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A butterfly isn’t a caterpillar with wings stuck on

22nd October 2019



We address the difference between driving transformation and reacting to change.


After a recent meeting with a long-standing client, our conversation rapidly moving to the subject of “change”. When we parted ways, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of ‘déjà vu’ as nearly every discussion I have with a client revolves around “change”, the impact it has on them and their business before we move into the territory of what the solutions might look like.

Whilst we acknowledge that change is inevitable and for the last 15-20 years the technological revolution has been thrust upon us, there now seems to be a shift as we (people, businesses, consumers) start to move into the territory of driving transformation instead of simply reacting to the changes around us.

According to google, “change uses external influences to modify actions, but transformation modifies beliefs so actions become natural and thereby achieve the desired result.”

I started to carry out some research myself and found there is much positive opinion on the subject. Andy Noronha, Director of Strategy & Thought Leadership at Cisco wrote an interesting article in Forbes. An award-winning author on the subject of business, Noronha quotes a very different approach to a traditional linear change management model:

“transformation leaders must orchestrate transformation. The definition of “orchestrate” is to mobilise and enable so as to achieve a desired effect. Orchestration involves mobilising and enabling different resources in an organisation using the power of networks to achieve transformation goals.”

At a recent networking event, I met a passionate author of this subject, professor and Ted Talker, Eddie Obeng, who believes passionately that change is based on evolution of the past, but transformation requires you to break something. To understand transformation he uses a beautiful analogy; ‘a butterfly isn’t a caterpillar with wings stuck on. It has transformed from something that crawls and eats leaves into something that flies and eats nectar’.

He also believes that we should all be pushing for positive transformation and not allow ourselves to only be reactive to change. He details what the ‘Future of Work’ could look like in his paper here and advises business leaders to abide by the following two key principles:

  • Short term: Seize every opportunity available for using digital technologies to provide ‘fuel for transformation’ without alienating your workforce.
  • Long term: Design your transformation around the employees rather than around the technology. There will always be technologies you can harness to meet your vision. Create business models which take the fullest advantage of technology to do what it does best and of people to do what they do best.

These top-down approaches seem all very logical, but I wonder how much of this approach is truly, understood and resonates with all those employees across organisations. After all, it’s the employees who will need to actively embrace any transformation to drive change forward rather than simply reacting. It’s human nature to be motivated by working on a project you can see the clear personal benefit from. If that benefit is not evident and the chain of communication falters, organisations run the risk of a diluted effect, weakened employee buy-in and operationally falling behind their competitors.

The question is how to fully engage your audience with the new vision and culture…I would argue there is only one way - through an integrated communication campaign that has a live event at it heart – culture is not what you say, it’s what you do….

It's an interesting thought to consider but do you work for an organisation who communicates and manages change in a clear and transparent way? Or do you work for a business where the strategy is confusing and you’re left wondering if/how you’re a part of its future?


Charlie Hepburn, MD & Founder


Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

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