Seven Levels of Change

The notes and quotes in this section are from the following book:

Smith, Rolf. The 7 Levels of Change: Create, Innovate and Motivate With the Secrets of the World's Largest Corporations. Arlington, Texas: Summit Books, 1997. ISBN 1-56530-207-9.
This is an outstanding book. These notes will cover the basic outline of what is said... but you will want to get the book and read it in its entirety. The examples and details of explanation are well worth the price.

What "underlies the thinking connected with each level of change [is] the Mindshift Model -- thinking about thinking..." (xi).

Here are the 7 levels of Change:

  1. Effectiveness--Doing the right things
  2. Efficiency--Doing the right things right
  3. Improving--Doing things better
  4. Cutting--Doing away with things
  5. Adapting--Doing things other people are doing
  6. Different--Doing things no one else is doing
  7. Impossible--Doing things that can't be done

Here are the 7 levels of change defined for AT WORK:

Level 1: Effectiveness--Doing the right things

Level 2: Efficiency--Doing the right things right

Level 3: Improving--Doing things better

Level 4: Cutting--Doing away with things

Level 5: Adapting--Doing things other people are doing

Level 6: Different--Doing things no one else is doing

Level 7: Impossible--Doing things that can't be done

Here are the 7 levels of change defined for AT HOME:

Level 1: Effectiveness--Doing the right things

Level 2: Efficiency--Doing the right things right

Level 3: Improving--Doing things better

Level 4: Cutting--Doing away with things

Level 5: Copying--Doing things other people are doing

Level 6: Different--Doing things no one else is doing

Level 7: Impossible--Doing things that can't be done

Here are the 7 levels of change defined for THINKING:

"Each of the 7 Levels of Change has a corresponding mindshift, a change in thinking, that accompanies it. To do different, to make a change, you must first think different" (5). [This might well be called "critical thinking."]

Level 1: Effective thinking

Level 2: Efficient thinking

Level 3: Better thinking, positive thinking

Level 4: Refocused thinking

Level 5: Visual thinking

Level 6: Lateral thinking

Level 7: Imaginative thinking

"Remember, innovation involves doing things different, and to do something different, you must first think different. Before you can think different, you must think about the way you think -- examine your basic thinking processes" (6).

Innovate or Die!

"Today our thinking MUST shift. The world we live in is changing so rapidly that to survive, we must continually change how we see it and how we think about it... being proactive with change--being innovative and striving for continuous improvement--is key to survival and growth in the new millennium. It's "Innovate or Die!"" (9).

"The world we created today has problems which cannot be solved by thinking the way we thought when we created them" (Albert Einstein).

The Magic Number 7

Here are some "other lists that help my clients think out of the box" (15):

Rolf Smith

  1. Noticing: An awareness of different
  2. Openness: The ability to suspend judgment, clear the mind
  3. Playfulness: The ability to play with ideas
  4. Connecting: The ability to make idea-connections
  5. Tension: Continuous divergence-convergence
  6. Quantity: Many different kinds of ideas
  7. Compression: The ability to headline concepts

Gerald Nadler & Shozo Hibino

  1. Every problem is unique
  2. Focus on purpose
  3. Solution-after-next thinking
  4. System-of-problems perspective
  5. Limit information collection
  6. People involvement in the design
  7. Betterment timeline: Continual change

Howard Gardner

  1. Linguistic
  2. Logical-Mathematical
  3. Spatial
  4. Musical
  5. Bodily Kinesthetic
  6. Interpersonal (Others)
  7. Intrapersonal (Self)

Stephen Covey

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win/Win
  5. Seek First to Understand
  6. Synergize: Creative Cooperation
  7. Sharpen the Saw

LEVEL 1: EFFECTIVENESS --Doing the right things

"Imagine yourself on the first day of a new job. Typically, whether you are an executive or a worker on the line, you are highly focused on learning the basics of the job--the "what" that makes up the job. This is fundamental Level 1 change--doing the right things and being effective."

"Level 1 changes are about starting new habits... how things work, rules, roles, and focus" (19).

"..the first law of behavioral psychology: Whatever you reinforce you will get more of. Every time you write down an idea you reinforce the importance of having ideas...

"It takes twenty-one days to establish a new habit or to replace an old habit with a new one--a change" (20).

"Put ideas on your mental agenda. Become a compulsive scribbler. Many highly creative people, inventors, and geniuses in history were known for being compulsive scribblers... By recording ideas and insights, the rate of questions, ideas, and change accelerates" (21).

This practice "can be invaluable if you are looking to grow personally and professionally" (21).

"The trouble is that after changing, some people then stay at Level 1 thinking and doing. They don't move to Level 2--it's too big a change for them. It's easy to recognize people who operate primarily at Level 1. They're detail oriented and task oriented, structured, targeted, and conscientious.. They're strong rule followers and black-and-white thinkers." (23).

LEVEL 2: EFFICIENCY --Doing the right things right

"You begin to focus on "how" to do your job--the efficiencies, saving time and efforts... the changes that result from this type of thinking can make a phenomenal difference... Buttoned-up and on time, [Level 2 thinkers] will have a clean desk... Time is a big driver for Level 2 thinking... on time for meetings... religious about using their time manager" (31).

Use a Day-Timer or time manager. "Write things down, use a priority system... Write your goals in it" (32). Carry it with you at all times and write down every idea you have.

"Another form of Level 2 change is delegating... get help from others, reach outside" (35).

Transition to Level 3... "Level 3 is about moving beyond competency... Level 3 is about improving... move away from the minutiae and look at the big picture" (40).

LEVEL 3: IMPROVING --Doing things better

"The thinking needed at Level 3 is better thinking--thinking that is higher in quality than other thinking. It is thinking that is more useful, suitable, or desirable than thinking that is simply efficient or focused... Level 3 thinking is thinking to understand, learning how to actually listen to other people's ideas, and thinking about what they said. It's probing--thinking about the thinking behind your own and other people's thinking" (44).

"Much of our thinking is governed by what we remember. Remembering provides a baseline for our thoughts and ideas to draw from and build on. Unfortunately, people don't remember things very well because they don't remember much of what they hear very long. After listening to a talk or presentation or conversation, the short three- to five-minute period immediately afterward is the time when your retention is close to 100 percent. That doesn't last long. Within an hour it has dropped to about 30 percent. By the next day it's down to about 10 percent, and after that, it gradually dwindles to almost nothing.

"And what do we do? At the end of a class or talk, we immediately get up and leave, blowing the three- to five-minute window of near 100 percent retention. [The key for students is to review your notes and reinforce the information in your mind immediately after class.]

"Studies have shown, and smart student know, that the first and last things said in a conversation or presentation or class are remembered best" (45).

"When you complete a class, talk, session, or meeting... for three minutes reflect on the notes you've taken and the idea connections... Then write down three new thoughts or ideas beyond your notes. This simple habit can nearly double your retention of material covered.

"Another way to mindshift to better thinking is with questions. Thinking is inspired by questions, both in the person questioned and in the questioner" (48). "[Questions] make us pause and reflect and think about what we are doing. "The important thing," said Einstein, "is never to stop asking questions."

"The great Greek thinker and philosopher Socrates taught by asking questions, and through his questions, directed the focus of hist students' thinking, making them come up with their own answers. The Socratic method can be relearned today as a tool for better thinking" (49).

TRANSITION TO LEVEL 4. "While Levels 1, 2, and 3 are about focus--doing the right thing, doing it right, and finally doing it better--Level 4 is about refocus. Taking a look again... The most natural way to refocus is to begin cutting--looking at what you don't have to do..."What can I stop doing?"" (61).

LEVEL 4: CUTTING --Doing away with things

"Everything you do at Level 4 is based on the Pareto Principle--known as the 80:20 rule. From the Italian economist Pareto, we learn that 80 percent of the value in your productivity comes from 20 percent of your effort. So, it follows, you can cut out the other 80 percent and do more with less. Reset your focus...

"To accomplish this type of cutting, you first have to look for the 20 percent that is creating the higher yield. Taking Pareto to the next order, applying it twice, you can get extremely focused: 20 percent of the 20 percent (or 4 percent) accounts for 80 percent of the 80 percent (or 64 percent) of the value--the 64:4 rule. So, to really leverage yourself, refocus your efforts by concentrating on the 4 percent for a 16:1 return. Figure out where you 4 percent is and focus on it with a vengeance. Farm out the bottom 64 percent you do. Hire other people to do it--or just walk away from it. On a grand scale, it's just not that important. That leaves 32 percent in between--things that you probably need to keep doing, but not with as much effort.

"This is where classic "out-of-the-box" thinking starts..." (63).

"The negative side of Level 4 changes is that, typically, you have to give up something that was enjoyable or at least comfortable... Generally, Level 4 changes irritate people significantly.

"Another drawback.. is that the 80 percent you are not concentrating on will suffer if it's not delegated to the right hands. There's a challenge to figuring out how much effort needs to be given to that 80 percent that is cut out" (71).

LEVEL 5: COPYING --Doing things other people are doing

"You look over and notice something that someone else--a company, a group, a person--is doing. And you think, "Hey, I could do that!" Then you copy what they're doing--only you don't do it quite the same way. Not exactly. You adapt it to your unique style or situation.

"Noticing things is the fundamental thinking process behind Level 5 (Copying) changes.

"Essentially, all of the hard parts are done... Something that is being copied already works. It is a proven, fielded, operational concept... helps you leap past the first four levels of change" (75).

"... to copy thinking that differs in style or type from your own.. can be a significant stretch" (81).

"Keep your mind open... Roll what people say around in your mind; play with it. Don't bog down in thinking about whether or not you agree" (82).

"Transition to Level 6 [is] a big leap... At Level 6 (different), there is no one and nothing to copy... Level 6 is about breaking new ground, leaving new trails and footprints for others to follow and to copy... It's about leadership--creating forward motion into the unknown" (85).

LEVEL 6: DIFFERENT --Doing things no one else is doing

"The majority of change and change ideas (some 68 percent).. [Levels 1, 2, and 3] are smaller, more incremental changes... Level 4 and 5 changes typically make a bigger impact. Level 6 changes transform.

"Level 6 thinkers and doers are easy to recognize. They're habitual rule breakers. They have a lot of ideas, but many of the ideas are so far out there.. that it causes most people... to view them as nuts" (89).

"A great thought begins by seeing something differently, with a shift of the mind's eye" (Albert Einstein).

"We all tend to notice things in terms of categories that we have personally developed and have become comfortable with over time. These categories then function as lenses in terms of what we see and how we see" (92).

"FENG SHIT is the oriental art of placement. If you are stuck in a rut... move twenty-seven objects in your home that have not been moved in the last year. It will enhance your ability to move forward in life, to change" (93).

"Mindmapping is a great tool for understanding a problem and is especially powerful in exploring the issues, challenges, obstacles, goals, and objectives imbedded in a problem, especially when the interrelationships are unclear. Seventy-five to 85 percent of learning is visual, so when we need to communicate big, complex ideas, a visual tool like a Mindmap is very powerful" (97).

For more on Mindmaps, see the following sites: in German, but good illustrations
Mind Mapping: A Tool for Enhancing Thinking and Creativity
Learning Techniques - Mindmapping
Mindmapping in 8 Easy Steps article by Joyce Wycoff

"The drawbacks t Level 6 are myriad... It's generally much more difficult to sell ideas at this level just because they are so unfamiliar..." (105).

LEVEL 7: IMPOSSIBLE --Doing things that can't be done

"There is risk to Level 7... it atkese a leap of faith... Aside from fear.. other big catalysts for Level 7 change are humor, accidents, and mistakes.

"Think about some things that can't be done... Then think about what would have to change to be able to accomplish those things. That's how you move toward the impossible" (110).

"The single biggest mindshift you can make is total suspension of judgment. As soon as you say impossible, you are judging... To make this mindshift you have to be willing to play with ideas instead of rejecting or immediately embracing them... This is the edge of the envelope.

"You may have to generate fifty ideas to get one breakthrough... despiet the breakthrough, people will remember the weird ideas.. and how uncomfortable they were with them" (119).

"You're frequently shattering something a lot of people have believed in... The impact of change at this level is huge and has the potential of being unmanageable" (120).


"Change doesn't start with a new beginning. It starts when you let go of the way you used to do something" (123).

"OOTCHING" means shifting up increasingly steep slopes from level to level in small increments" (126).

"It's easier for most people to make those lower level changes more quickly. The higher you get, the more ootching may be required... Now all you need is an action plan to ootch you toward your vision" (127).


"..two-thirds of all people resist change. Further.. nearly half of all people will tend to strongly resist change... the challenge of rolling out change can be even more appreciated with this in mind... makes a good case for using a tool like the 7 Levels of Change to help people better understand and deal with change..." (137).

Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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