There is a 5 minute DVD of my daughters titled ‘Miffy and the shadow’ (Miffy is a little rabbit) that I often show before I start the Change Management Cooking Class workshop. At first the participants to the training are surprised, so I get their attention.

Miffy, the Cute Little Bunny

Miffy and FriendsThe video is about how Miffy learns about the shadow in the classroom. Through the instructions of the teacher she becomes aware of light and shadow in her environment. Later we see her walking home while the sun sets and she notices her own shadow. At the dinner table she even tells her parents about what she learned.

However, at night she is very frightened by the moonlight shadow and she needs the support of her parents to calm her down. Her parents help her to make sense of it all and to link it to the concept that she learned about in class.

That’s quite a big step for Miffy, because although she was taught the concept of ‘shadow’ in the classroom and although she demonstrated that she understood it to her parents at the dinner table, she had been unable to ‘use’ her knowledge in practice. She needed a gentle nudge to do that.

In case you would wonder: I do lecture in business schools and to MBA students and I use this DVD a lot! While I am switching off the DVD most of them still have that “what the fuck?” look on their faces and that is when I tell them that this is a good example of what Viginia Satir refers to as ‘foreign element’. However, there are two other insights that occur from this DVD that are fundamental to organizational change management. They are: how people develop and learn, and the importance of psychological safety.

How People Learn

Miffy reveals about 90% of the major insights of development psychologists Jean Piaget and Jerome Bruner. Both of them have produced ground breaking insights on how people learn. Their main point is that knowing is a process rather than a product. In the words of Bruner:

We teach a subject not to produce little living libraries on that subject, but rather to get a student to think mathematically for himself, to consider matters as an historian does, to take part in the process of knowledge-getting.

Piaget, on the other hand, talks of a process of adapting. This is a constant give-and-take between modifying reality in order to fit into our minds (assimilation) and modifying our minds so the new reality can fit in (accommodation). The change-pain that results from this process is how I make a living.

In terms of Miffy’s shadow this means that the end of the ‘shadow-class’ is where the process of learning begins. When the teaching stops, Miffy still needs to ‘learn’ 99% of the subject. This is fundamental for those who think that training alone is enough in order to make an organizational change happen. At the very best it is a starting point; From there on you will need to coach your way to the future state!

We are All Afraid

And that is where the second insight is necessary: the psychological safety that is needed so badly in times of change. In order for this process of learning to happen, we need to make sure that the environment outside of the classroom is not one that stigmatizes mistakes.

As a starting point in times of change I think it is fair to say that we are all afraid. However, as a change agent, it is your own maturity, expressed by how well you deal with your own fear, which determines to what extent you will allow the process of learning to take place.

Pretty fundamental insights from a DVD for 4-year olds, don’t you think?

Bruner, J. S. (1966) Toward a Theory of Instruction, Cambridge, Mass.: Belkapp Press.