Leading Strategic Change: Helping People See By Using Contrast and Confrontation
If people are blinded, how can you help them see? How can you help people see what they have a hard time seeing? How can you avoid getting yourself trapped in past mental maps? You can't just say, "See!" If people could see the shifts and needed changes, they would. The solution has two parts—contrast and confrontation.
Both come from simple facts that we know about actual vision. To see physical objects, we need some contrast in shape, light, and color. We also see best when those objects are directly in front of us, rather than off to the side in our peripheral vision. Even though, in the context of individual and organizational change, we are not talking about seeing physical objects, the two factors that help us see physical objects apply to seeing new business realities just as well.
As we mentioned, contrast is one of the key means by which the human eye distinguishes different objects. When combined, differences in shape, brightness, and color give us contrast. The letters on this page stand out because of the contrast of black against white. It is such a simple notion that we generally take it for granted. But notice how the contrast lessens as you look at the circles in Exhibit 3-1 from left to right.
Exhibit 3-1 Circles of contrast.
In this simple example, the different levels of contrast are easy to see. In complex organizational settings, there are so many things to look at that people can selectively focus on elements from the past and present that are similar, rather than different. In effect, they can choose to ignore key contrasts and thereby avoid looking at why what worked in the past might not work in the future. This brings us to the second part of the answer to overcoming the failure to see—confrontation.