Valid data and free choice


Roland Sullivan

I heard Roland speak at the OD Institute conference in Vienna in 2001.  I may be paraphrasing but his proposition has stayed with me.

Commitment = valid data + free choice

I find this equation both self-evident and iconoclastic.

DM: I see from your blogs that you are still active and optimistic. As I come towards the end of my career, I would like to share your optimism. I have seen some transformations, even helped with some but entropy or the forces of darkness or a change in leadership, something somehow seems to drag us back to the old command-and-control paradigm. I would love to know if you have any thoughts like these and if so, how you deal with them so you can continue to campaign so vigorously.

RS: For me, transformation implies that one does not revert back to the forces of darkness.  A shift is a shift.  The caterpillar becomes a butterfly and cannot go back to being a caterpillar.

The optimism comes from my personal development work.  I’m just a positive guy having spent my whole life trying to model change and transformation for my clients.

I could do something perhaps around commitment and valid data and free choice. Keep learning.  The world needs us now more than ever. 

DM: I see what you mean about transformation. Then I suppose I’ve used the wrong word.  I have seen teams transformed … I’m sure the individuals never forgot … but the team has broken up when the individuals moved on and the change was not embedded in the organisation.

I know that is the aspiration of the large group work you do: get the whole system into the room and help it decide to change.  I can’t help feeling that entropy must happen there too, as I don’t sense any new generation of managers, sallying forth from their business schools, intent on empowering their workforces.

The prevailing assumption is hard to shift, no?  “People must be told what to do!” However, I would love to read something of yours if you can include some insight into how you stay positive in the face of any reverses or disappointments (unless you really don’t have any of those!)

RS: Sustainability is one of my absolute keys for distinguishing differences. It’s a long story how it happens. I can say it happens when transformation happens because the caterpillar becomes a butterfly and cannot revert back.  It is absolutely paramount to help an internal person transform themselves in context of trans

forming the organization.  If they keep changing and learning and they help the organization to keep learning, entropy does not happen.

My Process Must Be Repeated Annually. I believe that if an organization wanted to just focus on one prevailing assumption that leads to one or two pervasive behaviors that changes a dictate such as ‘people must be told what to do’, they could succeed.

Ed Schein says that we can only focus on one or two behaviors culturally.

I stay positive because I meditate five times a day.

I have something beautifully written … but it’s on an old hard drive that I just don’t have time to dig up.  I also had a video in my dedication to Argyris email but it disappeared when I upgraded my computer.  So good luck. Keep doing what you’re doing. You will figure it out. Your clients will figure it out. In the end all will be wonderful. The age of knowledge economy is gone, says Houle. It is now the economy of learning and changing. You are on the right path.

DM: I think I found your Ode to Chris Argyris (click here). 

And I have just enjoyed watching your interview with your daughter (click here). I must say, I didn’t think your ‘4th insight’ about sustainability was your strongest point in the interview but I do like what you have said about it in our exchanges here.

RS: I would agree that my fourth insight about sustainability was not a strong point because I didn’t take the time to expound. All in all I believe it is the most important. And that’s why we need an internal change agent trained to carry it on. And we need the success so that the organization volunteers to begin to learn how to learn as a system. I really will try to take some time to fill out your survey. For me time is of the essence. I already play 14 hours a day. 

Roland is interviewed by his daughter, Arielle Threlkeld-Sullivan

Some further comments from Roland and helpful links:

On the Organizational Change Practitioners LinkedIn group:

Yes. Trist / Tavistock is one of the two major fountains of original transformation. The other is NTL. Professionals from both organizations collaborated. 

I am working on introducing Whole System Transformation to Asia in designing a stronger Whole System Transformation Summit in Bali.

Here is some very important history … speaking in Asia at one of my Asia OD Network Summits:

Marvin Weisbord:

On Whole System Transformation ( WST)

My classic distillation:

WST Cases:

Three Videos:

Advantages of WST- Concise:

How to do it WST:

Roland interview by his daughter:

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