An Interview with David A. Shore, PhD

by Jackie Cooper, Management Roundtable

Dr. David A. Shore Harvard University and  University of Monterrey (Mexico)

David A. Shore, PhD
Harvard University
University of Monterrey (Mexico)

When it comes to Open Innovation, perhaps the most critical success factor is the ability to change. We hear it all the time — ‘change the game,’ ‘move the needle,’ ‘transform the culture.’  But old habits die hard and even small changes are difficult. Multiply individual resistance by the number of people involved in an OI effort, and it’s no wonder innovation gets stuck.

Since this obstacle is so pervasive, we decided to call in the big guns to see what might be done. We spoke with David A. Shore, an internationally renowned expert on change management who has written numerous books on the topic, including his most recent Launching and Leading Change Initiatives in Heath Care Organizations: Managing Successful Projects (2014). During two decades as a Harvard faculty member, Shore also founded and directed the flagship executive programs – Forces of Change: New Strategies for the Evolving Marketplace; The Trust Initiative; and the Certificate Program on Launching and Leading Successful Change Initiatives.

After talking with him, we decided he would be an excellent addition to our CoDev faculty. His insights and implementation guidelines may be just the ‘prescription’ for what ails Open Innovation. And since leading change is such a huge concern, I decided to also interview him for our Open Innovation Leadership Series.

Here is what he shared:

JC: We often hear that collaboration is hampered by cultural issues more than anything – and by NIH in particular. What would you advise leaders to do to overcome this and create a more open mindset? And what if the partners with whom you are collaborating are stuck in their ways?

DAS: “Not invented here” is frequently code for what might be considered the most dangerous phrase in innovation – “We’ve always done it that way.” These six words speak volumes. What we need to understand is that for many stakeholders, it is less about your desired ecosystem and more about their required mecosystem. What I advise leaders is authorship leads to ownership. I then lead them through a breakthrough open innovation model – that includes the Kaizen Town Hall Forum – which places your key stakeholders at the center of the mecosystem and allows them to help refine and author the new innovation you envision.

Also, keep in mind that NIH is not necessarily ‘wrong.’ Questioning whether an innovation is right for your organization at a given point in time is actually wise. Sometimes an organization fights off change the way antibodies fight off antigens or unhealthy invaders. It’s better to recognize an ill-fated change early and take a different transformative path that people can stay on. Change is not without pain, and therefore it should have clear rewards at the end.

JC: What do you mean by mecosystem exactly? Isn’t the idea of open innovation to be less about ‘me’ and more about ‘we’? Also, tell me more about the Kaizen Town Hall Forum.

DAS: The me in mecosystem refers to the needs of all the stakeholders, both internal and external. It really is a collective me. People want to feel they contribute and they want rewards – not necessarily financial but a feeling of creation, of making a meaningful difference. Kaizen Town Hall Forum is a powerful strategy I regularly employ with breakthrough change initiatives. Kaizen execution includes identifying opportunities, narrowing the focus, and prioritizing optional paths. In the Kaizen Town Hall Forum, we bring stakeholders together in a structured way to build the will for change. A central objective is to make people uncomfortable with the status quo and excited about the future state. During the Kaizen Forum, there must be a strong effort to engage all stakeholders — to solicit their ideas and gain their buy-in.  This authorship leads to ownership, and from that point forward there is an understanding — “we are all in.” For change to happen everyone must really want it. They must be all in.

…authorship leads to ownership, and from that point forward there is an understanding — “we are all in.” For change to happen everyone must really want it. They must be all in.


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(Note: to read more about this process, see David Shore’s article Launching, Leading and Realizing Benefits from Change Initiatives: A 21st Century Skill.”)  >>>

JC: In the workshop you will be leading at CoDev you refer to the innovation curve…can you describe that a bit more?

DAS: If someone was diagnosed with a disease, determining the specific type of disease will profoundly inform the treatment that follows. We find the same to be true with change initiatives, they too come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and intensities and determining these informs all that follows. Indeed, a mismanaged start is often the critical factor in an initiative’s failure. We need to start smart and this means identifying where the initiative is along innovation’s curve.

JC: In your book on Launching and Leading Change Initiatives you outline a methodology called Project Activation Management System (or PAMS). How does this methodology apply to change initiatives versus projects in general? And how does it help avoid failure?

DAS: In developing the PAMS model we did a meta-analysis of why projects failed and baked in solutions or created workarounds as risk mitigation strategies. We also linked project management with managing change. So what I think is unique about the model is that it bridges the gap between project management and change management and introduces considerations currently not in either. I am also very clear about the fact that projects are the engines of change, while project management is the enabler of change. The PAMS ‘Bill of Rights’ outlines the key action steps.


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JC: What do you consider a major change event? How do you begin and how do you sustain significant changes?

DAS: A “major change” is an idea, a paradigm, or a strategy that positively and profoundly disrupts the status quo. In the final analysis, there are very few disruptive innovations such as going from chemical photography to digital photography. While a good number of innovations begin as breakthrough change, far fewer end up as such (and that’s OK). The important thing is to recognize there are micro and macro changes. Innovation requires effort that goes above and beyond. People need to stay engaged a long time and must see return on their personal investment. This really does depend on leadership – and there must be a strategic plan with change initiatives and rewards clearly identified.

JC: We have heard the statement, “To change the people, you need to change the people.” The implication is people can’t really change. What are your thoughts? Is this true?

DAS: Well this really depends on how you read the statement. The solution is not to switch out the people, because if the culture remains the same, you will be faced with the identical problem 90 days from now. In working with a wide range of organizations throughout the world, I have reached the conclusion that it is often not the change that people resist, it is the way organizations manage it. This is precisely what our seven critical success factors are all about.

I can’t emphasize enough — strong leadership is absolutely front and center. Change initiatives are not the role of a project manager. Leading change is the role of the Chief Innovation Officer and/or CTO, among others. Boards of directors are often involved as well. As for individuals, sometimes you do need to make a few changes. Profession, industry, and length of time employed are all variables in a person’s receptiveness to change, but in the right environment with the right reward system and strategy, you would be amazed at what can be achieved.


David A. Shore will be leading a half-day workshop Preparing People and Organizations for the Challenge of Change: Seven Critical Success Factors on February 9, 2015 at CoDev 2015 in Scottsdale AZ.

Contact information:

David A. Shore, Harvard University email:

Jackie Cooper is Executive Director and Chief Content Officer at Management Roundtable, Waltham MA. She may be reached at


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