Brakes and Motors for Change LO22046 -was Question on patience

John Gunkler (
Tue, 29 Jun 1999 15:30:35 -0500

Replying to LO22020 --

Okay, Winfried, you finally "hooked" me with your motor and brake analogy.
I thought of a general case, in my work with organizational change, that

I "never" say "always" but ... It is always the case, when an organization
acts in a way that seems puzzling to an outsider, that further
investigation will show such puzzling behavior to be supported, rewarded
(the more general term is "sanctioned") by the organizational culture.
This is an organizational form of a rule I learned in individual
psychology: "Everyone's behavior makes sense to that person."

In order to change an organization one can try to add a "motor" that will
support some new kind of behavior. But doing only this is like running a
vehicle with the brakes still on. It is much more efficient and (for some
subtle reasons) much more ethical to first remove the "brakes" as much as
possible. That means to first change the culture so that the old ways are
no longer being sanctioned.

Since learning is a kind of change, this observation applies to learning
organizations. In order for an organization to learn (i.e., change), it
is helpful and ethical to first remove the "brakes" that keep it from

Any ideas out there about a short list of typical "brakes" that prevent
organizations from learning? How can they be removed?


"John Gunkler" <>

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