This article was originally published a few years ago at the RockStar Success Library.
I have to admit, I was a little surprised by The Six Secrets of Change. I’m usually pretty leery of any book that has the word “secret” in the title or has a number in the title (that smacks of “prescriptions” for success i.e., short cuts that don’t work). Michael Fullan undercut my fears, though, in his introduction, when he suggests his secrets as ideas that people already know, but don’t engage with fully. In doing so, he presents an interesting theoretical study of how to effect organizational change.
What makes The Six Secrets of Change so powerful is the humility with which Michael offers his theory. Any author who is willing to say that he (or she) doesn’t have all the answers is someone worth listening to. He writes on page 5 “…the world has become too complex for any theory to have certainty. There can never be a blueprint or silver bullet. Never take what you read (even the six secrets) at face value.” By doing this, he lets the reader make up their own mind, which I find allows me to engage with the material much more powerfully. Even though it examines implementation only through a few examples, I found The Six Secrets of Change to be a great theoretical examination of the forces that effect and affect change.
The Six Secrets of Change according to Michael Fullan:
- Love Your Employees
- Connect Peers with Purpose
- Capacity Building Prevails
- Learning is Work
- Transparency Rules
- Systems Learn
Ideas and Implications, and Questions
- One of the overarching themes that Michael addresses is complexity. For example, even in the Secret One, he talks about how “Love Your Employees” really extends to loving all of your stakeholders equally: employees, customers, shareholders, society, etc. It’s not an either/or, but a both/and concept, and this paradox is at the heart of most of his Secrets. This paradox is something a quantum physicist or a Buddhist monk would be very comfortable with, and it’s interesting to see it brought into a book on organizational growth.
- But complexity is hard. Michael addresses that holding this complexity in your head is a challenge, and I don’t think he adequately addresses how leaders are supposed to do this. He talks about the “opposable mind’ which allows for integrative thinking (pg 119), but I think the question is: how do you develop people with this capacity for integrative thinking? There has to be a spark somewhere, a leader or leaders who start the process of “Learning is the Work”. Finding ways to bring these types of leaders into the organization, or developing them internally, seems to be the first step to manifesting the six secrets.
- As someone involved daily in personal growth, I love Secret Three, “Capacity Building Prevails” and I think it works on a personal level just as much as an organizational level. It highlights that individuals and organizations that focus on continuous skill improvement among their members have the ability to grow and adapt in new and complex environments. What are you doing to create and increase your capacity?
- Also, his idea of the negative impact of judgementalism (pg. 58) is really critical. How many organizations attempt to create positive change with negative reinforcement? It’s been proven not to work, but it’s still the path of least effort. It’s a thin line, as Michael accedes, but I think the ability to have a strong vision for the future, without judging the present, is one of the most critical skills a leader can possess.
Should You Read This Book?
Are you a part of an organization that you wish was different? If so, this book is worth your time. It’s a bit light on tools for implementation, but it will provide a valuable framework as you think about organizational development. It’s a simple read (it’s nice to see a book that should only be 133 pages be 133 pages – without 100 pages of filler) so it won’t be an overpowering task. I think Michael’s theories are worth putting into your intellectual blender.