What did Lewin really say about change?
I thought you might be interested in this short video that looks at the origins of Kurt Lewin’s famous 3 stage model of change (Unfreezing – Changing – Refreezing).
I was intrigued to find out that Lewin did not actually summarize his thinking about change in such simplistic terms (my respect for him grows as a consequence!). However, the short hand description was developed by others, following his untimely death of a heart attack at the age of 47 in 1947, and is based on the many experiments he conducted on Social Psychology (a discipline he helped invent in the 1930s and 1940s).
The video, and the academic article on which is it based, point to two key things at the heart of Lewin’s insights about change:
There are two key ideas from Lewin worth our gestalt attention:
1) An open discussion at an early stage of process increases the likelihood of a good outcome
It’s hardly worth mentioning that Lewin said this almost 70 years, in the 1947 article that many source as his seminal thinking about social change. And it’s not surprising that this is a lesson that many people continue to learn today – the hard way!
This simple insight can address many of the problems that bedevil so many change initiatives. By involving the people most affected by the problem, or who will be affected by the planned change, at an early stage, and in meaningful, substantive ways, lots of good can follow. People will be more sympathetic to the factors driving the need for change. Those designing the change will be better informed by the context of what is actually going on. And there will be richer partnerships between everyone, leading to a greater chance of a successful outcome!
2) Key unit of analysis should be the group, not the individual or the organization
This is another key point – the group (of whatever size) is the key agent of change in social situations. Individuals alone can too quickly become overwhelmed or out-maneuvered. The organization (or society at large) is too large a system to influence, to nudge, towards the desired changes in behaviour.
So the group remains the most useful point of intervention in working on change. A group brings diverse perspectives, information, networks. A group has capacity, and can build capacity together. A group brings support and comradeship on the journey of change. A group can act with success, get things done, and have an influence on social change that can reach far and wide.
I’m encouraged by the heart of Lewin’s research and thinking about change. Start early, and engage the group to bring about lasting change.