one day, you wake up and you put together a strategy in your head and go, "Well, I don’t know if that'll work but I'm going to see if I can get there by 9:00 AM." But a pattern is something that's been shown to work. We collected to date 61 patterns and we've named all of them. And so that's what we have in the book. It's the collection of strategies for making change happen.

And the leader of change can pick which one he or she wants to use at a particular time based on the problem that they're facing at that particular time because every change initiative is different. We have all different kinds of names. We have wakeup call, hometown story, imagine that, baby steps, shoulder to cry on. There's all different kinds of names that people helped us name these strategies. These were not just something that Linda and I sat and figured out. There was a whole group of people from all over the world that had input into these strategies and into the names of them.

Sohrab: Yeah. This sounds amazing. Now these 61 patterns that you mentioned, are they in one of the books or is that the collection of patterns from both of the books?

Mary Lynn: That's the collection from both of the books. "Fearless Change" was the first. There were 48 in there. And then we added more and we actually got rid of a few because we realized, "Okay, we can combine these two." We were continuing to learn. Between the first book and the second book, there was an additional 10 years and we were always learning, always talking to people, doing workshops, doing presentations, listening to people, reading emails and getting feedback. And so, the book was just a collection of things that are from other people, from people who have attempted to make change happen and some of them started out and had a lot of failure but eventually got it moving along. But it's not the stories. It's the strategies that they used. And each strategy has a small story connected to it so you can see how it was used by certain people most of the time without their names and organizations. We just use first names or we change their names.

Sohrab: Yeah, which makes absolutely sense. Now these 61 patterns, they are patterns for success. Probably as part of the conversations that you led and the stories that you heard, you also identified patterns that result in not succeeding with change. Is that correct?

Mary Lynn: Now those are called...some people call them antipatterns and no, we didn’t write those. But what we did is at the end of each pattern, we wrote, "Okay, here's the positive things that can happen when you use this pattern and here's the negative consequences or the things...the challenges, the things you have to watch out for." And from there, we'd lead to other patterns you can use to deal with those challenges. That's the closest that we came but no, we did not write antipatterns. We wrote things that help you successfully lead change.

Sohrab: Okay. Now let's go through a typical, if there is a kind of typical journey with regards to change in an organization. And when I look at the type of change that I'm mostly involved with, it's a change towards making the organization more agile which usually means making it more customer centric, increasing the capability of the organization to deliver value for customers faster and capture value for the organization faster. And obviously, it's all about reducing uncertainty of the market and so on and so forth. Now as part of that change, we usually look at new structures within the organization including new roles for the different people. We look at new policies within organizations which includes things like decision-making authority being more and more delegated decentrally. And finally, we look at new metrics on how you measure success. If you look at this kind of a change initiative or idea, what kind of challenges do you foresee for organizations and what kind of patterns that you have identified together with Linda would help address those challenges?

Mary Lynn: Yeah, that's big. That's big. And the beautiful thing...

Sohrab: Well, let's break it down one by one.

Mary Lynn: Yeah, let's break it down. The beautiful thing about patterns is it's not about okay, this is the thing we're going to do. This is how we're going to run a big plan for running this change initiative. Instead, it's about looking okay, when I get into work this morning, when I fire up my computer in the morning, what challenges am I facing in this change initiative? And then there are patterns for dealing with the challenges that you have in front of you right now. For example, when people are starting out, we usually ask people to look at the know yourself pattern. Understand what your strengths are in making this change happen and where you need help. And that may seem really obvious but when we talked to people who were leading change and at least initially were not successful, it was because they tried to do too much on their own. They didn’t use the ask for help pattern which you want to go, "Well, duh, everybody should do that." But you would be surprised how many people do not use the know yourself and then the ask for help and know where to ask for help and we described some of the things in "Fearless Change" about where to ask for help.

And another thing when we talked about this big initiative, what I've seen...there's a lot of organizations that will then write a big plan for change. It makes them feel warm and cozy. Okay, we have this big plan for how this change will happen. Well, the problem is the change is about the people. And I always get a little nuts when I hear this term, organizational change because I don’t believe there is such a thing as organizational change. It's about changing the people in the organization and then the organization will change as a result. When we look at a big strategy for change, it is likely...I mean a big plan for change, perhaps a three-year plan for change. When it's very, very, very specifically written, it will likely blow up quickly because of the fact that change involves people and people are unpredictable. We talk a lot in the book about how to write a plan for change. We're not saying you shouldn’t have one but it's more of a let's look at our evolving vision, our vision that's going to evolve and then take a step towards that using one or two or three of the patterns and then reflect and decide what to do next.

Now I'm just summarizing that but do you see how that's different than a very specific plan that doesn't consider that people are unpredictable. For example, I saw one situation where a lot of money was put towards this project during the time of the recession in the United States. And so, they put together this excellent plan, very specific of what was going to happen. They had flowcharts, pictures, the whole nine yards. And what happened was people that would normally go, "Wow, this is good," completely rejected it. Nice people who were just looking at it and going, "We don’t have money to do our day-to-day operations. Why are you putting all this money into this big project?" Immediately within a month the whole plan had to be backpedaled because people were just resisting and resisting which they did not expect to happen.

So that's just one example of change is about people and we don’t know how people will react. And another thing, speaking of that, that you talked about was the change in the new roles. I heard you specifically say the new roles. Well, think about that. That changes people's identity. If you've been doing one role for a long time and you know it well and you're known for knowing it well and you're going to have to move to a new role, people have to be helped through that process. And we have a pattern called shoulder to cry on. We have a pattern called personal touch which is one of my favorites. And so sometimes companies look more at the processes and the tools rather than helping the people. And it's the people that are going to stand in the way of making this happen. And it's the people that are going to ambush it.

And the people are more complicated than the processes and the tools. And so, speaking of processes, what people do when they come into work when they load their software in the morning, that has changed, the processes, what they do. Their identity is changed, their role and the processes and so that has to be handled carefully and there are patterns for doing that. And I know it's difficult and I know it takes time but there's big payoffs to it.

I know that's a longwinded answer but that's just some of the things that I heard when you said that, when you explained what you do.

Sohrab: Yeah, that was a good answer. That was a good answer. Thank you. I liked the part where you mentioned if you have a big plan, it will basically blow up. Why? Because the change is about people...yeah. And people are unpredictable. And it's the same thing with product development. We can have all the plans that we want in terms of what kind of product we're building, which features it will have and what our business model will be including its pricing. And then you show it to customers and customers are people. They are unpredictable. If you don’t have that...and that's all what agility is about, this frequent customer feedback loop. You're going to be very surprised by the time you ship and usually it's a bad surprise, not a positive one. And when you were talking about this organizational change and a lot of organizations, I've seen that, especially those that work with big consultancies, try to approach this change of human beings, of people in a very planned manner over a long period of time and I think usually it's way too short, the time they assign to it. That blows up.

Now you mentioned some of the patterns like know yourself, ask for help, shoulder to cry on, all of that. I love the names, by the way. And you mentioned that people in those cases where the changes were not successful, they didn’t apply these patterns. Now you being aware of these patterns, how do you create the awareness within organizations and then the ability to apply these patterns?

Mary Lynn: Yeah, I don’t know if I'd say if you don’t use the patterns, you will definitely not be successful. What I can say is that we spent years interviewing people who were successful making change. All kinds of changes happen in an organization. And they used these patterns. That part, I can say. And so how do we get people aware of it? What's interesting is when I look at some of the reviews of "Fearless Change", people say, that are expert change leaders who have a lot of experience in leading change whether they call themselves change agents, transformational leaders, whatever...people will say, "Oh, yeah. Well, that's obvious. We do that." The patterns...and that's a compliment. I just go, "Okay. All right. Yay. That's validation." The patterns are extremely useful for people who are looking at...that are struggling through the change process or starting out being a leader of change perhaps early in their careers. And they'll look at these things and go, "Yeah. I've not ever done those."

That's where people, when they see them, they see specifically, "Okay, this helps me deal with a specific problem that I'm facing today. I can deal with that right now." It's not, "Okay, here's the problem and here's 40 pages I've got to read about that problem." It's two, two and a half pages that describes the problem, the solution, the consequences, positive and negative consequences and then other things you can do. And so, it doesn' isn’t hard to convince people. And another thing is people can use these strategies, these patterns...sorry, I called them strategies but these patterns to talk amongst themselves. I saw one company that were using these patterns to write their reports. Rather than saying, "We brought in somebody to do a talk or we should bring in somebody to do a talk," and then they could just say, "Oh, well, let's do a big jolt and then have a royal audience." Everybody in the room knows what that is. They were saying it decreases the time that they spend explaining things as they go along and writing the reports of what they did because they have this vocabulary for change in a team of people making a change happen.

It doesn't take much to convince them because they are not hard to use. But yet, there are these things that look to be so small but they have big consequences of what happens when you use them. People catch onto that.

Sohrab: Yeah. Now you mentioned that when experts for change, change leaders, transformation experts, whatever, that for many of them the patterns that you've listed are obvious and probably they have used some of them. What my experience has been and maybe this is just based on the clients that I had worked with in the past decade plus is that in many organizations the people that are selected for being the change leader have really never led any kind of change initiative. And unfortunately, many of them also don’t show the curiosity to go and look for books such as yours or the ones from John Carter to learn about patterns and then systematically apply them to their change initiative. Have you observed similar things?

Mary Lynn: Yeah. And that's a good point. I've seen that a lot. And we're not ragging on them. They've been asked to do this. And early in my career, I was asked to do that too and I was like, "Okay." Somebody saw something in me so I've got to believe that I can do this. But the difference between...Carter's work is excellent. And it talks about the what you should do. And then "Fearless Change" fits into that really well because it's the how you should do it, the how. Specifically, how you...for example, one of Carter's things is to make people aware. Well, how do you do that? Well, "Fearless Change" talks about that. Or how do you build a team? "Fearless Change" talks about that. These works fit together really well. And I think one of the reasons that people are attracted to "Fearless Change" and could be more attracted is because you can read a pattern in a page and a half or two pages. And we're now working on an app that people could have on their phone with a summary of the strategies. We also have a game called Fearless Journey.

There's other things that people can do to raise their curiosity for using it and it's not...this is not an arduous read. I agree. My coauthor always says, "People don’t read anymore." That's when we decided we're now working on an app. But the patterns are...the book is still selling and the patterns are very readable. I guess people just have to be aware of it. And I don’t know how to encourage people to read more. You could maybe tell them that.

Sohrab: I will encourage them to read more. I would definitely. Every time you see a big library behind me, every time I host a workshop in this room, I tell people, "You can take one book. As long as there is more than one copy of that book, feel free to take it. If it's the last copy, let me know because then I know I have to order a bunch of more books." And I will definitely order some of your books so that people going through these workshops with me will also pick some of those books and learn about those patterns.

Mary Lynn: Yeah, and they'll find that they can just pick it up and read a couple of pages and get something out of it. They can pull it up and turn to page 58 and's not like they have to read it from the beginning. They can just pull out a few patterns that they like today.

Sohrab: Yeah. I think this is important and I think...I was not going to go into the comparison of your work and Carter's work. I just referred to both of you because I know that it's the leading literature in terms of change. And I still don’t see a lot of change leaders going through these books. For me, it was always...and maybe that's based on my medical background but whenever...we had to study a lot. If you want to learn about a disease, you read a book about that disease. And then you start seeing patients or you don’t go see patients if you haven’t done your homework. But in the business world, it seems to be different. A lot of people seem to be winging it and that, for me, was always, always weird.

Now did you want to say something? Sorry.

Mary Lynn: No, no.

Sohrab: Well, okay. Now one thing you mentioned is Carter for example says, "Hey, you need to build a team." He calls it, I think, a guiding coalition. And then you provide the patterns of how to get there. Let's take this specific example and look at some of the patterns that you and Linda have identified based on the interviews that you've led so that we can demonstrate to people that are going to watch this video hopefully, this conversation and they can immediately take some insights from it and hopefully may implement those patterns within their organization. How do we set up a good team? I'm not going to say right team but a good team in order to facilitate the change that we want to see in our organization.

Mary Lynn: We have a pattern called group identity. And this is about how to...this is the core of how to create a group with an identity that people recognize in the organization and that people want to be part of. That's the first one. But who should you put on that team? Well, a lot of people build teams and successfully over the years have built teams based on expertise. We need somebody with this expertise and that expertise and/or they build things based on participation from different business units. We need somebody from this department, from this unit to represent. And that's all good. What people forget to do is think about the team as kinds of people who can communicate with other kinds of people. We talk about making sure your team has somebody called a connector, somebody that's good at...well, that is connected in the organization, that the people like, that people know. And they are connected to different types of people in the organization.

When they walk into a room, people want to know what's up with them, what's going on. They're good at talking with other people. Make sure your team has, get this, a skeptic on it, somebody that will look at and say, "Wait a minute. This is what we're missing. This is what I think we're missing." Make sure you have somebody on the team that's more of that kind of person that waits to see what other people are doing before he or she makes a decision. Before they make a decision, they have to see what other people are doing because they'll understand what it takes to get to those late adopters. They'll understand that because they're more of a late adopter. And then we talk about how your team, your group identity has to have and constantly review its elevator pitch so that the team knows exactly what they're doing right now. The elevator pitch is another pattern. Two or three sentences of where we are and what we're doing right now. And then constantly review that so that all team members are saying the same thing.

You could imagine talking with somebody on the team who says one thing and then you talk later with somebody else on the same time that says something else and you say, "We don’t know what that team is doing." That's part of the group identity, is having a statement that all team members believe in and it evolves over time. Remember that evolving vision? It evolves over time and everybody knows it, everybody can recite it when they need so. They're all agreeing on what they're doing at this particular time. There's a lot to this but that's just some important aspects of building a team that often companies don’t consider.

Sohrab: Now when you think about this...again, I love all the examples that you're giving because I was thinking...when you talked about this connector, immediately I was thinking about sports teams that I've been part of. And I love sports, mainly the European version of football or the global version of football and basketball. And you need these kinds of characters within your team. It's not only about the people that can play the best. It's about the team that can play the best together. And for that, they need some kind of different characteristics. When you talked about the skeptics, I was thinking about, "Hey, product development teams where we had the skeptics on the team which was really good because they forced us..." And I specifically use this term, to involve the customer even more which resulted in us having a better understanding of that customer. I definitely get that.

Now when we think about these change teams, who would be...based on your experience and maybe there's a pattern connected to this. Who would be ideally in charge of putting this team together and would be their key stakeholder?

Mary Lynn: We talk about a pattern called evangelist. And who this person...what qualifications or...not qualifications, no, but characteristics an evangelist has. And a lot of times when somebody becomes an evangelist for change...whereas I like the term energizer. We call it evangelist because there's something called a business evangelist back when we wrote the first book and that stuck. But I sort of look at this person with another E, an energizer. But anyway, this person...the number one quality you have to look for is does this person truly believe in the change and are they really interested in making it happen because that will keep them energized and that will keep them out there looking for answers when they can't do something.

You talked about people aren't necessarily looking at books. Well, an energizer, a person that has...that is really interested in the change will go to great lengths to try to figure out how to get past the challenges that they are facing. That's the kind of person you really want, the kind of person who is willing to...who knows themselves. Use the know yourself pattern. Knows how to ask for help. Knows how to build the team and is willing to build the team. I can't say enough about how the number of people we interviewed who said, "I did this and I did that and I did this." And then you're waiting for the end of the story. "And then I failed." It's like, "Yeah, you can't do it all by yourself because you're going to wear yourself out. And by the way, you don’t have every possible talent that you need to make it happen."

The two qualifications that...and there were others but the two qualifications are somebody that really believes in the change and somebody who knows how and willing to build a team. Not just knows how but is willing to build a team.

Sohrab: Yeah. Now, Mary Lynn, question. Did you by any chance watch "Ted Lasso" on Apple TV ?

Mary Lynn: Oh, yeah, but don’t tell me. I haven’t seen the last two episodes. But yes. Love it.

Sohrab: I'm not going to spoil it for you but...when I... I love football, as I mentioned and that's initially why I started watching this show. And then I really...I was like, "Man, this is really good. This is all about the work that I do." It's about initiating change within an organization by getting the people, making the people believe. They have this huge poster at the top. It says believe.

Mary Lynn: Believe.

Sohrab: Yeah, and I always had to think about this Steve Jobs quote where he says, "Some things need to be believed until they're seen." Because it's usually the other way around. People say, "Before I see it, I won't believe it." But some things need to be believed until they're seen. And I think you described it so well. This is the job of an energizer or of an evangelist because with their belief in something they can create the energy, they can put the team together, they can provide the team with the resources they need so that they can make that change happen. And then it becomes visible. Anybody who hasn’t seen "Ted Lasso", I think it's a great and entertaining way to learn about change and probably many of your patterns are recognizable in that show.

Mary Lynn: Yeah, and what that show nails down is the change happens one person at a time. Ted's trying to change this organization and all the different kinds of people including the owners all the way down to the person who brings in the water for the players, different types of people. Change happens one person at a time. And so, he gets that. He gets that.

Sohrab: Ge gets that. And he does a fantastic job. The thing is going back to the show, he is in a position of power and he can do that. Have you also seen change being initiated by evangelists who were not in a position of power? He's not in a position of absolute power but he does have power as the coach of the team.

Mary Lynn: Thanks for asking that question because in the early pages of our first book, we describe how these patterns are for powerless leaders so people that...they might just be people who have a good idea and they want to make it happen. They might even be a 19-year-old person on their internship. They have a good idea and they want to make it happen. And so, we stress that throughout the whole book. And these patterns are their tools for making it happen. For example, I love to buy houses that are sort of dump houses and when I started working on my first dumpy house, I had no experience. But I had my dad's toolbox. Those were my tools. I just had to learn how to use each one. And so, I was a powerless leader. And early on in our interviews, one of the first people we interviewed was a CIO, a chief information officer and we actually met her at an airport in London at Heathrow, I think. Yeah, it was at Heathrow so that we could get an interview with her. And we thought she was going to just give us all this, "Wow, this is how you do it."

Now remember, we were early on in our interviews. And she said, "You know what? I have no more power to rewire people's brains than somebody who's a 20-year-old new employee in the organization." And that was such a reality, that even if you are given the power because you are a chief something in the organization or a manager or an owner of an organization, that doesn't mean that you have any more power to rewire and change people's minds than somebody who's new in the organization and is coming in with no experience. Because remember, change is about people. And so that was a reality for us. And then as we started doing more and more interviews, we started interviewing people who were powerless leaders. They were just people who had a good idea and no power to make it happen but they used the tools. They used the patterns. And so powerless leaders, yes.

Sohrab: And similar to Ted, they went one person at a time.

Mary Lynn: Right. Yeah. Well, sometimes a few people at the same time but yeah.

Sohrab: Yeah. Now, Mary Lynn, we're getting to the end of our conversation. I still have one question that I want to ask you and that's about the future. You, Linda, you talked about Carter. You've spent decades working on this topic. Maybe prior to you other people spent decades researching this topic. And the wonder or the question that I have is there's so much else there. I think we do not need to reinvent anything. The patterns that you have collected, the overall idea and approach that John Carter has laid out, that's sufficient for most organizations and most people to drive change in whatever shape or form they want. Still, I'm not seeing it being applied systematically enough.

How do you look at the future of change? Because I believe what is going to happen is we need way more change because we're going to see much more advancement and technology in business models, in all of that. The organization's and people's ability to change faster will definitely become, from my perspective, a business, a competitive advantage. How do you predict things will turn out? What would be also your wishes for the future?

Mary Lynn: Excuse me. My what for the future? What was the question in the last...

Sohrab: Your wishes.

Mary Lynn: Oh, okay. I'm encouraged by the fact that it's different from when we first started working on this 20 plus years ago. Wow. Almost 30 years ago when we were preaching that people...we need to consider the people, that we need to focus as much on the people as we do on the processes and tools and on the plans. We need to focus on the people. And it just felt like a broken record. What I'm seeing now is that people are starting to understand that because change is happening so rapidly and they want to keep their good people. We want to keep our good people because as we know it takes a lot to rehire, it takes a lot to retrain. And so, we begin to realize that we have to help people through the change. I'm encouraged by that. I'm seeing more seminars on this, more podcasts on the people's issues in making change happen.

Once people begin to realize that more and more and more and more, I'm encouraged that people will think as much about the people as they do about the processes, plans and the tools that they're trying to change people to use. I'm encouraged by that. I'm encouraged that...especially our newer people in the field will get that, will get that quickly because they're demanding more of us. They're demanding more in order to keep them on our payroll. And so, we need to make them happy. And so, we're beginning to recognize we need to concentrate on...when it comes to change, we need to concentrate on how to get people to change and to work with them. And so, I'm hoping I'm right but that's my vision, that it's going to be getting better and better.

Sohrab: I also hope that you're right because that would be amazing if organizations and especially the people in powerful positions and powerless leaders realize that this change can happen and that we can take it step by step, that it doesn't have to be this one big transformation and that we can approach it in a way that includes less fear because if we do that, we have a higher chance of taking the people along the journey. And if we can't take them along the journey, there won't be a change because we're not changing the people. Or we're not helping them change themselves.

Mary Lynn: Right, right. And that's another vision I have that people won't recognize, that this big transformational plan is okay if it evolves. It isn’t etched in stone. It evolves. And instead, it's more of a here's what we'll do and we'll reflect. Here's what we'll do and we'll reflect. And it's not that simple but you see that's a model for making change happen instead of this is the rigid plan we have and everybody must follow which is what I saw in the past. And don’t forget about those resistors. They can be handy. They can teach us something. They are people too. Somehow, we reward compliance more than we reward skepticism. And we've all been skeptics at times. That's another part of the people issue that I'm passionate about.

Looking at people and talking with people with opposite ideas. We can learn from them.

Sohrab: Oh, absolutely. And not only in organizations but in society in general which I believe is a whole different topic.

Mary Lynn: Right. That's another topic in politics and I can do another podcast on that. But for now, that's...yes, keep talking to people that have different views than you do and you will learn a lot. And it's great problem-solving. My view, your view. Even if it takes sitting over a glass of wine, it's a great thing. It really is.

Sohrab: Yeah. I plus 100 that. Thank you so much, Mary Lynn. We're at the end of our time box and...

Mary Lynn: Oh, yay.

Sohrab: Yeah, I just want to use this opportunity and thank you again for your generosity, spending almost an hour with me and sharing your insights. I wish you all the best with your presentation next week in Germany. And I would love to have you again on this show. Thank you.

Mary Lynn: Oh, good. Good. It was so nice to meet you and I'm so glad that you asked me because like I said, I love talking about change.

Sohrab: We'll see each other again, I'm sure.

Mary Lynn: Okay. Yippee, maybe in person someday.

Sohrab: Maybe in person someday. All right, everyone. Have a good day. Bye.

Mary Lynn: Bye. Be fearless.