Cover image for Change the world : how ordinary people can achieve extraordinary results
Change the world : how ordinary people can achieve extraordinary results
Quinn, Robert E.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
San Francisco : Jossey Bass Publishers, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxi, 272 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HD58.8 .Q557 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In this empowering book, Robert E. Quinn, author of the highly successful and influential Deep Change, gives readers the courage to use personal transformation to positively impact their home life, work life, and communities -- to be what he refers to as "inner-directed and outer-focused." We are all potential change agents, but most of us are trapped by belief that we as individuals cannot make a difference. Informed by the teachings of Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. -- three of the most successful change agents ever -- Quinn outlines eight steps each of us can take to move ourselves and others to the highest levels of excellence. Following his advice, each of us can access and apply the power that lies within us in ways that will change our world for the better.

Author Notes

Robert E. Quinn (Ann Arbor, MI) is a professor at the University of Michigan and an expert on organizational behavior and human resource management issues. His books include Beyond Rational Management, Becoming a Master Manager, and Deep Change.


Reviews 1

Booklist Review

A University of Michigan professor and author (Deep Change, among others) has the audacity to state that previous strategies for change are ineffective, positing a fourth--called ACT, or Advanced Change Theory--that includes and transcends the rest. It is hard to argue with someone who, through a combination of dense psychotherapeutic text and lively examples, debates his own theory and its eight steps. In fact, Quinn starts with a holy triumvirate of heroes who, in themselves, are difficult to naysay--Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King--and then are quoted at the beginning of each chapter. Yet, despite few graphics and Germanic sentences, his message is clear: to become a change agent, you must first change yourself and then immerse yourself in the common good, disturb the system, and "set the truth free." Not intended as a popular read but rather as a provocative challenge to nonleaders and leaders alike. --Barbara Jacobs



An Invitation to Transformation My first real awareness of seeds came when I was ten years old. I had poison ivy so badly that I had to stay home from school. It was a beautiful spring day but there was nothing to do. As my boredom grew I had an idea. I would plant a garden! I picked a plot of ground by the side of the house and began to enact my silly fantasy. I spent much of the afternoon turning over the soil. That night, I pestered my parents to go out and buy seeds. They did, and the next day I planted. During the entire process, I felt like a fake. I was a city boy who knew nothing about planting things. What were the chances that anything would come of my efforts? Nevertheless, in the face of self-doubt, I forged ahead. Weeks later bushy, green plants pushed toward the sun. I touched them with gentle wonder, filled with feelings of exhilaration. I was responsible! These were my carrots! I had put tiny seeds into the ground, and now they were magically transformed into growing plants. Perhaps it was this experience that caused me to choose seeds as my metaphor for human action in this book. My dictionary tells me that a seed is "the part of a flowering plant that typically contains the embryo with its protective coat and stored food and that will develop into a new plant if sown and fertilized." An acorn is a seed. The acorn does not contain a small oak but contains the code for a process that may one day produce an oak. Place the acorn in the soil, with the right nutrients and moisture, and it begins to transform into something greater than itself. The external, protective coat splits and the internal contents mingle with the soil. It is a process full of creative tension. From the interactive process a new form may emerge. In one sense the outcome is determined. If the tree comes into being it must be an oak, not a maple. In another sense the process is free, emergent, or self-organizing. The number and placement of branches and other characteristics of the adult tree will depend on a variety of interactions with the environment, many of which will be impossible to predict. This book is about the process of transformation in human systems. This can be an individual, two people in a relationship, or a group, unit, organization, or society. Human systems, whether of one person or a million, are always interacting with their environment. We know that over time, these interactions tend to become patterned or normalized. We develop individual scripts and collective cultures. Scripts structure the individual, whereas cultures structure the collective. These scripts and cultures resemble the shell of the seed. If they crack we can begin to interact with our environment in new ways, and these interactions can give rise to a new self or a new collective. We, like the carrot seed or the acorn, can transform into a more complex entity. I like to use the word seed to speak about transformation because it can be used as either a noun or a verb. In a laboratory, for example, we might seed the process of crystallization by adding a small particle to a particular solution. In this way, a liquid is turned into a solid. The small particle becomes a catalyst for change. Similarly, a person can seed the culture of an organization with new ideas or a new vision that can transform it. This book is about the process of seeding the transformation of human systems. It assumes that a small particle introduced into a human system at the right time may disrupt that system in a positive way. It can reduce the stasis or entropy and increase the energy, literally breathing new life into it. The seed or particle that is the catalyst for such changes usually comes in the form of some sort of behavior that itself emerged from a seed-like thought. The Sacred Part of Change Not long ago, I was working with a group of executives in a trust-building exercise. As the exercise progressed, the participants began to share more about themselves. At one point, a very senior member of the group told a story about a meaningful experience he has cherished over the years. He said that he had spent the first four years of his career as a ninth-grade teacher. He then left teaching to launch his managerial career. That was over twenty years ago. Recently, he was walking through a mall when someone called his name. He turned to see a lovely woman. She introduced herself as one of his former students. He remembered her, and they had a delightful few minutes of conversation. As she was about to walk away, she stopped, held his hand, and said, "I really need to thank you. You were the best teacher I ever had." At this point in the story, the senior executive paused and started to weep. Finally, he said, "That event meant a great deal to me. It meant that I made a difference in her life." As he said those words, I remembered how I had felt when I was a boy of ten caressing those carrot tops. These were feelings of joy that come only with a personal achievement in which we feel we have made an essential contribution. Oddly enough, those same feelings of achievement are often mixed with a sense of awe and humility. I believe the sense of awe stems from experiencing the magnificence of transformation. The humility stems from knowing we are necessary but, alone, are insufficient. The process of transformation is always bigger than we are. It requires a supportive universe. As we take part in this process, experiencing the transformation of energy, becoming aware that the universe actually needs us and that we need the universe, we join in a dance of co-creation. We become aware of our own simultaneous potential and dependence. We awaken to the sacred potential that is in living systems. What I want to suggest is that all human systems, no matter how secular, are also sacred because the seeds of potential transformation exist there. Individually, we can contribute to the transformational process. We can each become transformational change agents. We do not need to be world leaders, leaders of an organization, or even the head of a family to do this. Each of us can make a significant contribution to positive change in ourselves, our relationships, and in any organization or culture in which we take part. If you have doubts about this, I urge you to read on. On Being a Change Agent Change agent is not a common term. As the individual words imply, it refers to any person who seeks to bring about some kind of change. Since we all sometimes seek to create change, we are all change agents. Children try to change their parents; parents seek to change their children and each other. Therapists attempt to alter individuals, dyads, and families. Executives seek to transform groups, departments, organizations, whole companies. Politicians attempt to alter entire societies. All of us, at some point, seek to play the role of change agent. Being a change agent is not easy. Trying to change another person can lead to great frustration. Consider a story from the work of Terry Warner (1992, pp. 0-4). In this case, an eight-year-old girl cares nothing about doing her schoolwork-she even cheats. The mother insists that the child complete her homework and spends hours working with her. The child complains. The mother tries to be cheerful but gets increasingly irritated. The mother states, "The trouble with Erin is especially frustrating because for years I have given her my best efforts." The mother then describes the self-discipline she has had to exercise not to compare Erin with her sister, who is a good student and highly motivated. The mother frequently gives Erin warm hugs, assuring the child that she is loved. The mother describes drilling Erin with flash cards and Erin's seemingly perverse efforts to frustrate the effort by knowingly giving wrong answers. The mother recounts the feeling of being "kicked in the teeth" and her feelings of helplessness. I believe that this kind of frustration is universal. This mother is no different from the basketball coach who cannot get his players to excel, the executive who cannot get her sales force to accept a new technique, or the CEO who cannot achieve cohesion between conflicting groups in a merger. There are very few people who have not experienced themselves in the role of a change agent, frustrated in their efforts to effect changes that they are certain would improve a situation or a person's life. Transforming a human system usually requires that we transform ourselves, and this is a key to the process. Reaching out for support, Erin's mother attended a self-help workshop run by Warner, and she was encouraged to look more deeply into herself. This process had considerable impact. She went through a personal change that also altered how she saw the world. In reflecting on her relationship with Erin, she noted considerable self-deception and implicit communication of her own negative feelings. She discovered something about herself: "I was outwardly encouraging, but inwardly I mistrusted her," the mother said. She then came to a critical insight: "She [Erin] felt that message from me." With her new and more complex worldview, the mother took on a higher level of concern for her daughter: "I cried when I realized the price she had to pay for my inability to love her without reservation." With a new vision for the relationship, the mother stopped micromanaging the relationship and started modeling the importance of self-discipline by encouraging Erin to come to her for help when she was ready. The relationship dramatically changed. The little girl began to perform well in school. Her mother went on to report a particularly interesting moment: But this time I pulled her up on my lap and looked at her, and I had this overwhelming feeling of love for her that just seemed to flow between us. I hugged her tightly, and told her how much I loved her. I realized that, for the very first time in eight years, I was expressing true love for her. Previously, I had hugged her, but the love didn't flow. This time, the love just flowed. It was as if I was holding a new baby for the first time. Tears were streaming down, and she looked at me and said, "Are you crying because you love me, Mommy?" I nodded. She whispered, "Mommy, I want to stay with you forever." The story of Erin and her mother provides an important model for this book, and you will find that I will refer back to it again and again. I see it as a key for transforming a marriage, a classroom, the Fortune 500, or an entire society. I have found that some people read it and say, "So the mother just withdrew and let her daughter make her own decisions. Is that the technique you are suggesting?" My answer is a resounding no! What occurred in the story is far more complex than that. Read the story again: A change agent (mother) defines a problem-the unwillingness of an eight-year-old to study. She describes the purity of her own motives, the logic of her strategy, the resistance in the change target (Erin), and the frustration of the process. These are behaviors common to the normal change agent. What happens next is uncommon and transformational. The mother finds herself in a situation where she is able to lower her defenses and examine her motives, thought processes, and behaviors. She makes the discovery that she has been self-deceptive. Her motives have not been pure and her analysis of the problem has not been accurate. Because of her own negativity, her strategies for changing Erin were far more punitive than she could originally see. With her new vision, her behaviors change. Her changed behaviors send a new message to her daughter, which causes the child to be more mindful. The child has to pay attention and has to make sense of the new patterns. The child interprets the new behaviors accurately. She is no longer being judged as a problem. Now the child feels loved. In the warmth and safety of that love, Erin finds increased confidence and feels safe to experiment with new behaviors of her own. The entire relationship between mother and child changes. This is the story of a transformational change. The change agent was behaving according to a script she carried in her head. In changing, she had to transcend her old script. The shell of the acorn had to crack. The cracking of the acorn then led to a new pattern of interaction. The child was encountering a mother with a new self. She saw the doors opening to a more intimate kind of contact. The child responds to this new opportunity, and at this point mother and daughter become more richly connected than ever. In this interaction, there are new feedback loops. The child begins to change, and the mother continues to change. They reinforce each other. The relationship now consists of two more differentiated people who are making their own choices within this new, more integrated system. Given this new system, Erin can now grow more effectively because her mother is now growing more effectively. Her mother is growing more effectively because she has encountered and altered her own self-deceptions. She has closed the gap between her script and the emergent reality in her life, that is, she can look beyond her own interpretations of Erin's behaviors and relate to her in the reality of the present moment. She can see this emergent reality more accurately. The seemingly simple story is actually quite intricate. It is as intricate as the process that takes place when an acorn cracks. When we alter our scripts, we, like the acorn, initiate a new pattern of being, a pattern of high potential. This book is about developing as a person with increased potential for growth. It is about effectively transforming human systems by effectively transforming the self. The Real World The above story is played out within a family unit. In the family, we accept the notions of intimacy and love, particularly between mother and child, and it is here that we can see the potential for the sacred. But what about in the secular world? In the professional world, we make assumptions about expertise, competence, control, transaction, and exchange. People are valued if they perform and get along well with their coworkers. They are out the door if they don't. In the secular world, we see no space for the sacred, for honoring bonds such as we see between parents and their offspring. I am reminded here of an executive who told me he understood the principles I was teaching. He and his wife used them in their family. He said that when he or his wife wanted to change the behavior of their teenager, they learned to look first at themselves. They practiced self-mastery and closed their own integrity gaps. The results were impressive. He had a deep grasp of what I was saying. Continues... Excerpted from Change the World by Robert E. Quinn Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Preface x09
The Author
1 An Invitation to Transformation
2 Envision the Productive Community
3 First Look Within
4 Embrace the Hypocritical Self
5 Transcend Fear
6 Embody a Vision of the Common Good
7 Disturb the System
8 Surrender to the Emergent Process
9 Entice Through Moral Power