True change can’t take place until your C-suite and employees know the difference between transformational change and informational change. Learn more about them.

Businesses must embrace change to keep up with the ever-evolving world we live in. In my last article, “The 5 Steps of Change in Business,” I discussed that change must start with people personally, before the broader scope of the business.  The motivation has to come from within them.  From a learning perspective, many people don’t understand how transformational change really works. How can one acquire knowledge and/or skills through practice, education or instruction and have some confidence that it will work when demanded? How does one know they are not operating from an inflated ego?  Let’s take a closer look.

There is a difference between informational change (head knowledge/accessing information) and transformational change (replace/unlearn in order to relearn/learn one thing with another). Many people, especially our information-water-logged millennials, have trouble putting their finger on what transformational change really means.

Informational change, or learning, is the accessing and accumulation of data, information and knowledge. We live in a world where the answers to most things are at the tip of our fingers through a Google search. If we want to know literary commentary, the latest news, the history of whatever or where your company is, competitively, it’s most likely our phone can give us that information in seconds. The additional information may be useful and even a requirement for strategy, goal setting or a tactical decision. Affectations may abound. One appears to be informed and intelligent. It is tantalizing to be perceived as an expert so effortlessly.  But, in matters of the heart (human relationships), things are not that simple.

Transformational change, or learning, is the subjective internalizing of information and experience into insights, and the ability to discern and self-reflect which aspects of that knowledge are true, morally good, enduring and applicable to one’s life, career or a decision. Applying the knowledge by displacing something old with something new is transformational change. It deepens one’s understanding of relationships and how they affect our life. It’s wisdom (intuition) gained from experience. Psychologist  and retired Harvard professor Robert Kegan says transformational learning occurs when we develop the ability to step back (objectify) and reflect on something that used to be hidden or taken for granted and make decisions about it. He explains, “that this learning happens when someone changes not just the way he behaves, and feels but the way he knows – not just what he knows but the way he knows it.” We begin to discern our own self-defining filters and what new information confirms or disconfirms our own narrative. It is in the act of disconfirmation (information that is contrary to one’s current perspective/point of view) that anxiety and discomfort surface. These are healthy indicators that one is in transformational change and empowerment is for real. The courage to be vulnerable and to model new behaviors (individual), are demands for effective leadership.

We see both of these types of change/learning processes in the workplace, but only transformational change/learning will bring about lasting results. But we often see more emphasis on informational change/learning. It is cleverly nuanced and slickly packaged to be labeled effective change and learning, but it is a far cry from transformation.

People binge-learn facts for business. For example, what’s the best way to bring change into your business? That too is at your fingertips, as a good Google search will yield a multitude of results some from very reputable sources. While this information is helpful, and our information age is fantastic, information does not equal transformation. Being informed is not the same as discernment. This is where wisdom and experience replace head knowledge. And this is the stepping point from where true change must take place.

A new phrase has caught my attention: manic superficiality. There’s enough information today that the C- suite are bound by informational overload. That is not deep learning but a over capacitation of data bordering on cosmetic. If we can fill our minds with facts, there’s no room for true meaning making, and therefore we often apply a Band-Aid instead of cleaning out the wound.

Sometimes when a company promotes or brings in an executive with new ideas to institute change, it’s possible he or she may be suffering from a falsification of ability, and an unfounded emotional commitment. Such developmental issues have been aided and abetted by an unrelenting information binge and social media frenzy characterized as manic superficiality. If we pack our heads with enough information we think we will know how to handle all situations – leadership, management, strategy, goals and plans  – but that information also keeps us from making real change.

It is akin to a reality TV show where a faux celebrity (being someone you are not) is embodied by a lead performer in his or her own fictionalized life story.  Can that executive take the information he or she has obtained, and apply it to a real life situtation? Yes, the company may need to formulate a change strategy, but until there’s an application of insight and discernment, it won’t happen with efficacy. Information is not paramount with applied knowledge and experience. The emotional competences of self-refection and self–awareness will fortify the learning pursuit to know your own limitations. Humbleness and empathy begin to emanate.

True change takes the information we have obtained and moves deeper, through one’s own learning and on to transformation. The willingness to examine one’s own learning assumptions invokes us. Aldous Huxley said, “Experience is not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens to you.” It is incumbent for leadership to model transformational change. This is not a head-trip.

In a recent interview with CEO Dave Greig from Tarus Products, Sterling Heights, Michigan, one can comprehend the depth of transformational change that is taking place with him, his team and his company. Watch the video.

John Quinlan’s recently published book Tau Bada: The Quest and Memoir of a Vulnerable Man is available on Amazon as both e-book and print. See the video introduction to the e-book here.