The Courage to Change
Keynote presentation celebrating the 25th anniversary of IEDC
October 14, 2011
Ichak Kalderon Adizes, Ph.D.
Adizes Graduate School for
the Study of Change and Leadership;
Santa Barbara, California
Your Honor, President of Slovenija, Dr. Danilo Turk,
IEDC Dean, Danica Purg, Dr. Busek, Chairman of the IEDC Supervisory Board, respected honorees, Prof. Edgar Schein and Prof. Manfred Kets de Vries, faculty, alumni, ladies, and gentlemen.
It is a privilege for me to give the keynote presentation at this celebration, marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of IEDC––a school that epitomizes the title of my presentation today:
“The Courage to Change.”
Why is courage needed in leading change?
To answer this question I need to first address the theme of this celebration:
“Create the Future.”
Ladies and gentlemen, the title is wrong.
You cannot create the future.
The title is missing one word––a critical word,
which would make it right.
Let me explain.
The human mind responds to thoughts literally, not unlike a computer: You cannot type a certain instruction into your computer and expect it to deliver different information than what you asked it to do.
Our mind works the same way: It handles thoughts literally. If you make the decision: “I will go on a diet tomorrow,” when you wake up the next morning your mind will ask you: Is today tomorrow? Since the answer is obviously “No,” you probably will not get on your diet.
There is a bar in Amsterdam, I am told, that displays a sign on the wall that says, “Free drinks tomorrow!” Whoever asks for a free drink is told to come “tomorrow”. They have yet to serve a free drink.
You cannot create THE future. Like the past, which once existed but no longer does, the future does not exist, either. What exists in reality––and the only thing that exists–– is what you are creating NOW.
This concept, that the only thing that is real is NOW, has important implications for the task of planning. “Planning” is not “deciding what we will do tomorrow.” Effective “planning” is deciding what we are going to do right now in order to prepare for tomorrow.
Thus, the theme for this celebration should have been: “Creating FOR the Future,” rather than “Creating THE Future”.
But that begs the question: if one needs to create the future NOW, how does one know what to do now?
For that we need to be creative, be willing to take risks and as the title for this presentation says: have courage.
First, why creativity?
Creativity is necessary precisely because we need to act now in anticipation of the future, a future no one can tell for sure what it will be.
We must imagine the future. We must build scenarios.
We must use our creativity to recognize a pattern and fill in the missing pieces with our imagination in order to get the total picture.
In other words, we should handle uncertainty with creativity.
Now, why willingness to take risks?
Because in order to create for the future, which is uncertain, we need to act in the present, and that is risky; maybe the future we imagined and acted in anticipation of will not happen. All our preparations in the present may turn out to be a waste of energy, effort, and resources. Maybe we were wrong, and usually there is a price to be paid for being wrong.
Being proactive in a situation that has not occurred yet, we run the risk of being criticized and even ridiculed.
Philosophically speaking, there is no present. The present is a mini-split-second between the past and the future. It either happened already or is going to happen.
For some people, usually the ones with a conservative outlook, the present is a continuation of the past.
For people who are creative, those willing to take risks and have the courage to act, the liberals, it is the beginning of the future.
Those who continue living in the present their past, can neither understand nor appreciate people who are in the present preparing for the future that has not happened yet. They will be criticized and be ridiculed.
To act today in anticipation of a future that has not happened yet, leaders of change must have courage to take risks, withstand criticism, and withstand ridicule.
That is why they are called LEADERS, not followers. .
IEDC, the institution we are celebrating its 25th anniversary today, epitomized the courage to change, in the past and in does so in the present?
Allow me to analyze the past, first?
Twenty-five years ago, Professor Danica Purg had the courage to establish––singlehandedly! ––The International Executive Development Center, the IEDC, in a country where the curriculum of executive education had historically been determined by Marxist ideology, a country that was just beginning the struggle to introduce market forces as regulators of economic behavior. It called for a significant paradigm shift in thinking. It required courage to take on the establishment. And she succeeded not only in developing Slovenijan executives, but also in establishing an organization that transcended the borders of Slovenija, her home country, to serve the entire Central and Eastern blocks in their parallel struggles to transform themselves. Her efforts ultimately had an impact even beyond Central and Eastern Europe, inspiring changes in executive education as taught today in Western Europe and Asia. In 2010 Danica was voted Dean of the Year by the Academy of International Business, a leading organization of scholars and specialists in her field. No surprise there.
Now, how about having courage to lead change at the present time?
Ladies and gentlemen, something very significant is happening at present which is imposing new demands on executive leadership.
Creativity, risk taking and courage are not enough anymore.
I suggest to you that business leadership is not what developed countries need the most now. Developed countries are already saturated with things––
The creating, manufacturing, and selling of things that improve our standard of living but reduce our quality of life.
Change is accelerating in modern society, and different macro subsystems advance and change at different speeds, technology is changing the fastest (thus increasing our standard of living) while social values are changing the slowest. This disparity in speeds of change creates socio- ecological gaps, manifested by increasing systemic social problems that are increasing in their severity, like crime, unemployment, social unrest…. socio political alienation, manifestations of a deteriorating quality of life.
As you see, higher standard of living. Ladies and gentlemen, does not necessarily bring a higher quality of life. I suggest to you that just the opposite is the truth.
What developed countries need now more than ever are social leaders ––or what Andre Malraux, France’s first Minister of Culture, once called “social animators”: People who identify society’s developing cultural, social needs and trends, people who are able to mobilize resources and social forces in the present to create for a better future.
But how does one go about becoming a social leader? How does one deal with those socio- economic- systemic problems?
What must come into play to be a social leader is not just creativity, risk taking and courage, like in the past, but values: the ability to distinguish between right and wrong.
Modern society, in order to create a better future today, needs leaders who are capable of making value choices.
And how does anyone arrive at such values? Not by using logic or mathematical cost-value relationships, but by listening to one’s heart. It is what makes us human, what differentiates us from being animals.
True social leaders, those who can lead us to a better future, think not only with their heads but also with their hearts.
And ladies and gentlemen, it is infinitely more difficult to teach values than to teach facts and formulas. To be human it is not enough to be born in a human body.
I believe this aspect of leadership development, to think with one’s heart and not only with one’s head, is deficient and missing altogether in today’s executive leadership development programs.
And here again, Professor Danica Purg, the Founder and indisputable leader of this institution, the IEDC, has shown courage and provided leadership in bringing values, experientially, into executive leadership development.
For example, she developed a program for executives from Britain to visit Bosnia, to study management principles but also to meet the victims of the ferocious war there and see for themselves what happens––to mothers, to children, to the elderly––when modern military technology is combined with the values of the Stone Age. By the end of the program, some executives were weeping.
Executive development should not only be to open people’s minds to see, but also to open people’s hearts to feel.
Society needs to create today the leaders of tomorrow, a new breed of leaders, leaders whose social values drive their materialistic decisions rather than leaders who, driven by materialistic goals, compromise social values.
We need social leaders, leaders who are led by values, leaders who have the courage to change society driven by materialism to a society driven by values. And here, Professor Danica Purg had the courage to change leadership development once again.
I feel privileged to be associated with IEDC, a School with a view, literally as well as metaphorically, and applaud the leadership of Danica and may I wish her to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of this school in good health and with the same energy courage requires.
I thank you for your time and attention.
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes