What Color Is Your Change?

Changes have been happening at an exponential rate over the past 40 years. Literally. If you don't believe me, take a quick trip to nerdville with me...

In 1965 Gordon Moore calculated that advancement in computing would enable processing power to double every two years. This doesn't sound too impressive on the surface, until you look at the growth curve and see that over 40 years, processing power has increased from 2,300 to 2,600,000,000. That's a lot more zeroes added in four decades. 

Before the computer engineers chime in with their clarifications (I'm looking at you, Dave + friends), I'm obviously simplifying Moore's Law. The point I'm making is that this progress has created exponential technology, financial, and social change that impacts every one of us in our lives and work.


When thinking about work change, we could be talking about a mega corporate event – like an acquisition – that affects thousands; a more individual event – like getting a new job; or a freelancer convincing prospect clients to pay for a service they’ve never before purchased.

The commonality in making any change is: you have to convince people to come along with you. In an acquisition people will have accept a different day-to-day reality; in a new job you need to convince others that you’re the one, and they should accept you; and when you’re selling your service… clearly, your prospects need to buy into you in order to become clients.

Sales 101 says that a key step is always determining the other's WIIFM? That’s the what. But what we often neglect (guilty) is the how.


A couple weeks ago when I was in Paris, Dr. Roger Hallowell shared a new way to think about the how, and it's bringing my change management world into focus. It's a concept called the Color of Change, and it says:

People view the nature of other people and the world through different colored lenses.

Obvious? Perhaps. But obvious doesn't mean easy. It takes focus and a lot of empathy to practice. Simply, you must identify your default lens + the lens of those with whom you're working, then adapt your approach to what they think your approach should be. See what I mean about empathy?


People view the world through yellow, blue, white, green, or red lenses - or a combination. Here's a summary of the colors (captured through my own lens, so beware – ha!):



People are political

Change occurs by power and influence

Goal of change is to create a feasible solution - feasible means that it comes from a given list of options; you're not necessarily getting the best solution - it's just the best from your options

Negotiations happen behind closed doors (viewed favorably)

Results happen when people form coalitions and hierarchy

Example: election of the pope



People are rational; think first, act later

Change occurs by a linear process: analyze, plan, execute

Goal of change is to create the best solution - be careful though, "best" is objective; there is also a "wrong" answer!

Results happen through project management, analysis, and measuring results; people are resources, not humans

Example: engineers



People and the world are complex and neither rational nor linear; you cannot direct change; it emerges

Change occurs when the system finds its optimal state and balances accordingly

When the time is right, energy will flow and create what’s supposed to happen

People can intervene by identifying the blockage and removing it

Examples: scientists, open source models, & Wikipedia!



People are learners

Change occurs as a result of individual growth (from... you guessed it, learning)

Goal of change is to create a solution that people develop themselves; it can’t be forced

Results happen by supporting individuals’ learning, training, and coaching



Humans first, results later

Change occurs by making people want to change their behavior because there’s alignment between their wants and the leader's needs

Goal of change is create the best fit between individuals and the organization through a solution that individuals will find motivating

Results happen through motivation; humans have feelings and irrationalities; they don’t feel forced into change; the other has made them want to change


What do you think?


I know that this is a bit academic, but if you think about it, it has huge implications on everything in our lives - from the work examples I mentioned, to negotiating with your spouse and kids at home.

Dr. Hallowell also offered this great insight:

"The best leaders are chameleons. They're able to seamlessly transition between colors

to get the best and maximum change from those they're leading." 


Additionally, he suggested that great leaders think about the magic word - diversity - in this way.

One should have others with different colored lenses around her. My own insert here: If we approached diversity from people's "insides" using this kind of framework, I argue that the gender, color, and culture problem would solve itself. Maybe our "how" of fixing the diversity problem is all wrong...


When I reflected on my own lens (an unlikely combination of blue + white), it made so much sense. Then, when I layered on the colors of my former companies... I'll just say, "ahaaaaa" and leave it at that :)


What color are you? 


If you're intrigued and want to see this come to life, check out these quick videos by the original Color or Change authors: Léon de Caluwé and Hans Vermaak.


Images from Vogue, We Heart It, a Swedish website that I don't understand, Izzy Van Hall, Elements of Style, & Fortune

Posted on June 26, 2017 and filed under Learning in Action.