The Radical Power Of Subtle Change

It seems that if we truly want radical change, we need to radically change our approach to it first: Leveraging the power of subtlety.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. If that is the case, the doorway to “failed change” land is plastered in mosaics of five-step-implementation plans.

Don’t mind my cynicism. After having spent six years in management consulting and now working as a leadership coach, I have seen my fair share of brilliant leaders with a radical vision for change, who end up falling short in execution.

The reason for this is grounded in a longstanding misconception: Radical change is radical in execution. This could not be further from reality. What we so often oversee is that change happens via humans. And humans hate change. To be exact, we are even biologically wired to avoid it.

We can thank our brain, or rather our amygdala, for this. When presented with a big adjustment, this little almond-shaped fella identifies it as a threat to his shiny and comfortable world. It immediately throws our body into alarm mode, activating our fight-flight-freeze. This is not only detrimental, because it makes a lot of us never get started, but it also blocks our creativity and drive along the way.

It seems that if we truly want radical change, we need to radically change our approach to it first: Leveraging the power of subtlety.

Nina Haidinger
... is an executive coach and trainer focusing on mindful success strategies for high performers. In her previous career, she was a manager at the Boston Consulting Group, focusing on global transformations. Haidinger holds a master’s degree in Business Administration from JKU Linz.

This subtlety starts by shifting the way we look at change: While our brain hates change, it loves growth. Easily done and works like a charm to keep our amygdala calm.

The next subtle shift lies in the way we bring this change to life – and it comes quite intuitive: We all know, growth does not happen in one big bang overnight. It is based on small consistent steps, which compound over time to big results. This implies that while we might create big milestones along our path to change (hooray to keeping our five-step-plans), the key to success lies in the small actions we do every day.

Another subtle shift for action design is in having them mirror the characteristics of growth: Growth is exciting, playful and brings a feeling of achievement. Our actions should, hence, challenge, but not overwhelm us, thereby keeping our motivation at peak. Also, we need to give ourselves and others acknowledgment for our achievements – so called mini-rewards, which have interestingly also been found key in reducing burnout risk.

A simple way to apply this: Ask yourself and your team: What is the simplest thing you can do already today? Playful and powerful enough to activate your hippocampus or rather, the boss of behavior change.

As we can see, all of these simple shifts already create change along the way by increasing connection, innovation and creativity. And that is the beauty of this approach: By embracing the innate subtlety and humanness of change, change happens. Quite radical, if you ask me.


Author: Nina Haidinger

The article was featured in our January edition 2020 „Radical Change“.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

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