Thoughts on Words: Change

Posted by on Mar 8, 2012 in Agile with a Purpose, RealOptions | 7 Comments

Thinking is shaped by the words we use. Management thinking is shaped by the words managers use and are used to. If we want us to evolve our mindset, we must stop to use words that carry a history of bad meaning with them. Let’s start to create a new language to talk about business that explicitly avoids mistakes made in the past.

Dreaming Real Options

Amaani Sirajuddin, 14, picturing real options

Change: Fearless? Hard?

If we perceive our world with the expectation of stability, we frame attempts at innovation as change. If we perceive our world with the expectation of growth, we frame new possibilities as real options.

To embrace change, we need to overcome fear, and we perceive trying new things as hard. Yet this is just the result of our internal perception of the outside and our sense making of that perception—and we choose how to perceive the world. We create the frames for our sense making, thereby shaping and co-creating our world.

Real Options: Explore Betterness

Real options are a frame that facilitates a positive view of uncertainty. They act as bookmarks when we explore the potential of the present, they mark ideas which might lead us to a better future. Options are based on assumptions. We run safe-to-fail experiments to validate the assumptions and better know the value of our options, leading to validated learning.

Life is Uncertainty

Life is Growth. Stability is Death. As long as we live, we grow, we evolve, we explore our potential. The same holds true for organisations.
The two pillars of Lean are respect people and continuously improve.
If improvement feels like “making change” to us… How can it ever become continuous, and natural?
As long as we feel “changed” we don’t really own the improvement flow… And we’ll never truly transform into a Kaizen mindset.
Transformation always starts within ourselves. And it does naturally if we let it happen. Growth is sustainable by nature:)
So shouldn’t we just let go of the past so that our natural ability to grow and transform stops feeling like change?

Risk Management

A closing thought: Change Management and Real Options are both methods that could be labeled risk management. Change highlights the threats, Real Options the opportunities. You are free to choose.


This post is based on conversations with, thoughts and feedback from Umair Haque, Bob Marshall, Chris Matts, Stephen Parry, Pascal Pinck, Eric Ries, Siraj Sirajuddin, Dave Snowden, Andrea Tomasini, and many more… Thank you for your inspirations.
Siraj pointed out that thinking creates words… Which is true, just as my opening sentence. That discourse is a topic for other posts:-).


  1. Thorsten O. Kalnin
    March 8, 2012

    great post, Olaf, thanks for sharing! I completely agree, thumbs up…

  2. Gitte Klitgaard (@NativeWired)
    March 8, 2012

    Drawing lines back to Heraklit – everything flows (panta rhei)… You can never enter the same river twice – either the water has changed or you have 🙂

  3. Michael Sahota
    March 20, 2012

    Hi Olaf,

    I don’t get it. I sense there is something beautiful and profund here, but I can’t connect the dots. Can you explain it to me like I am a three-year-old?


  4. Marcin Sanecki
    March 23, 2012

    Hi Olaf,
    this post touch me deep somehow. There is so much content in it, so much thoughts…I have to say that my mindset is being changed right now. Thanks for sharing it. I hope to meet you one day to hear more…

  5. Tom Howlett
    May 16, 2012

    Great post, it’s really got me thinking. The word Retrospective seems odd when you look at it from this angle. Although it’s a time where we look back and reflect its purpose is to foster growth, something that you need to do now. Perhaps the practice could be called something like “real option mining”. Although that’s got me thinking there is really no need to retrospect at all if growth and learning are continuous.

  6. Andrea Tomasini
    August 16, 2012

    I appreciate your effort in trying to make something complex as life, as simple as “if you move you live, if you stand you die”… well it is a bit more a collection of shade of grey. Change is not bad, but every systems will try to reach the next possible stable state at lowest possible energy, it’s inevitable till entropy will be proven wrong.

    So philosophy of words, would bring us to consider “stability” the state in which we collect the benefit we expected before the last change, and we capitalise the knowledge of the last happened transformation. Stability is the phase in which we can do deep and long term thinking, not being busy nor concern with having to adapt to the changing environment. While in transition we need to focus on the boundaries changing around us – for whatever reason – and that requires different type of thinking, instinctive, immediate, reactive, sometimes driven by the will to survive, or to get into a better state (sometimes not).

    Changing without a purpose can generate fear, changing with a purpose can be extremely motivating, if we like and share that goal. The attitude towards changing depends on the fact that we are playing an active role in it, or we are just dragged around… many company fail because the are dragged around by market forces that they are neither understanding, nor mastering, and not because they are not willing to change.

    So, there are a lot of shades of grey, there is not only white and black, and categorising something we recognise as complex, implies making a lot of assumptions that limits valuable options to emerge as a result of a dynamically adapting system.

    I like to defer commitment too, and take action when it’s needed, and sit and relax when it is not, we are not looking for the ultimate answer… 42

    • Olaf
      August 16, 2012

      Wise words. Thank you for joining the conversation!
      Take care and enjoy Agile2012 🙂


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