The "productive state of disequilibrium"

Change occurs in a multitude of ways. It is the goal of any proactive and productive person to change for the better and focus on constant improvement. The ability to enact change is paramount to forming better habits and adaptive solutions to any possible issue.

“Comfort is the enemy of progress.” – P.T. Barnum

Whether you are an individual seeking to alter your life for the better, or a leader who wishes to change the currently ineffective actions or habits of your team/organization, these points can be form-fitted to any person who wishes for change to occur.

Today, we will be discussing what a “productive state of disequilibrium” is and how we can best make use of it within our lives or business. The mere fact that there can be a productive state of disequilibrium sounds preposterous, but in theory, it occurs anytime there is an effective change within an organization, whether that change is for better or worse.

What is The “Productive State of Disequilibrium?”

The productive state of disequilibrium occurs when a change is enforced among an organization with the correct balance between discomfort and overwhelm. Here is what this means:

Discomfort: (In behavioral/change management) The necessary state of a person or organization to dismantle beliefs or habits and form new ones.

Overwhelm: (Also in behavioral/change management) The point at which change becomes too much to handle within an organization, leading to a loss of the overall vision, employee commitment, and team performance. (i.e. Burning Out)

The same theory occurs in our personal lives as well. Fear is often what keeps us back from changing for the better. Fear stems from our personal disbelief in our own ability to handle the situations that life throws at us. Ultimately, discomfort is necessary for change to occur, by accepting and embracing fear and the possibilities of improvement.

The productive state of disequilibrium exists between discomfort and overwhelm. At this point of balance, changes and adaptations can be made quickly within an organization. Not to mention, all organizations that wish to remain relevant and competitive in today’s rapidly changing world must find ways to embrace and implement adaptations to structure and internal behaviors as well.

Ultimately, think of this state of disequilibrium like exercising your muscles. In order to grow stronger, you must put yourself through just the right amount of strain and discomfort (lifting weights, for example). Too much strain and you will incur injury and the inability to change much in the near future!

It is the same within your teams. As a leader, it is your job to enforce new and different behaviors within your teams that can keep the team on track, and ultimately, the organization competitive.

How to Balance The Dichotomy

Being a leader is all about balance. You have to find the balance between leading and following, planning and acting, discipline and forgiveness, mentoring or terminating, etc.

The balance between discomfort and overwhelm is a fine one, but must be understood in order to make quick and proactive changes within your organization. Doing so is the very definition of “Change Management!”

So, how can you begin to balance the dichotomy between discomfort and overwhelm among your teams? Follow some of these steps and you will gain insight and knowledge on how to do exactly that!

Explain The Importance of Change

Change is often resisted until the greater good is made clear as a result of our altered actions.
Change is often resisted until the greater good is made clear as a result of our altered actions.

I’ve said it before on my “About” page! Ultimately, explaining the importance behind changing a certain action is a great way to breed commitment within your teams and/or organizations. Commitment is a result of a mutual understanding of the importance behind an action, compliance is doing something simply because “the boss told me to.”

Commitment is beneficial because it enforces a certain behavior whether the “boss” is present or not!

For example, let’s say that my job is to flip a switch. Flipping that switch will ultimately turn on the lights of the office and allow us to perform our daily duties and benefit the organization and ourselves (it’s a rudimentary example but stay with me). If I failed to recognize the bigger picture, I would simply come in and do my job to flip the switch, whether or not the lights came on.
But, if I recognized the importance and reasoning behind WHY I flip the switch, I could investigate and turn the lights on regardless of whether the switch activates them, and ultimately, despite whether there is a manager present to enforce my action.

Your duties are no different. As a leader, you must constantly enforce the importance behind the actions of the team. Doing so will increase commitment, performance, and job satisfaction to boot! There is a constantly increasing number of workers who state that they simply want to do something that matters, that they want to recognize the importance of their work.

Ultimately, explaining the “why”, as Simon Sinek calls it, is imperative to creating a team committed to change and better performance.

Start Slowly When Implementing Change

Some people are blessed with the ability to alter their habits almost immediately, most people cannot. In an organization with various moving parts, personalities, ideals, and diversity, it is almost impossible to create change within an instant. Doing so will likely push you onto the “overwhelm” side of the dichotomy and you will receive pushback from your team/s.

Starting slowly gives all people time to adjust to a newly reformed system or culture within the company. This adjusting time is imperative to team success when you consider the little details that may need to be smoothed out or actions that may need to be delegated which were not considered before.

For example, consider a team that needs to adjust to brand new SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures). Trying to force them all into perfect compliance is a way to breed exactly that, compliance. They act out of fear of repercussions rather than a commitment to success. What happens as a result? they revert back to their old habits when the boss isn’t looking!

Giving people time to adjust means allowing them to find a way to best perform their duties with an understanding of the importance behind their actions. They have the time to ask questions, gather insight, and solve issues that were likely not considered when the SOP’s were being developed. Doing so increases the amount of trust that the employee has for others within the company and the nature of the company to genuinely care about the performance of individuals on the team.

Manage Stress Well

Managing stress is absolutely necessary when creating change within an organization. Some stress is to be expected, but too much can quickly convert to overwhelm and reduced productivity.
Managing stress is absolutely necessary when creating change within an organization. Some stress is to be expected, but too much can quickly convert to overwhelm and reduced productivity.

Many people resist change. Leaders, especially today, don’t have that luxury. You must be committed to constant and continuous improvement in order to be competitive in today’s world. But change comes with stress, and as the leader, it is your duty to manage your own stress as well as the stress of your team.

The best way to monitor stress is by talking to your team members. Ask the following questions to determine if they are overly stressed or ready for more adjustments towards institutional change.

1. Are they taking their breaks?
2. Do they seem busy and satisfied? Or do they seem busy and over-worked?
3. If you asked them, would they be able to relay the importance behind their actions?
4. Are they performing the same duties? Or the updated ones?
5. Does the workload seem to be balanced fairly among people?
6. Are your expectations as a leader realistic based on the team’s current performance?
7. Are they taking their vacation time?
8. Do they attempt new procedures? Or seem to deny them?
9. Are they meeting targets? why or why not?
Here is the best question of all to ask!
10. Is this level of performance sustainable?

The answers to these questions should not only give you the insight into the commitment and compliance spectrum of your team but should also help you diagnose what could be the issue among them.

For example, if they are performing the updated duties, but couldn’t tell you why they are important for organization success, they are likely acting out of compliance and the team performance is unsustainable. If they seem satisfied, but not busy, perhaps they can take on extra challenges! The connections between these questions account for both organizational and individual success.

Here are some quick and simple tips to help reduce stress in the workplace.
1. Set precise and clear goals.
2. Recognize employees for good work.
3. Be flexible in method, but focused on results.
4. Encourage employees to take vacation time/break time.

Implement Support Structures

Surrounding yourself with coaches and teachers provides you with an excellent support structure.
Surrounding yourself with coaches and teachers provides you with an excellent support structure.

Creating an effective support structure is more than simply having people to talk to. A properly implemented support structure means getting concise and clear feedback designed to motivate and aid, not criticize and harm.

Creating a work environment in which people feel safe and secure when asking questions is necessary for developing employee commitment. The ability to ask questions and gain constructive feedback is directly responsible for developing trust and good relationships between leaders and team members.

A good support system should be had among all people within an organization. In exactly the same way that the employees must be able to ask questions, leaders and managers should feel comfortable doing so as well.

For example, when you wash a car, you start at the top so the water can remove dirt all the way to the bottom. Similarly, in a top-down management style, issues can easily start at the top and affect every person on their way down the corporate hierarchy.

Without a proper support system for all people within the organization, issues stemming from miscommunication, misaligned goals, and misunderstanding can easily poison an organization’s performance.

Support systems come in all shapes and sizes, but they normally have a few things in common.

Support systems all:
1. Focus on constructive feedback.
2. Provide information channels to quell curiosity and miscommunication.
3. Provide guidance and help when required.

As a leader, you can manage and/or implement better support structures by taking the following actions.
1. Learn how to coach by focusing on behaviors and commitment as opposed to compliance.
2. Seek out teachers, coaches, or professionals that can aid you within your own personal support system.
3. Encourage others to ask and answer questions in a timely manner (this is often called a “knowledge management system”). For example, at McKinsey Co., there is an unspoken rule that within 24 hours of a request for information from anybody within the organization, you will personally receive a phone call with that information from that person.


Ultimately, the productive state of disequilibrium can be viewed as a “necessary evil” for many within an organization that must change with current trends or technology. It is necessary in the sense that the business world requires constant adaptation and evil in the sense that it willingly procures discomfort.

Keep in mind that although an organization may be forced to change sooner or later, it is the job of leaders at every level to ensure commitment and that the balance between the dichotomy of discomfort and overwhelm is properly managed. Doing so is a recipe for successful and willing implementation of changed personal/team behaviors, something that most business leaders have issues with!

Discomfort should be embraced, changes should be undertaken, and adaptation should be a priority for every modern business that wishes to remain relevant and competitive.

For more blog posts on organizational change and management, click HERE!

For more information on me and my services to your organization, please click HERE!

Thanks for reading! Hopefully, I was able to help you be more productive today!

-Austin Denison


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