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How Organizations Achieve Hard-to-Imagine Results in Uncertain and Volatile Times


15 min read
9 take-aways
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John Kotter calls for urgent broad-based business and social change led by the many, not the few.

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In this call to action, John Kotter and his co-authors Vanessa Akhtar and Gaurav Gupta argue that the rapid, constant pace of change means ending the current era in business and society, and beginning anew. Today’s VUCA world – an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – brings new catastrophes daily. The authors point out that measures like the World Uncertainty Index have risen sharply over the past few decades, that the 2020 pandemic represents just another in a series of massive disruptions over the past century or so, and that these events will only accelerate. Thus, in their view, millions of people across society must lead changes to save civilization.


Change pervades global business and society, but few firms or nations adapt quickly enough.

From 1960 to 2020, the number of US patents quintupled. The iPhone passed 50 million users in its first three months. Firms that made it to the S&P 500 Index once stayed on it for an average of 30 years; today they last about 17 years.

The pace of change now proves so fast that the current era of business and government may well have reached an end. The scale of change and disruption in the economy, and throughout industry, is driving leaders to make dramatic internal changes to keep pace. However, human nature and the design of most organizations resist change and reduce its trajectory, leaving the rate and scale of change in most organizations and governments insufficient. Leadership must come from more people and at all levels of organizations and society.

When change does not occur fast enough or deeply enough, organizations aren’t the only ones to suffer. Globally, pandemics, climate change and other dangers threaten future generations. Slow, good-enough organizational change is no longer enough. Small, incremental...

About the Authors

Renowned change and leadership guru John Kotter teaches at Harvard Business School. Dr. Vanessa Akhtar specializes in sports psychology; Gaurav Gupta assists leaders worldwide with change efforts.

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