Friday, June 27, 2008

Deep Change: A Book Review

I’ve been in long meetings for the past few days. This review was written a few days ago. It’s my third review for Joy's “Summer Non-fiction Reading Challenge.” I have read four of the five books I’ve read for this challenge. For an insight into the “planned” part of my summer reading, click here. Tomorrow or sometime soon, I’ll write about meeting Father Elias Chacour (and I’ll post a picture). He’s the author of Blood Brothers, a book that I read 20 some years ago and it opened my eyes to the Palestinian issues.

Robert E. Quinn, Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within (San Francisco: Jossy-Bass, 1996), 236 pages.

We have a choice; we can change or we can experience slow death, according to Robert Quinn, a professor of business at the University of Michigan. In this book, Quinn discusses how individuals and organizations can bring about transformational changes that helps create excellence and alters the culture of organizations. It’s risky business to make “deep changes” as they are sweeping and irreversible. But such changes are also essential for survival. The leader who navigates such changes sails across unpredictable waters and must be somewhat of a maverick. The organization tries to make life predictable and systematic; deep change requires one “to build the bridge as you walk on it.” It’s more of a spiritual process, requiring faith and the commitment to do what one knows is right, even in the face of great opposition. The organization, the status quo, will always resist. Such a leader must be willing to maintain the course and to create a compelling vision to bring others along on the journey.

Quinn’s book has four basic sections. The first deals with the need for change. He then discusses personal change (with a valuable chapter on building integrity), changing the organization and then ending with a section on “Vision, Risk, and the Creation of Excellence.” In each section, he discusses both what is necessary for the organization and for the individual leader to be about if change is to be successful. At the end of each chapter are useful questions for the reader to ask about his or her life and the organizations that the reader belongs. I often spent more time pondering these questions than I spent reading the book as they tended to make the book more applicable to all sorts of settings.

As individuals who join organizations, we go through a transformation. At first, it’s all about what the organization can do for us in exchange for our competence. As our competence grows and we move deeper into the organization (or up a career level), we become managers. Here, our “competence” is still valuable, but one has to begin to also look out for the organization. Anywhere along the line, we might decide that change is too painful and opt for “peace and pay” as we wait to exit (or until retirement). Sometimes our competence even gets into the way of us seeing new ways of doing things (Quinn has a chapter on the Tyranny of Competence). Only a few are able to move on into the final stage and become “internally driven leaders.” These visionary leaders have the will to risk to bring about changes necessary for the long term survival of the company. They have a vision for which they are willing to die (or at least be fired over). Of course, just having a grand vision once isn’t enough. Transformation is a cycle that is repeated over and over in any organization.

I don’t read too many business books, but I found myself doing a lot of personal thinking as I read this book. It’s a valuable book and I recommend it.

For other book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.


  1. I think I'll put this one at the top of my Amazon Wish List. Being a small business owner, I appreciate the inertia which exists among partners. It's not the need for change that people fail to grasp; it's a failure of will to implement the change.


  2. I'd worked for companies that whenever a new boss came, he would want to change things around. One year 4 new bosses came and went, and they all wanted to change things, for better or worse. I guess change makes them feeling "powerful".

  3. The spiritual process at work...I can see how you'd need to develop a strong character to do rise above the system. Tough balance. Sounds like a good read.

  4. Ah, yes! This sounds sort of like my immediate boss who has plans for me to be a bigger boss one day. I have been ambivelant about that but this book review intrigues me. Thanks so much for the thorough overview. Will give it a shot. Thanks!

  5. "Transformation is a cycle that is repeated over and over in any organization."

    Observe, Orient, Decide and Act, Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.

    People will fight change while longing for it. Odd, but true.

  6. I thought the Journey of Crazy Horse had some interesting observations on leadership . . .

  7. I prefer Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey.

  8. Randall, I hope you find the book helpful.

    Mother Hen, I don't think you can be committed enough to make lasting change if you're only committed for a few months--the kind of change they'd make is short-lived

    Scarlet & Susie, let me know if you read it!

    Appalachianists, sounds like you need to write a book on the subject!

    Diane, Yes, Crazyhorse does (and it's interesing that I read the two together.) I still need to do a review on Crazyhorse.

    Murf, Don't know the book...