Spring in Paris! April 25-27, 2024. Our theme is "AI for Change: Shaping the Future"

How to Register

Early-bird special for registered tCL members: 300 GBP on or before 20 March, 2024. Afterwards, the price goes up to 385 GBP, so get in early! And guests are welcome, too. The price non-CCC alumni is 500 GBP.

If you are a CCC alumnus, you can now activate your tCL membership for 2024 and register for this conference at the same time.

Once you have completed your registration, we will send you all the necessary login details.

To register for the Spring 2024 conference:

Please ensure you are logged in to your member space. Click on “Log in below. If you are having trouble with your login details, please contact [email protected]

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  2. Once logged in, the register button will appear below. Please click on the link to register for this conference. If you are having trouble with the registration process, please get in touch with [email protected]

AI for a Change

Artificial Intelligence (AI) stands at the forefront of a technological revolution, poised to reshape the future across every sector of society. “AI for Change: Shaping the Future” encapsulates a vision where AI not only drives innovation and efficiency but also addresses some of the most pressing challenges of our time. From revolutionizing healthcare through early detection and personalized medicine to combating climate change by optimizing energy consumption and advancing sustainable practices, AI’s potential is boundless. It promises to transform education through personalized learning, enhance public safety with predictive policing, and foster economic growth by unlocking new markets and opportunities. Moreover, AI’s role in fostering social good, by bridging gaps in access to information and resources, highlights its transformative power. As we navigate the complexities of this digital age, AI for Change embodies our collective endeavor to harness AI’s capabilities responsibly, ensuring it serves as a catalyst for inclusive, equitable, and sustainable progress, shaping a future where technology amplifies human potential and fosters a better world for all.

2023 Schedule of Events


TCL AI for Change Paris 24

Autumn in Oxford! September 22 - 24, 2023. Our theme is "Simplicity - the Ultimate Sophistication"

How to Register

Early-bird special for registered tCL members: 300 GBP on or before August 21, 2023. Afterwards, the price goes up to 365 GBP, so get in early! And guests are welcome, too. The price non-CCC alumni is 400 GBP.

If you are a CCC alumnus, you can now activate your tCL membership for 2023 and register for this conference at the same time.

Once you have completed your registration, we will send you all the necessary login details.

To register for the Spring 2023 conference:

Please ensure you are logged in to your member space. Click on “Log in below. If you are having trouble with your login details, please contact [email protected]

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  2. Once logged in, the register button will appear below. Please click on the link to register for this conference. If you are having trouble with the registration process, please get in touch with [email protected]


In today’s world, simplicity is often seen as a desirable outcome in various areas of life, including design, technology, and communication. As such, the concept of simplicity can be a catalyst for transformation. By prioritising simplicity, businesses and individuals can streamline processes, reduce clutter, and improve efficiency. Simple solutions can also be more accessible and user-friendly, which can, in turn, promote wider adoption and better outcomes. Ultimately, embracing simplicity as a core value can lead to transformative changes in both personal and professional contexts. Simplicity is becoming increasingly important in the face of VUCA environments, particularly in organisational transformation and the future of work. In VUCA environments, organisations must be agile and adaptable to change, which can be difficult when complex processes and systems are convoluted. Simplifying processes, systems, and communication can help organisations more efficiently and effectively navigate VUCA environments.

Come with us as we explore the essential features that give rise to all the elegance and beauty (and complexity!) we see in the world.

2023 Schedule of Events


TCL Simplicity OXF 23

Spring in Paris! April 14-16, 2023. Our theme is "Inclusion - Expanding the spectrum to create wins for everyone"

Join us in Paris!

Last September at Oxford we focused on the environment and climate action. For our April conference in Paris we turn to organizational climate and “inclusion.” To paraphrase Verna Meyers, if diversity is being invited to the party, then inclusion is being asked to dance. So, for diversity to flourish, it needs a little push–a little umph. That “umph” or spark is inclusion. Join us as we explore new ways to elevate performance, drive engagement, and solve complex social problems more creatively and more inclusively.

And as always, the conference is also a time to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and join in as we explore topics that matter. Come explore with us. We are inviting you to dance.

Registrations are now open. Scroll down for more details and sign up to save your seat!

Have questions? Email us at: [email protected]

How to Register

Early-bird special for registered tCL members: 295 GBP on or before March 1st, 2023. Afterward, the price ascends like rising temperatures to 330 GBP, so get in early!

We do apologize for the rising prices this year. As always, we charge only enough to cover expenses, which are on the up and up across the globe, unfortunately.

If you are a CCC alumnus, you can now activate your tCL membership for 2023 and register for this conference at the same time.

Once you have completed your registration, we will send you all the necessary login details.

To register for the Spring 2023 conference:

Please ensure you are logged in to your member space. Click on “Log in below. If you are having trouble with your login details, please contact [email protected]

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  2. Once logged in, the register button will appear below. Please click on the link to register for this conference. If you are having trouble with the registration process, please get in touch with [email protected]


This year’s theme is inclusion–what it means, how to instill it, and why it’s beneficial to our teams, our companies, our communities, and even our planet. There’s a lot to explore. Come join us!

Speakers & Facilitators

Please refer to the Programme Book for the lineup. We are excited! Hope you are, too!

The latest schedule of events is under the next tab: Programme Book

Come ready to connect, challenge and co-create together.

2023 Schedule of Events

Programme Book.docx

Programme Book.pdf

I Change — The New Book of Changes, Part I

“Do not turn and run, for there is nowhere worthwhile for you to go. Do not attempt to push ahead into the danger… emulate the example of the water: Pause and build up your strength until the obstacle no longer represents a blockage.”

― Thomas F. Cleary, I Ching (Book of Changes)
There is no beginning to this, no start points (other than a starting awareness, perhaps). And no labels either, like teleological or evolutionary. When one decides to create change or toy with it, or when one becomes aware that change might be necessary, those old categories and constraints don’t fall away so much as bleed together like colors in the laundry. And if there is no beginning, then must we not agree that change is constant? When we endeavor to create it, then, we do so against a backdrop of existing change. Change is the way of things, an infinite regression — turtles, all the way down.

Consider that when we say, “One Mississippi …” (or “one Piccadilly” or “one one-thousand”) — in that split second anywhere from 100,000 to 1,000,000 cells in our body perish and are replaced by new ones. Exact replicas, or are they? You’re not the same person you were a second ago, much less when you started reading this article 60 seconds ago. (My, how you’ve changed.) We experience ourselves as unchanged, continuous. But all it takes is a look in the mirror, or in the photo album, to remind us that continuity is an illusion.

But the change we feel in our bones and in our guts, be it a change in the weather or a change in our status, is not so constant. It’s rather episodic, sometimes cyclical, sometimes rhyming with fits and starts.

Putting perception aside for a moment, change is more like a trajectory or a thread being stretched. Change is not the fabric of space-time so much as a tendril running through it, coming around on itself like a spiral orbit. But not an orbit that returns us day after day, year after year, to the same eternal point in the heavens. The earth revolves around the sun but does not return in a year’s time to the same place it once occupied. The sun is on the move, too. The whole solar system is — we forget that. Everything is spiraling, moving. So is change; it’s on the move. And it will happen regardless, if only because the future so desperately wants to emerge. Change isn’t coming so much as it is becoming. And there are so many tendrils: you, me, everything.

This seems clear: In returning home after many years on the road, it’s not only we who’ve changed but so has our home. It, too, was on the move. As such, change is spatial, temporal, variable. It can be both a point in time and a period of time. Change is quantum.

That’s the weirdness of change, like playing with electrons. One second it is in your hand, and the next it is smearing through it. If change obeys a set of laws, we haven’t yet uncovered all of them. But we don’t necessarily have to define every nuance of change to play with it. When it comes to creating change, we have some choices, albeit a modest palette of actions. We can step aside and let change (and the future) come to pass, unbidden and unchecked. In this case, we are not so much resigned to passivity, though that is possible and perhaps favored by some. But we are not such a species; rather, we are like a boxer, slipping change’s jab or rolling with its punches, and sometimes, getting rolled by them. On dark days, change is the overhand right we never saw coming.

We can also lean in gently and push against the arrow of change and, if the surrounding skids have been greased (because people have been encouraged to participate in the change), nudge the change trajectory toward a different, more inviting destination. Like an aikido master, we can effortlessly redirect the trajectory’s aim by tapping on it here and there ever so slightly. Little inputs can have massive effects. Go easy.

More often than not, though, change is not so easy — even when the skids have been greased — and we must put our shoulders and backs against the trajectory’s ingrained path, grit our teeth, and heave. But beware, because trajectories often have minds of their own and seek a return to the old paths and the old ways. All systems seek to return to their lowest energy state, humans included. To change the path and sustain the course thereafter takes energy — in the form of care — applied over time, sometimes a long time.

Lastly, and similarly, we can put our shoulders and backs against the very same path, only this time dig our heels in and absolutely refuse to let that trajectory’s path change even one iota. Inertia is on our side here: While onerous at times, it’s still easier to keep a thing from moving than it is to get it moving. It’s easier to stay the course than it is to change it.

These options are, of course, not mutually exclusive, not really. What barriers that exist between the choices for change, positive or otherwise, are often those that we conjure and create. We like to categorize, we humans. Yet, we can be all these things at once, pushing here, pulling there, bobbing and weaving as required. And when our change efforts are fruitful and the new path is a good one, or when we get lucky and get it right, we tend to say, “I did that (or we did that). I changed that.” But when we get it wrong, we tend to say, “There’s nothing I could have done. It wasn’t my fault. The situation conspired against me. Who would have thought …”

Biases both amplify and diminish our desire for change, as well as our efficacy — our ability to bring it about. The forces for and against change are often one and the same, the gas pedal is the brake pedal, and only the context in which they are applied is different. One day we are an agent of change; the very next we are an agent of the status quo. You’ll get used to the paradoxes after a while.

And when we are heaving and hauling against that trajectory’s path and trying to redirect it, which choice of modestly bright futures and workable solutions is the right choice, which path is the correct one? “There are many roads to Rome,” we say. Better to answer that with more questions: What is our purpose? Or we might ask ourselves, “If we could be any shape, what shape would we like to be? A cube? A sphere? And what shape is our environment? Do we match up?” So much of the microscopic world, like the proteins that comprise us — so much of that world relies on shape for its function. Shape is function and vice versa. Should we not emulate that world and aim for a better fit with our environment? Becoming fit — getting into shape — has new meaning in the world of change.

We might also ask, what matters to us right now? And if we can name it — that which matters most — can we then concentrate on it? The change required might not be external (to our teams, our companies, our communities, our families, and ourselves) but internal. Like a samurai sword, the paragon of annealing, are our atoms — our people and teams and subcultures — are they all aligned and focused, even if only for a time? When it comes to focusing on what matters most, the distractions are legion. Breathe them away.

Or, we might consider what variations in our story, personal, cultural, tribal, or otherwise, do we wish to select and retain, and which do we wish to cut away? Who are we; who do we want to be? And are our narratives pretty things we hang on the wall — core values and what not? Maybe our values make for a nice catchy acronym: Sincerity, Humility, Integrity, Temperance. Sounds nice, but it’s all SHIT. Or perhaps our narratives aren’t merely a script to be read but one to be acted out: All things are known by their behaviors. How are we known — by what behaviors?

Examine your world calmly. Build up your strength. And answers will emerge. But they won’t be elegant. Mostly we muddle through change, but we can still muddle well.

Put that on your t-shirt: Muddle excellently.

Here, read the I Ching, I say. Now you have some understanding of change, if only because you see that the universe is a set, perhaps an infinite set, of patterns — patterns that we can divine from time to time. But never perfectly, never fully. Now you understand change, if only because you have more questions than before reading the ancient text. If only because you’re more confused and uncertain. If only because you understand that change is difficult. It’s hard, and our resistance to it is hardwired.

Smile at it, this resistance. Give it a curt nod and wink at it. But don’t do as some do in the face of change and uncertainty and curl into a rigid ball, accepting no new information unless it conforms to the shape of the old ways, the comfortable ways, the mediocre ways. Instead, breathe, expand, and look straight into your resistance. Is there something you fear in there, some loss perhaps, like status? That’s ok; we all dread it. But courage emerges in spite of fear, even because of it.

On the way to acting courageously, you can perhaps shed the linear — the mindset and the causal models. Shake off the westerner in you — in all of us. I shake my head when I read the change books. For some, change progresses from step to step, neat and tidy-like, in six or eight or ten distinct leaps. We were once atoms, then cells, then tissues, then organs, then systems. That makes me chuckle — we were indeed, but we were, and are, all of those at once. And even if we progressed, it was not in a linear fashion but in a complex one. With each new turn, we found ourselves more interconnected and more interdependent, more diverse and more entangled. “More is different,” we say.

When creating change, concentrate on relationships, not steps. When changing our habits, for instance, we need not return to the atom and start over, progressing linearly. Instead, imagine what it might be like to co-evolve, to start everywhere at once, to expand outward and inward. Generate solutions and test them, explore, get creative. And get help. Linking arms with tough-minded, gritty accomplices is cool. It’s also necessary.

Start your expansion here, perhaps: Practice what you wish to become. Start small; try to embrace the courage to say no (it’s harder than you might think). And for those around you on the practice field, those who are willing to fumble and get back up, reward them mightily, and do so with nothing more than attention — a hug, a slap on the back, or an arm-pumping handshake. They are as free, these rewards, as they are invaluable. Do that, and you’ll see more of those sought-after behaviors (and more people willing to practice, perhaps). But be careful; ignore the wrong behaviors — in yourself, your boss, your peers, your kids — and you’ll see more of them as well. So, don’t ignore the poor behaviors, but do but spend your time resourcing the good ones (and the people who practice them, naturally). To the “practicers” go the spoils. Play with resources like autonomy and choice; lend trust as you would a hand. Let mastery emerge. And tell some stories.

Maybe you can tell the one about that person on your team who took a risk and spoke up. Perhaps they called attention to something uncomfortable but something that needed to be said. Or maybe you tell that story about the person who always seems to listen so intently, like what others are saying is just the most important thing they’ve ever heard — because it is. Maybe you tell the story about how so-and-so responds, never jumps to conclusions, never reacts, never interprets another’s behavior without first trying to understand the other’s intent. Maybe you tell a cool story about that person on the team who shares information just as readily as they share their experiences — the good and the bad, the successes and the failures, the home runs and the strikeouts. Ooh, maybe you tell a story about someone who doesn’t just talk SHIT but actually acts it out every single day (Sincerity, Humility, Integrity, Temperance — in case you forgot). Maybe you tell a story about someone on the team who consistently asks for feedback, who waives away the praise and says, “Give me something I could have done better, something real to try out.” Simple rules might be hip these days, but feedback is still where the magic happens.

These are really just stories about people who create relationships that hold the world together. No biggie. They are also stories about people who can change that world. Ask them to lend you their backs and shoulders.

I’m assuming you can tell these stories, right?

The Change Leaders a change in the weather

A Change in the Weather: Cities after the Great Infection [1]

An old joke in 2030 goes, “What does the change industry have to offer in a pandemic?”

“Everything! Just a month after it was needed.”

The emails broke in Hokusai-like waves.[2] Bombardments of leadership advice landed on shores lacking leadership. Change champions failed to staunch the austere and populist tides of institution-gutting; promulgated a fascination with eddying narrative at the expense of the lunar tides of systems; created enough TED heroes to stock a surfer movie; published stay-at-home advice after the virus had already spread, issued “how to work from home” blogs after people had figured it out; ushered in Zoom fatigue at the speed of Zoom (another team meeting, yoga or salsa, anyone?); watched the belated beach landing of online retail through binoculars; and applauded from balconies as citizens adapted personal habits to distance.

Those of us in the business of change have questions to ponder about missing the boat. Lacking herd immunity while possessing herd mentality, the change industry veered from topic to topic, paddling not too far behind the edge of chaos.[3] Management consultancies and MBA schools whitecapped us in the salty spray of reassuring reports. At this late hour, three million cases into the pandemic [4], I add to this pile of missed trends my work about change afoot in transforming cities. I thought we might look at:

  1. Cities after the Great Infection
  2. Change models in the works
  3. Useful tools and perspectives

Summary: How will cities respond to the novel coronavirus? In the two-year near-term pandemic rescue and three-to-five-year human and financial disruption recuperation, dramatic changes will come about in cities administering scant resources to resilience, sustainability, and adaptability.

In an environment of constrained budgets and economic dislocation, resilience comes at the expense of creating cities of culture, thereby reducing attention to urban quality of life amenities. [5]

In the medium (2030) to long-term (2050), cities hope to return to existing plans and trajectories, with emphasis on resilience and public health, with re-imagined economies and infrastructure to support it. Still, amid the crisis, public pressure to re-negotiate the social compact is not yet cresting the horizon, from the point of view of entities that drive change in cities.

Cities on the Cusp of Change

Since the 1980s, medium-sized post-industrial cities that had suffered deindustrialization began to come back to Europe and North America.[6] These cities share common characteristics and recovery strategies. The takeaway is that interdependent economic development and quality of life factors catalyzed change. “Eds and meds” and technology drive economic transformation in these cities, while quality of life bundles improvements in city lifestyle, culture, and city functions.

An everyday example exists in recruiting the best scientists to build a world-class College of Computer Science. Carnegie Mellon University shows off the historic city park and greenhouse across the street from campus. To coin an algorithm, technology plus park equals economy and quality of life in sync. Synergies attract talent that leads to spinoffs and tens of thousands of new technology jobs, sometimes in industries that did not exist. [7]

Change Leaders will be familiar with the physics beneath the structural steel, the models underpinning sectoral change: the human side of adaptive change leadership, systems analysis, the structures of power, adaptive leadership models, and participatory methods.

To understand large-scale systemic change such as in cities and nations [8], look back 35 years and ahead thirty-five years; connect a host of broad and deep interdependent factors; facilitate complexity thinking regarding the complex adaptive living systems that comprise all human orders, and lean on the pillar of adaptive leadership. The heart of this work is helping cities envision long-term futures, then building adaptive frameworks to help get work in motion that delivers on vision. The task of cities emerging from Covid19’s human and economic damage is to jujitsu one’s town from infection to inflection.

After Covid19: Resilience Elbows Arts & Culture

In the wake of Covid19, quality of life drivers (nascent city lifestyles of walkable, clean, and green functional cities with excellent transit and downtown cultural attractions) will be de-emphasized while, at the same time, resilience is emphasized [9]as city-development focal points.

Cities will shift gears [10] from creating great cities of culture towards building resilient cities. Resilience means enhancing cities’ ability to withstand shocks. City budgets are getting knocked by about 20% this year at the time of this article. [11] In the short-term, hard choices must be made. Large events, festivals and concerts, and improvements to theater districts are not possible until the waves of Coronavirus recede. This makes for a somewhat rapid shift from arts and culture to resilience. With devastating effects to arts institutions and artists, civic and philanthropic organizations are racing to soften the arts’ landing.

Resilience efforts underway since 2012’s Hurricane Sandy have helped cities respond to Covid19 [12], just as other great cities, like Miami, New Orleans, and Houston, turned to resilience after a disaster, after being shocked into action to survive and thrive. With roots in climate change, research has revealed that cities have to likewise prepare for economic, conflict, human health, and demographic shocks. [13]

City visions to develop arts, culture, and entertainment will contract in the face of higher priorities than food for the foodies, beer for the beery, and constant entertainment for the weary. A sustained contraction in arts and culture, dragging in museums and theaters, is inevitable under weakened financial models, small gatherings spaced more widely, and a shift in focus to essential life and work functions until financials recover in about five years. This is bad news for efforts to make cities cool for youth to remain, and for parks, concerts, and downtown theater districts.

Sustainability shifts to being subsidiary to resilience: lower energy use, more attention to climate change, and more training for people for adaptive careers that may shift more often than desired.

Spending more in one area at a time, budgets have been hammered by 20% or more, leading to the de-emphasis of other efforts, like culture. Models of touristic cities of learning built around large events and iconic destinations, a staple of city transformation since Bilbao’s resurgence under the Guggenheim Museum, will suffer. Big events are going to be difficult to host.

City design shift from amenities (new sports stadium? — not likely) to fundamentals implies transit that is inclusive, multi-functional, and healthy. This suggests nuance and subtlety, with stronger transit links to shifting work patterns in a work-at-home era. Staggered work shifts suggest cramming fewer people into disease containers at rush hours.

The indictment of the density drop is premature [14] and may serve as a distraction from pressing socio-economic factors of poverty, not density. Instead, density will be rethought to give space as well as proximity. Complexity thinking suggests designing for more than single-statistic arguments. Washington (comprehensive, underfunded, unreliable Metro) and New York (serving more passengers than any US city) leave a lot to be desired in cleanliness, peak times, and connection to airports.

What breathes life into these efforts to tackle urban complexity? Systems, power, resources, and policy. City work requires deep dives into the human data of functional systems, citizen sentiment in political and other forms of power, competition for scrambled financial resources, and details of public policy and advocacy. These factors interact to regulate the level of successful response and to cap change.

Cities adjust efforts to build “eds and meds” and technology economies

The health and fates of cities are subject to every change afoot in health, education, new technologies, existing economies, and social change. As such, cities offer a set of lenses to examine and poke multiple, interconnected, non-linear factors associated with complex adaptive living systems, and the adaptive behaviors and leadership actions needed to adjust and thrive. [15] In the complex adaptive living systems that are cities and nations, ripeness leads to over-ripeness for change, which arrives in concentrated or accelerated bursts — rotting fruit and all, to extend the metaphor — as we have seen in New York’s struggle with the Covid19 pandemic.

In US cities, medicine has driven transformation in essential post-industrial cities. In the wake of Covid19, cities that depend on research hospitals will advocate boosting federal medical research. Funded figures will fall off from fatigue and forgetfulness around 2025. [16]

My thirty years working in national and metropolitan regions demonstrate that domestic governance matters in national health; government performance differs dramatically in broad categories that affect medical research and readiness. Part of our work involves helping cities perceive their critical relationships with federal entities. Whatever happens, we will see reshaping international affairs and influence that inevitably shape the fortunes of metropolitan regions. In terms of health transformations, anti-science populists will face a popular and electoral backlash in Washington and abroad. [17] Populists will damage medical research should they endure. National authoritarians will weaken as the case for control weakens [18]; Petro-authoritarian states will emerge with weaker health systems while demand for oil remains low. [19]

The years of living large and easy on campus are in question as “eds” encounter challenges to campus, business, and financial models. US universities built up in the heyday of growth replaced declining numbers of American students by attracting full-fee international students primarily from South and East Asia and the Middle East. Little future planning was done for a restrictive US immigration stance (university presidents spoke up months after plans were known and implemented), and none for a disease that restricts student travel. This convergence of factors prompts uncertain remote learning and financing models. The consolidation underway among weaker, smaller, outlying schools in rural areas will accelerate. “Eds” rely on research largesse in STEM [20], which has been comparatively easy to come by and may see reductions in coming years should anti-science positions endure at the federal level, which provides most research funds.

How to Fail: Short millions of PPE? Crowdfund. Medical systems strained to collapse? Applaud at 7PM. Leadership in crisis? Advise how to “lead in a crisis.”

Murphology,” The Study of Failure, as in a Tolstoy novel, one boring way to succeed is outmatched by unlimited dazzling ways to fail. In the “One-Shot” Olympic Moment, the archer let’s fly: Hit the target or fail after years of training. Some things are an all-or-nothing proposition. While creativity is required in unprecedented times, a pandemic is too fraught to risk failure by flirting with ill-fated ideas.

A Change Agent’s Multiple Lenses

Oxford and HEC Paris Consulting and Coaching for Change Program (CCC) provides multiple lenses to apply to cities facing epochal, dramatic, and sudden change. In selecting from an ecosystem of change paradigms, my projects employ various systems approaches gleaned from my time in CCC, the Change Leaders alumni group, Adaptive Leadership at the Kennedy School, and five specific deep plunges in the experiential ocean since 1985. [21]

Confirmation bias. We are guilty of seeing things the way we’d like to see them. The thoughtful insist climate must be attended while the thoughtless plow ahead. Those who see pent-up demand for change in capitalism are convinced capitalism will depart or be dispatched, never fixed. Vegetarians, meat. Feminists, paternalism. Atheists see god in trouble this time, while the faithful pray harder. Analysts point to factors, post-facto explaining away what just happened to us and why they did not see it coming. The inept point the finger. Those inclined to kindness see kindness rewarded, in the hope of cruelty being banished. Everybody seems to have a bad pet they would abandon on the highway.

Revolution is rapid evolution. Things continue the same, only more so. We see sudden breakthroughs in those things which were long overripe for change: remote medicine and learning, remote work, business, and retail catalyzed. Change processes are accelerated, not altered, unless things fall apart, which countenances consequences of upheaval no responsible person would seek. This meets the true definition of a catalyst, which accelerates but does not alter a chemical reaction.

Systems and organizations. Transformation is a time to think less about ourselves and more about systems. Change still happens in organizations. The organization is the entry point. From the organization, we may strategically work up to assemblages of organizations and systems, and handily work down to individuals in the organization. The change agent seeks out the places where system nodes interact.

Creativity. When doing something over and over the same way, follow a procedure to perfection. When doing something often, with variations, resort to a checklist. When doing something for the first time, be creative. Creative solutions, opening systems, trying new things, asking for ideas, listening to new voices — all are needed in an unprecedented pandemic. Calibrating creativity and failure hang in the balance.

Conflating individual and organizational. Ask people what changes they wish to see, and personal wishes emerge. Ask people what they are doing for those changes, and we see a gap in talents applied to organizations and systems. Organizations — city and state governments, business associations, and the like — are rocketing ahead, planning recovery, priorities, budgets, and projects. The change agent not in those conversations is not in the change. One option is to get political. Politics, after all, is the legitimate art of competing and debating for resources, priorities, and policies. Those in the fray are where it’s at.

Think politically. We are called to be profoundly political and lightly partisan. Agents of change who wish to be at the nodes where change happens, learn how to navigate power and politics. Work in systems implies understanding all of the levers, including power. Moreover, systems that gain higher quantitative and qualitative participation perform better, not least in civic and government spheres, as well as in business.

Plausible futures. The exponential advance of disease is the essence of non-linearity and uncertainty. Proper situational assessment starts with listening, learning, and perceiving. Subject matter expertise matters in recovery. Facing a sheer blank wall of a future, cities are tempted to respond in programmatic mode. Preparing for several plausible futures via scenario development is of value. Variations in drivers of economic upset, public health danger, and scale of potential social disruption suggest at least eight scenarios developed and examined for reasonableness, with preparation for at least three plausible future stories using methods we have learned from the leaders of the Oxford Scenarios Program, generously updated for the time of corona here.

Power analysis. Where does power lie in institutions? Where are the six categories of resources available? Looking at business recovery, for example, I hear no single clue that business wants to move on low-cost labor. The organizational definition of inertia is that the future will continue as the past unless and until acted upon by an organized force. That organized force would be labor, pressing to nudge the giant boulder of business from its downhill path.

Collaboration over go-it-alone leaders. Time to trim the feathers of those who would wing it, tame the biome of the “gut” reflex, and park the moon shot. Complex crises call for collaborative responses that fully acknowledge complexity. To be useful in a pandemic, the individual takes a backseat, and collaboration takes over.

Decision Cats over Data Cowards. City fascination with data and metrics will continue with different emphasis. Purveyors of the Smart City somehow convinced cities that technology is the solution, yet still can’t organize beyond a prosaic Beta traffic light test. The shift towards Big Data sets in health, nutrition, and public access to resources will continue. Data cowards are those who insist on waiting for incontrovertible proof via clear evaluation metrics before making any decision. The Covid19 crisis is likely to demonstrate the benefit of an 80/20 rule, to act once data makes 80% certain, as long as the do-no-harm rule is applied too. Applying gumption, guts, and grit, decision cats get on with it and get to effective action. Here we see health care workers, first responders, dynamic mayors, and governors leading in cities in crisis. Where exponential curves are too steep to surf, these citizens, managers, and leaders revert to what they know best, tried-and-true strategic planning. The difference is rapid iteration and regular adjustment to the updated situation. It is as if decision cats lay short classic linear project-management tangents on the curve. Iterated decisions quickly re-lay a new linear tangent to simulate adaptively surfing the exponential curve of change.

A Change Agent’s Assets

One can’t escape the self-help article without a handy list of tools and to-dos. I succumb.

On the arts. All of the arts are relevant for complex, intractable, and unknown challenges.

Only the poets know it. Who can really know all the dimensions of a city? Only the poets have come close.

Literature. Tom Gilmore shared the unknown through a Salman Rushdie novel at CCC. An architect at work in organizational psychology taught literature of a threatened fiction writer from India, persuasive of the multiplicity of change paradigms required for new, unknown phenomena. A medical doctor’s undergraduate literature and medicine course covers pandemic novels from Ibsen through Camus’ “Le Peste.” [22]

Photography. Without documentary and street photography, we would not understand the city. Photographing the city opens the person to wonder and spirit that can become a form of enlightenment. [23]

The Art of Conversation from two meters away is in resurgence. [24]

The city demands to be walked. To be effective, one must know the city intimately, care for it, love it, over many years, and walk it to know it. Talk with others who love it. See its history in its bones and remnants.

Breakthrough: We are experiencing punctuated equilibrium in complex adaptive natural living systems — our cities.

  • Punctuated equilibrium happens under a unique nexus of change conditions.
  • Punctuated equilibrium happens after a long period of pressure for change.
  • Like fruit too long on the vine, pressure for change without change over a long time implies not only ripeness for change, but over-ripeness for change: things have been too long without change. Good healthcare, decent wages, a stuck minimum wage, a venture-capital system of investing in wants over needs, a concentration of wealth at the top versus the erosion of ownership of companies among those who produce the wealth, an exploitative innovation ecosystem that — by purpose, design, and profit objectives — squeezes the earnings of those who do the work.
  • An over-ripeness example is an overdue comeuppance for irresponsible politics
  • Efficiency starves redundancies needed for resilience
  • Believe in government; pay your taxes (we invest in us)
  • Punctuated equilibrium: the cap on a turbulent system, bursts. POP! That’s where we are now.

If you read this far, you made it over the dune and down the sandy slip-face of the change-agent coast in a community that favors a reread over a quick read. The sweat of your experience and mettle can contribute to cities forging futures for all. Please let me know what you are doing. I invite you to take and use what’s here, and to share your perspectives and tools.

Editor's Note: We invite you to contribute. Send us your piece on change to [email protected]



Mike Staresinic

Mike is a leader in international affairs, democratic governance, and organizational development. He helps those advancing change in rapidly changing countries worldwide. Mike studied at Penn State, HEC Paris, Oxford (UK), and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Masters of Science in Consulting and Coaching for Change.



[1] Bob Dylan lyric about the pain and agony of change. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PGfm6KE_pg. I wish I coined “The Great Infection,” but unearthed citations for this pandemic, Hookworm, and a 1683 reference to the plague.

[2] Hokusai’s The Wave https://www.artic.edu/artworks/24645/under-the-wave-off-kanagawa-kanagawa-oki-nami-ura-also-known-as-the-great-wave-from-the-series-thirty-six-views-of-mount-fuji-fugaku-sanjurokkei

[3]With respect to “Surfing the Edge of Chaos” by Pascale, Milleman and Gioja https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/127153/surfing-the-edge-of-chaos-by-richard-t-pascale-mark-millemann-and-linda-gioja/

[4] 3,292,966, according to https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ on April 30, 2020.

[5] Where are our ideas? More than fifty Change Leader members and mentors have written for our community and the public

[6] Among many excellent books on city transformations, Don Carter’s Remaking Post-Industrial Cities offers comparative case studies of Bilbao, Buffalo, Detroit, Liverpool, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Rotterdam, Ruhr Region, Turin. Routledge, 2016. https://www.routledge.com/Remaking-Post-Industrial-Cities-Lessons-from-North-America-and-Europe/Carter/p/book/9781138899292

[7] Prof. Luis Von Ahn was recruited from Guatemala in a worldwide competition for talent. He created ReCaptcha and DuoLingo — tech companies that employ well over 1000 computer scientists.

[8] I founded the City50 Project to help cities in transformation share experiences in planning for adaptive futures. I devise and employ tools from our common backgrounds in complexity, adaptive methods, and civic participation. [9] This is a description of what is occurring, not advocacy for this shift of emphasis.

[10] “Gears” are classic project management topics of people, time, and money: this is how city governments are built to react. Municipal governments keep the public safe, pick up the trash, and pave streets.

[11] Consolidating notes of news articles covering city budgets.

[12] Sandy prompted the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org to launch the Resilient Cities Initiative. https://www.100resilientcities.org

[13] New York has endured recent shocks in each category: conflict, economy, climate, and public health: 9/11, the Great Recession, Hurricane Sandy, and global Covid19 pandemic epicenter, respectively.

[14] https://blogs.worldbank.org/sustainablecities/urban-density-not-enemy-coronavirus-fight-evidence-china, among papers defending density, and “coronavirus has caused some to question the validity and safety of population density and transit. But the real culprits lie in crowding, poverty, pollution, and other socioeconomic factors.”

[15] My change practice is in the “breakthrough” of equilibrium in the complex adaptive living systems that are cities and nations. The scope and underpinnings of those concepts are beyond this paper and are limited to the description in this paragraph.

[16] An arguable point. Debate is welcome. When will attention fade? This is my WAG based on work in large systems.

[17] not least Brasilia, Ankara, Budapest, Beijing, Belgrade, London, elsewhere

[18] Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, sad to include the Administration in Washington among authoritarians by behavior, underway at the time of this article. See Freedom House https://freedomhouse.org/country/united-states on the erosion of US democratic institutions.

[19] For background on the dynamics of petro-authoritarianism and oil prices, numerous articles at the Journal of Democracy https://www.journalofdemocracy.org and Foreign Affairs https://www.foreignaffairs.com. Both sources may be held up to debate: the journal for its unabashed pro-democracy and human rights stance; and Foreign Affairs for a long-standing pro-US editorial policy and a pro-establishment emphasis. Arabian Gulf capitals, Moscow and Caracas, Lagos rose on rising oil prices. Their fortunes decline with the fortunes of oil, although their futures are not linked in a direct time relationship to oil futures.

[20] Science Technology Engineering and Math

[21] Change agent asset “Murphology” was brought to the Change Leaders by Jerry Ravetz circa 2012.

[22] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/the-plague-perfectly-captures-the-risk-in-returning-to-normal

[23] https://medium.com/@NickTurpin/street-photography-feel-the-force-339cabd6edbc

[24] a la Theodore Zeldin who has engaged CCC and the Change Leaders over two decades