Leadership Book Review: How to Change

Change: It’s something everyone has to deal with at work and in their personal life, especially those managing and developing others.

What if I told you there was a magical ingredient to make change on your end more successful? And that we have used this ingredient — but never intentionally?

Katy Milkman, co-director of the Behavior Change for Good Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania and award-winning behavioral economist, just might have found such an ingredient. And she shares her original research and timely anecdotes and stories in her book, How to Change. 

This book divulges the massive advantage of successfully making change stick: If you can harness the feeling of a blank slate, you will have a better chance of changing in a positive way.

It’s important to remember: Any change leaders experience will filter down to their followers in one way or another. It will have an impact.  

Throughout her book, Milkman shares how the timing of the change can make the most significant difference: She found that 36% of all successful changes took place when people physically moved spaces.

This event triggered what she calls a “fresh start.” 

This is any specific event like a birthday, anniversary, beginning of a new school year, new year, any major life event, disruption in your life, when the metrics you use to track your performance are set back to zero, a Monday or any “temporal landmark” that causes you to evaluate your life and more seriously consider a new direction.  

Milkman goes on to state that these different events can inspire, motivate, boost optimism for the future and give leaders (among others) the sense that they have a chance to start a new chapter in their life, no matter how small. 

In need of a change? Look at the space around you. Perhaps a different setting outside could help you fine-tune some settings within you.

However, there is a caveat to this “fresh start” approach to change. Not everyone benefits from one. Milkman explains that any disruption can be a setback if you are already performing well or on a roll.

She describes it this way: 

“When you are in a flow at work. You are entirely focused, getting a lot done, and a co-worker walks in with a question, or you get a message that needs an immediate reply that disrupts you; it is hard to get back in that flow. This is the same with change. If you are performing well, a fresh start can hurt your performance.”

She continues in the book to share the importance of recognizing that you cannot use a cookie-cutter approach to change. Rarely does one solution fit all because a significant factor of change is the obstacles that block it. Milkman has shared her research and stories about several barriers and how to overcome them, such as impulsivity, procrastination, forgetfulness, laziness, lack of confidence and conformity. 

After all, no one said change was easy!

Whether you are a manager, develop others in some way or just want to make an adjustment in some way, Katy Milkman’s How to Change is an invaluable, science-based tool to help you find those fresh starts, avoid obstacles and achieve your goal.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.