Summary Written by Scott Reavely
"The world is now changing at a rate at which the basic systems, structures, and cultures built over the past century cannot keep up with the demands being placed on them."

- Accelerate, page viii

The Big Idea

Install a Dual Operating System

"This is not a question of ‘either/or.’ It’s ‘both/and’: two systems that operate in concert. A dual operating system."- Accelerate, page 12

The essence of the book is to install what he calls a “second operating system.” The first operating system represents the normal structure of the organization, complete with a hierarchical organizational chart, human resources department and well defined job descriptions. It is the structure the organization has matured into after years of effective work. This structure is not easily changed or jettisoned.

The second operating system is the change system. It is a network of employees who “volunteer” for extra work they can clearly see connected to changes they need. These volunteers function like nodes up and down the org chart much like a web. This second system creates an informal network that enables people to do work that really matters apart from, or above and beyond, their job descriptions while impacting the organization from top to bottom.

Insight #1

Seize a Big Opportunity

"Great urgency that drives people in a dozen different directions achieves nothing. The energy that is at the core of accelerated action and dual operating systems is an aligned energy."- Accelerate, page 131

All of John Kotter’s books are big on urgency. The key to bringing change, according to him, is to develop a sense of urgency. The main tool in the box to create urgency is to seize a big opportunity. An organization mired in hierarchy will not be easy to light a fire under. The remedy is to find a big opportunity.

He advises readers to create urgency around the Big Opportunity, not around vision. Vision tends to be long term, reflect the hierarchy and frequently carries the tone of “this is our vision and you will make it happen.” He claims this makes people stop when you want them to go.

Big Opportunities come in all kinds of forms and serves the ongoing vision of the organization. He recommends stating it in writing so everyone can sing off the same sheet of music. A statement of the Big Opportunity has the following characteristics: It is short, rational, compelling, positive, authentic, clear and aligned. It may be shorter term than a vision and sustained action can rally around it.

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Insight #2

Your Organization Slows with Time

"Silos, levels, rules, short-term plans, and narrow jobs systematically create complacency. And group complacency is an almost unbelievably powerful force."- Accelerate, page 110

Not only does the world require faster change, an organization’s ability to generate that change slows down as it ages. An organization older than 10 years has usually developed a mature management structure. Managing an organization increases efficiency and preserves the progress previously made by the organization, but it is hard to change. An organization that began as a nimble network of relationships predictably grows into a highly structured business. That is the inevitable evolution of the organization over time.

Obviously, then, somebody must address how to get this slowing organization moving at the speed of change. Kotter’s tool is to layer the network over the hierarchy and charge them with the change responsibilities.

I love that this Harvard Business Review book is essentially a work-around! It is a short-cut to change an organization without organizing the change. I love it because I need it!

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John P. Kotter

Regarded by many as the authority on leadership and change, John P. Kotter is a New York Times best-selling author, award winning business and management thought leader, business entrepreneur, inspirational speaker and Harvard Professor. His ideas, books, speeches, and company, Kotter International, have helped mobilize people around the world to better lead organizations, and their own lives, in an era of increasingly rapid change.

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