The Uncertainty Principle

CATSometimes the effects of a change are not the ones you thought they were going to be. Or, in addition to the ones you planned, other changes have happened. Or the real changes that matter may not be overtly described in the changes you are implementing.


The Uncertainly Principle of Change Leadership is that all changes carry unforeseen changes with them. Any change imposed upon a group of staff will carry with it other changes that the staff members may not predict. Note that the managers of change may or may not predict these changes.

How can we combine the Zen Method with the Uncertainty Principle to drive positive change?

The author’s experience is that members of staff in the sort of schools he has experienced will always default to changes that are to the benefit of students. This is due to inherently shared values.

The second experience is that most members of staff will change if there is a structure to allow them and to push them. Thus this discussion is divided between values and structures.

I was once asked, at conference where i was speaking on Change Leadership, how we know whether a change is going to be good if we cannot predict the uncertainty of the outcome. Similar thoughts have been expressed by those reluctant to implement a change until we are certain of its outcomes and value. “We should not do this”, the argument goes, “until we are demonstrably certain that it will result in an improvement”. The next step in this discourse is usually to suggest that we spend a year looking into this more deeply and then base our decision on the results.

These come from a complete misunderstanding of the nature of change, and a fear of the unknown dressed up as a rational argument. Change is organic. People do not know how to respond to a change unless they are put in the position of having to respond to a change. You have to “Be the change” as Gandhi apparently never said. I was surprise to discover he never said it, or at least there is no evidence that he said. But at least it means that I can claim the phrase as my own. “You need to be the change to understand the change”. Please feel free to quote this, but credit me instead of the Mahatma!

As a leader, put people in a changed scenario and they will find out what it means. They will create the change for you, with more creativity than you could ever summon up on your own. Do not be fooled into thinking another year’s preparation will give you certainty of the outcome. When I have succumbed to this pathway, I have never found myself in a situation of any more certainty than I was a year before. Change itself can be powerful.

I was once told of a study into the benefits of having a school uniform. My personal preference is not to have uniforms, but I lead a school that has one! There is a longer story here that deserves a future post of its own. However the study I was told about came out with the view that there is no inherent advantage in either having or not having a uniform. It just doesn’t make a difference to behaviour, work rate, standards, relationships etc. However, here we are talking about the status quo. There is often a significant advantage in making a change. Schools without uniforms can often improve by adopting one. Schools with uniforms, similarly improve by getting rid of it! It doesn’t matter which way the change goes, the reassessment of school life imposed by either is positive.

While this is surprising at first, further thought makes sense of it. Not changing prevents challenging accepted assumptions. Change means you have to rethink and so your thinking can move forward. Be the change!

The next part is on Values