Don’t build a ship. Create a yearning for the seas.

By Bill Wilder, M.Ed., Life Cycle Engineering
As appeared in Learning to Change

People, as the agents of purposeful change in an organization that is nothing without them, are the real focus of change management, not processes and workflows. Here's a quote from Antoine de Saint—Exupery, author of The Little Prince, which illustrates that nicely:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

We all know where drumming, dividing, and ordering ends up (or we should): now-you-see-it-now-you-don't change that sticks as long as there's a threat attached. Sometimes not even then.

And the ship you get with that approach? Usually, by which I mean almost every time, that ship is built with just enough care and attention that it will, probably, make it over the horizon. After that, it's someone else's problem, because the people who slapped that ship of change together are still mentally standing on the shore. They are not on board and never intended to be.

Teach your crew to yearn for the vast and endless sea and long for sailing those waters and landing on the shores beyond them.

When your team wants the change you want, because you've sponsored that change effectively and kept the people side of change front-and-center throughout the process, you get a ship built to go the distance and a workforce that's enthusiastically on-deck. Even better, if you engage the latent creative potential of your crew and you will often get a better boat than you designed at the start of your change journey.

If you get yearning to be on board, making that the anchor of your change management philosophy, the sea is yours.


Bill Wilder, M.Ed is the founder and director of the Life Cycle Institute, the learning, leadership and change management practice at Life Cycle Engineering. The Institute integrates the science of learning and the science of change management to help organizations produce results through behavior change. You can reach Bill at [email protected].

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.


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