Car Chases and Org Change

Why Did I Watch?

Last evening I sat down to watch TV and there was breaking live news story of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) chasing a white pickup truck. The suspect had been changing lanes erratically.  When the CHP attempted to pull the truck over on an LA freeway the driver had fled off to surface streets.  I invested 30 minutes in watching this play out live, what’s up with that?  I have to admit it was annoying and mesmerizing at the same time, I couldn’t bring myself to change the channel, I didn’t want to miss the ending.

For those of you interested in the result. Here is a 3 minute news video including the PIT maneuver being superbly executed by the CHP.

So, why would I stay tuned?  I mean, I’m not big on reality TV. As I reflect on it, it was the unknown ending that kept me hooked.  No one could know what the outcome would be.  The driver’s actions were not scripted. As the driver was (slowly) navigating the winding streets of Silver Lake, the broadcasters were speculating.  Perhaps the driver was lost and didn’t know the streets and therefore kept going in circle. Perhaps this was the driver’s home and he or she would pull into a driveway at some point. Perhaps the driver actually was familiar with the streets and therefore was not ending up on dead ends. Broadcasters speculated about what the CHP could or would do. When would they do the PIT maneuver, could they do it in a residential area?

As I watched and listened I was making up my own speculations about what would happen, based on my own stories. I was commenting on what I thought of the speculations, either agreeing or disagreeing based on what my stories were telling me was possible or probable. Perhaps even secretly hoping for something spectacular to happen so I could say I watched it live.

Isn’t this the same thing we do everyday with all that is breaking live before us? But perhaps in most cases the outcome is well scripted. Take for example a new initiative or plan for change in an organization. We all compare and contrast to the stories we have about similar changes. We speculate about what will or can happen. If the outcome is well scripted we may easily lose interest, in effect we change the channel to something more interesting. And don’t we often hope for some spectacular disaster to happen?

We each have our repository of stories that we call upon to assist us to make meaning of the present and speculate or bet about the future. Curiosity about the history and stories from which people are making meaning is helpful. It can help reframe the conversations about change. Knowing that people will compare and contrast to what has happened in the past and what they think will happen is a clue to understanding and attending to the conversations that matter. Rather than see the speculation as resistance, reframe it as a natural meaning making process, and engage in that speculation, bringing forth the multitude of possibilities.   Ford and Ford talk about reframing the concept of “resistance to change” and being aware that you are speaking into the background conversations in organizations. (Ford, J. D., L. W. Ford, et al. (2008). “Resistance to change: The rest of the story.” Academy of Management Review 33(2): 362-377.)

Back to the car chase and what does that have to do with change in organizations. For me, I wonder what it would be like to be able to reframe organizational change such that the outcome is not scripted and instead everyone wants to watch it live and be able to say I was there when it actually happened.




  1. Great story, Joan, well told. And an interesting speculation in your final paragraph.

    “For me”, to mirror your phraseology, I would say that outcomes (as opposed to planned outputs) are not scripted. And can never be scripted. They emerge from the widespread interplay of the very sense-making-cum-action-taking conversations that you allude to in your story. And this means that, more than “watching it live,” people are unavoidably participants in – and co-creators of – those outcomes. It’s just that change is rarely framed in those terms.

    Cheers, Chris

    • Chris – Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I agree that the interplay of the conversations co-creates the outcomes. A power much greater than simply watching things unfold. Yet so much of the dominant discourse is around “managed” change with planned outcomes. Cheers – Joan

  2. Joan,

    Your blog models your comments: I read it from beginning to end, riveted to the screen and wondering what would be the outcome:)

    What spoke most to me is the fact that I view a situation, prejudge it and then operate as if the outcome has already been reached. And become I am a fairly standard “human being”, the judgments that come up first are not necessarily the most positive ones.

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