By Robert E. Quinn
In the movie Dead Poets Society, a teacher challenges and simultaneously supports a student who believes he cannot write a poem. Because of the teacher’s unusual efforts, the student, in real time, crafts a poem of resonance and power.
When I described this scene to a class of executives, this observable transformation impressed them. I then called their attention to the way the pupils watched the transformation of their fellow student. We all agreed they too would have been transformed. The culture of the prep school class would have changed in an instant.
Finally, I asked about the impact on the teacher. Everyone believed the teacher would never forget that profound moment. We concluded that he probably pondered it long after, learned from it, and became even more transformational. Everyone involved in the transformational moment acquired increased capacity.
I presented two other accounts. In the first, a woman engaged in a transformational act of influence for the very first time. Again we could see the same wide impact. And again we agreed that she would ponder and learn from the experience long after.
The final account comprised a number of transformational acts in the life of Gandhi. We saw that there was a difference between his experiences and the woman who was new to such acts. Because of Gandhi’s many experiments and experiences, he had developed a template for transformation. He could draw on that template to walk into nearly any situation and have transformational impact.
For most people, witnessing a transformational moment has a dramatic impact. The interventions seem spontaneous and unprecedented.
But it’s possible to design a framework that works almost every time—a framework that allows for both individual and cultural transformation. The notion that someone can internalize a template that prompts repeated transformations in multiple situations is seldom discussed. It is a topic that deserves attention from both practice and research.
What have you witnessed—or caused—that transformed one person or a group of people on the spot? Could the process be replicated?