My thoughts on change and adoption – Numbers, Stories, Momentum

I appreciated Dr. Snowden’s thoughts on Complex Adaptive Systems, but the Q&A at the end is where I had my “a-ha!” moment for how and where we can initiate meaningful change. In response to a question addressing bureaucracies (1:01:40 in the video) , he responded that:

It’s a lot easier to get people to change if you have numbers backed up by stories. Numbers on their own don’t motivate people to change and can be explained away. Stories on their own aren’t objective. Put the two together it’s persuasive.

He then gives an example of how taken together numbers and stories were enough to convince a stubborn military commander that they had taken “Six Sigma” methodologies too far, and that it had resulted in problems that needed addressing

These factors were convincing because together they paint a credible, clear picture of systemic problems and/or of potential paths forward. It’s a tactic used across many kinds of systems to institute change, ranging from environments as ordered as the military as described above, but is very relevant for changes in higher education as well. Sales organizations rely on stories and numbers to make promises in regards to the value add for institutions adopting their technologies and systemic adjustments, and if and when that vision is caught can lead to purchases.

But real systemic change, especially in the form of meaningful adoption of new technologies and their ensuing procedural and conceptual adjustments, doesn’t get rolling with only the vision for change or even with organizational excitement for changes. Many of the other factors described in some of the other readings revolve around a critical third element that precipitates meaningful change – momentum.

Momentum initiated by experimentation, joint conversations, funding, mandates, existential threats, incentives, and actionable leadership. If persuasion and a credible vision are an orienting first step, then the impetus to beget motion and to keep moving as things are going both right and wrong would be the next.



From Kristen Eshleman:

Combining Complexity Theory with Narrative Research (YouTube video)

Universities as Complex Enterprises (Introduction, Ch. 11-12)

Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning


From David Soo:

A Future Higher Education Ecosystem

Blog posts:

      1. First in the World:
      2. EQUIP:
      3. Current innovation challenge:

Skim the Higher Ed National Ed Tech Plan(

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