How to Screw Up Change

by Christopher Meyer on 03/16/2017

TrumpNew leaders have an opportunity to drive change.  What we’re seeing on the national stage is a lesson in change leadership that not only challenges the status quo; it is an abject lesson in how not to lead change.

Trump’s emotional appeal worked well for securing the mandate to change but it’s killing him in execution.  By relying purely on positional power without a change strategy, he’s demonstrating what happens when you wing it.

I’ve gathered rules of thumb for change leaders from mentors, clients and students.  If Trump’s more successful than I expect, I’ll need to re-think them but until then, here are a few that Trump’s ignoring.

1.  Stay alive

Trump’s thin skin, emotional tweets and bullying approach makes enemies out of who might be friends.  Dissing anyone who has a different perspective is not only offensive, it transforms change leaders into targets.  The steady drip of leaks is not a sign of love.

2.  Avoid walking uphill

You can climb mountains or walk around them in the valleys.  Choosing replacing and repealing Obamacare put Trump head-to-head with the Democrats and approximately 20 million enrolled people.  Alternatively, Trump could have selected infrastructure which would be much harder for Democrats to oppose.

3.  Don’t use one when two could do it

If change is your product, building market share is your goal.  Growing share beyond early adopters is essential for any change to gain critical momentum and achieve escape velocity.  Relying on repetitive campaign rallies to excite the already committed base doesn’t expand the market.

4.  Informal, cultural routines can kill you

Private sector leaders frequently deride those in the public sector as slow moving bureaucrats.  They are right because running a public organization is fundamentally different from running a private business.  Democracy is not efficient but like capitalism, it’s the best we’ve got.

The first job for any change leader is to scrutinize the forces that hold the current state in place.  Don’t think for a minute that formal authority matters as much as the invisible cultural norms.  Cultural change doesn’t happen by fiat.

5.  Change needs dedicated resources…and a plan

In practice, change is usually added involuntarily onto already full plates.  The rookie mistake is to just get started over relying on the goal’s importance instead of mapping out a strategy.  To make change at scale, that plan needs resources: people, time and money.  Would you try to remove and replace your firms’ customer relationship management system with a slogan?

Speed for Success

Some have suggested that Trump is being daring and decisive effectively following Facebook’s mantra of move fast and break things.  Problem is, that Facebook abandoned that mantra in 2014.

“We used to have this famous mantra…What we realized over time is that it wasn’t helping us move faster because we had to slow down to fix these bugs and it wasn’t improving our speed.”

Change leaders go slow at the start to finish fast.

Are You Pivoting…or Rotating?

February 23, 2016

If you’ve been anywhere near a startup in the last three years, you’ve heard about pivoting. A pivot is just as it sounds: a deliberate change in business model and/or product direction hoping to hit the market sweet spot.  Popularized by Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup, the underlying assumption is that finding that sweet […]

Read the full article →

Surviving in The Gig Economy:
Don’t Be An Ant

December 4, 2015

“There’s something happening here, What it is ain’t exactly clear” For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield, 1967 Ravinder drives for Uber two nights a week in Los Angeles.  On a farm in rural Poland, Peter tests computer code to complete a programming job he bid for on Odesk.  Across the valley, Peter’s girlfriend wraps penguin […]

Read the full article →

A Band of Angels Innovation:
The Special Interest Group

October 15, 2015

Angel investing starts with an initial contact, followed by screening that leads to a pitch and perhaps a deal.  There’s an underlying tension in the process.  Entrepreneurs want the angels’ money and to get back to growing their business as quickly as possible. Angels want the entrepreneur’s time to understand the business and investment potential. Most […]

Read the full article →

Before You Pitch Me, Ask Yourself:
Is Your Company a Me-Too or a Fast Follower?

September 2, 2015

Last week, I listened to seven startups pitches at the Band of Angels Deal Selection committee wondering at least three times, hadn’t I heard this deal before? Do customers crave another user friendly wearable that counts steps, heartbeats and measures sleep quality better than Apple Watch, FitBit, and Garmin? Is now the right time, to […]

Read the full article →

Clone ‘Em: Bring Instant Leadership to Your Company

August 6, 2015

Clone ‘Em Leads Apple App Store Rankings Cupertino, CA (AP) August 6, 2015 Latest App Store rankings released this morning reveal that Clone ‘Em, the Leadership Cloning App has risen to first place in the popular Fast Growth category.  Leveraging data from mobile and wearables, Clone ‘Em uses advanced algorithms to prompt new leaders when […]

Read the full article →


June 29, 2015

President Obama discussed with comedian Mark Maron how the ups and downs of six years in office had made him a better president (paraphrased below). As you get older, you might slow down or not jump as high as you used to.  But I know what I’m doing and I’m fearless.  This is not pretending […]

Read the full article →

Decimal Point Thinking:
Good for Operators; Dangerous for Innovation

June 19, 2015

Winter in Detroit is rarely pretty.  Pristine snowfalls quickly turn to grey slush that outwits the best pedestrian avoidance maneuvers.  Once that happens, your feet are cold and clammy for the next three hours. It was on such a day that a new product team was presenting their “comeback” car design to a panel of […]

Read the full article →

The Day After: Apple’s PayPal 2.0

September 10, 2014

I wrote yesterday’s piece before Apple’s product announcement.  While crafting a response to an email comment I received this morning, it struck me that a post-introduction piece might be in order. In short, the iPhone 6/6 Plus will cover profits, the Watch will spur innovation and Apple Pay is the potential game changer. Apple’s Passion […]

Read the full article →

Apple New Product Introduction:
Welcome to the Planet of the Ape

September 9, 2014

In a couple of hours, Apple executives will take to the stage.  And millions will be watching because part of our love for Apple is being co-conspirators in the OMG introduction process. While reverence for Steve Jobs will keep “incredibly insane” product descriptions off the table, expect to hear the word “amazing” more than once. […]

Read the full article →

Zen Start-up Lessons:
What Nest Labs Can Teach Entrepreneurs

February 14, 2014

Nest Labs makes a smarter, Internet- connected thermostat that sells for two to three times conventional models.  Most recently, they’ve introduced a similarly empowered and priced smoke detector.  You might ask if you need a smarter thermostat or smoke detector?  You’ll have a chance to answer that for yourselves in a moment. Nest was founded […]

Read the full article →