It Starts with One - By J. Stewart Black

It Starts with One

By: J. Stewart Black, 3rd Edition 

ISBN: 978-0133407303
READ: June 2015
RATING:  10/10

Summary: For anyone seeking to lead change in an organization or in themselves, this book is like an instruction manual. From the start Black explains how change works, why we often get it wrong, and what’s required to make real change and to make it last. He organizes the book around the main barriers to change as well as the solutions to those barriers. This book is focused, clearly written, full of illustrations and tools. It’s an easy ten for me because of the framework for change that has been laid in my thinking as a result of reading it.


1. The Challenge of Leading Strategic Change

2. Barrier #1: Failure to See

3. Solutions and Tools for Breaking Through Barrier #1: Helping People to See the Need

4. Barrier #2: Failture to Move

5. Solutions and Tools for Breaking Through Barrier #2: Helping People to Make the Move

6. Barrier #3: Failure to Finish

7. Solutions and Tools for Breaking Through Barrier #3: Helping People Fight Through the Finish

8. Pulling it All Together

9. Getting Ahead of the Change Curve

“…between 50-75% of all strategic change initiatives fail.” –Preface

Organizational-in approach ineffective, but an individual-out approach works. “Lasting success comes from changing individuals first and then using organizational levers to sustain the change.” – pg. 1

“…approximately 80% of organizational change initiatives fail to meet their objectives.” –pg. 3

Makes an analogy with New Year’s Resolutions, “…If people cannot easily and successfully change their own behavior when they say they want to, why would we be surprised that people have about the same level of difficulty and failure rate when trying to change others’ behaviors, who may not even want to change?” – pg 3

Change is hard, expensive, and takes time. Pg. 4

Humans are biologically hardwired to resist change. We hang on to what has worked in the past. Pg. 5 (Change is hard)

“…because people act on their perceptions and because you cannot control ho wpeople perceive things, changing perceptions is never cheap.” Pg. 8 (Change is expensive)

Three modern dynamics of change: the rate of change, the magnitude of change, and the unpredictability of change. Because of these three things, when it comes to leading change, demand is high (and growing), and supply is short. Pg. 9-10

Implications of the Dynamics of Change: pg. 16-20

1.     Start with yourself – Lead by example.

2.     Don’t be late –It could become too late for change.

3.     Expect resistance

4.     Have an informed point of view –You’ll need a framework and set of tools.

5.     Master through deliberate practice -4 Ingredients of practice (repetition, concentration, stretching, & feedback).

6.     Remember, good may not be good enough

“…unlocking individual change starts and ends with the mental maps people carry in their heads—how they see the organization and their world…” pg. 21

“If what is in people’s heads is not remapped, then their hearts and hands will have nothing new to follow.” Pg. 21 “…leaders of change must comprehend, break through, and ultimately redraw individual mental maps, one by one, person by person, again and again.” Pg. 23

Three Successive Barriers to Change: Pg. 23

1.     See – Even when opportunities or threats stare people in the face, often they fail to see the need to change.

2.     Move –Even when they see the need, they frequently still fail to move.

3.     Finish –Even when they see the need and start to move, they often fail to finish (that is not going far or fast enough for the change to ultimately succeed).

Principle for Tools used to Break Through Barriers:

“…we should make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Pg. 24

“Whatever tools we hope to use in making change succeed, they must be simple enough that we must remember, recall, and apply them in real situations, in real time, and under real pressure.” Pg. 24


Stage 1: Origin of Change

Something changes so that now the right thing done well is now the wrong thing done well (shift to stage 2)

Stage 2: Dilemma of Change

Now doing the wrong thing, but doing it well. Dilemma because: 1. people love being and feeling competent

2. They’ve invested significant time, energy, money, etc to become competent.

Stage 3: The Pain of Change

Because the right thing is new, we aren’t too good at accomplishing it. Often short term losses occur during thing phase.

Stage 4: The Prize of Change

A return to field 1, doing the right thing well.

Barrier #1 –Failure to See

Everyone knows that if we can’t see the need for change then we won’t, but most don’t effectively deal with this barrier because we underestimate its strength. Pg. 36

“…our brains often tell our eyes what to see.” Pg. 36

As we prosper in Stage 1, we build up a mental map that tells us how things work. Pg .38

The longer we are in Stage 1 and the more we prosper, the more the mental maps are reinforced. Pg. 38

The first barrier is amplified by the fact that we hold onto our mental maps and orient everything else around them. The maps become the center of our universe. Pg. 42.

“The common reaction…is that when the map begins to fail first we deny the failure and then try to fix the situation by doing more of what you know how to do best.” Pg. 48

“Put simply, after you see a map a certain way long enough, it becomes not a way, but the way to see the world. Every other way is viewed as wrongheaded, backward, inferior, upside-down or whatever.” Pg. 54

We commonly respond to failure by doubling our efforts to succeed in the old way we know. If we can gain temporary success in this way it reinforces our old map and delays us from making the necessary map changes. Pg. 58

Solutions and Tools for Breaking Through the Barrier – Helping People see the Need:

“If people are blinded, how can you help them see the need to change? How can you break through the barrier of past mental maps? The solution comes in two parts—contrast and confrontation.” Pg. 61

People can ignore key contrasts, so confrontation is needed. Pg. 62

“…confrontation not in the sense of a quarrel, but in the sense of an inescapable experiential encounter laden with new input. Simplistically, you can think od the degree of confrontation going up proportionately with the degree of physical senses involved in experiencing the contrast.” Pg. 62


Vertical axis is Confrontation, Horizontal is Contrast

The key is to create high contrast, high confrontation experiences for people..

We must help people address two questions in this order, 1. Why do we need to change? 2. What are we changing about ourselves? Pg. 64.

The key to moving through this first barrier is creating both high contrast and high confrontation around both the why and what questions. Pg. 64

Mistake #1 –Comprehensiveness Mistake

-When people are presented with a complex picture of the past and present (or future) the complexity allows them to focus their attention where they are comfortable. We must take the time and energy to get to the core 20% that accounts for 80% of the picture. Pg. 65

Mistake #2 –The “I Get It” Mistake

-The mistake of thinking that just because you get it, others will as well. Once we understand our minds simplify the situation and we think that others can see it as easily as we now can. “To full engage the brain, you need to send a consistent image through multiple channels, multiple senses, multiple times…seeing is not believing, but rather experiencing is believing…” Pg. 66

“Research has clearly demonstrated that the better you create images (not words) in people’s minds, the more clearly they can recall the associated messages.” Pg. 68

5 Steps Create High-Impact Confrontation Pg. 73

1.     Create inescapable confrontations

2.     Focus the experience on what you think are the core contrasts. Do not dilute it with too much complexity.

3.     Make sure that the experience involves as many senses as possible. There are few effective substitutes for live, fully engaged action.

4.     Physically ensure that people cannot easily avoid the experience, but must take the brunt of it right between the eyes.

5.     Repeat the messages of the old and new maps over and over and over again.

Barrier #2 –Failure to Move

Individuals may have seen the need to move, but it doesn’t mean they will move. They don’t move because they are smart, not because they are stupid. Pg. 79-81

3 Needs to Break Through This Barrier:

1.     Clarity –The new right thing needs to be made clear. The target must be clear to others. Pg. 81-83

2.     Capability –Often the more clear the vision of the new thing becomes the more immobilized employees become. This happens because people recognize that to do the new thing, they will be exchanging doing the wrong thing well for doing the right thing poorly. Often they’d rather be competent in the wrong thing. To do the right thing means taking the plunge off the competency cliff. Pg. 84-88

3.     Consequences –Often leaders make three mistakes with regard to consequences. They 1. Focus too much on the positive consequences. 2. Focus too much on the monetary while too little on the non-monetary. 3. Don’t bring an integrative focus on the consequences of clarity, capability and consequences. Pg. 89-91

a.      Positive Consequences should be made a personal to the individual as possible. If you fail to find benefits people care about then nothing will change.

b.     Monetary Consequences

c.      Consequences in Isolation An important formula emerges: Pg. 89


Solutions and Tools to Breakthrough Barrier #2

Tools for Mapping Out Clarity

*Implications to the three needs for breakthrough: Pg. 98

1.  “Without clear and concrete target behaviors, most people will not move. So although it may tak ea bit of time and effort to detail the most common situations and describe the targeted behaviors the negative returns for not doing it compared to the positive returns for taking the time and expending the effort make the decision to invest an easy one.”

2.  “If you focus on the 20% of the situations and related targeted behaviors that cover 80% of the new vision, the rest of the less-core situations and behaviors take care of themselves.”

Tool for Mapping Out Capabilities (not shown, change “abilities” to “knowledge” & “other resources”)

“Once the destination is clear in the employees’ minds, the key question then becomes whether people believe they have what it takes to walk the path and reach the promised land.” Pg. 99

“If you want to come out of the cold in terms of understanding others’ motivation, consider using the ARCTIC approach (Achievement, Relations, Conceptual/Thinking, Improvement, Control)” pg. 104

ARCTIC Framework of Needs

Starting Target Zone

“Once you have the targeted individuals in mind, you can start working on the task of better understanding them and creating individual motivation and movement plans.” Pg. 107

Barrier #3 –Failure to Finish

“In general, you need to get 70% of the employees moving to the new right thing to ensure that the change does not come crashing back down to earth….you need at least 70%.” –Pg. 114.

“Often, leaders have spent so much time and effort breaking through the first two barriers that they are tired by the time they get to the third barrier….people get lost, they lose sight of where they are going and why.” Pg. 115

“Once the strategy, structure, or system is changed, they think the job is done and that ‘the rest will naturally happen.’ Nothing could be further from the truth! The crux of success—or in other words, the key to overcoming the failure to finish—lies in changing a large number of individuals, not in pulling organizational levers.” Pg. 115.

“Employees ask themselves, ‘Do I trust the promised outcomes? Do I trust my own ability to behave in new ways and achieve the desired results? Do I trust that if I put in all this time and effort to walk this path, the rug will not be yanked out from under me, and a new strategy, structure, and system will be announced just as I’m getting the hang of doing the new right things?’…If they trust you, they will venture forth and stay on the path. If they don’t they won’t.” - Pg. 118

The Pull of Past Proficiency

People falter because they get tired and lost and therefore fail to finish. Pg. 126

“The antidotes to getting tired and getting lost are champions and charting.” Pg. 129

Without external reinforcement individuals will slow down in their attempts to change, and likely will quit far before they reach the destination. Pg. 130

Change champions are people who help promote the change. In Barrier #1 these champions are best positioned at the top of the organization. But for Barriers #2 & #3 “high and mighty” champions deliver virtually no impact. Pg. 130

For Barrier #3 champions sitting next to the action make the difference between failing and fighting through the finish. Pg. 131

“Change champions at key traction points must know what to look for and what to reinforce. They must know how to reinforce what they’re looking for.” Pg. 131

The job of a change champion is to: 1. Be close to the action. 2. Look for desired efforts, not just results. 3. Counteract natural negative consequences with synthetic positive ones. Pg. 132

Empowerment is crucial, “In less than 10% of the cases were change champions identified, given a mandate, trained, monitored, and rewarded for this critical role down where the rubber meets the road.” Pg. 131

Don’t emphasize celebrating early wins, initially you need to focus on correct efforts. Pg. 131

Make explicit these three things for change champions: 1. Needed critical behaviors. 2. Likely negative consequences that will likely come from less than ideal proficiency. 3. Actions that should be taken when right behaviors do not produce desired outcomes. Pg. 133

Tool for Mapping out Champion Actions

Tool for Mapping Out Champion Capabilities

“If you don’t get 70% of the people seeing, moving, and fighting to the finish, the change initiative will ultimately fail to finish.” Pg. 138

“When it comes to measuring progress, it needs to be done both at a high level and a ground level.” Pg. 139

Change Performance Dashboard

5 Preparation Elements On the Dashboard: Pg. 142

1.     What –Identify key measures.

2.     How –Determine how the measure will be assessed.

3.     When –Establish how often the measures will be evaluated.

4.     Baseline –Establish a baseline of performance before change is initiated. Without it charting progress is nearly impossible.

5.     Target –Establish a target for the measures.

Determine your General Communication Plan –Pg. 143:

1.     Who –Determine who will receive the communication. Most error on communicating to too few.

2.     What –Plan what will be shared. Best to share the good, bad, & ugly.

3.     When –Determine when the communication will occur. Some sooner is better than all later.

Change Assessment Tool

Change Assessment Tool (Cont.)

Change Assessment Tool (Cont.)

“Demand outstripping supply is a very powerful reason for mastering the art and science of leading change.” Pg. 191

“Lasting change starts from the inside out—by first changing individuals….We change individuals, ourselves, and others by remapping minds to see, move, and finish. By changing individuals, we really can change organizations. Pg. 191