Leading Transformation - Book Review by Teresa Jurgens-Kowal

05 Aug 2019 7:54 PM | Annmarie Uliano (Administrator)

Leading Transformation by Nathan Furr, Kyle Nel, and Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy.
Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA (2018). 243 pages.
US$32.00 (hard cover).

As engineers and engineering managers, we are asked to create and implement a variety of changes. Some of these changes improve processes, making them run more efficiently and with higher yields. Other changes are introduced to generate more sales or enhanced customer relationships.

Of course, change is hard. If only we could reprogram people as easily as we reprogram computers. The new book, “Leading Transformation,” by Nathan Furr, Kyle Nel, and Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy provides guidance on how to create radical change within an organization. The book is based on neuroscience research and experiences of the authors that have led to positive change benefitting companies and consumers. The book is “about taking charge of your future” (pg. 19).

A Learning Model

The authors present a learning model for behavioral transformation (pg. 13) that starts with a strategic narrative. Once a future vision is in place, the change agent must break organizational bottlenecks, and then validate effectiveness of the change with key performance indicators (KPIs). These future KPIs refine the future strategic narrative and the transformational learning cycle repeats.

A key concept in transformation is introducing and accepting disruption. Most organizations end up generating new ideas or implementing change initiatives on very small scales. Risk aversion is a natural response to avoid failure or potential loss of revenue. Yet, taking calculated and scaled risks is what allows a company to create radical change.

Transforming Your Organization

Chapter 5 of “Leading Transformation” discusses how each of us can create transformational change.

  • Take the opportunity to explore
  • Lead from the bottom-up
  • Select team members with willingness to ideate, experiment, and fail
  • Accelerate your project with proper skills
  • Adopt uncommon partners
  • Create an engaging future narrative
  • Demonstrate results
  • Resist the resistors
  • Capitalize on supportive proponents
  • Work agilely

The Lowe’s Example

Throughout “Leading Transformation,” the authors weave their theory of transformational change with a story of disruption at Lowe’s, a home improvement retailer. Lowe’s held a secondary market position to competitors for years and growth by expansion was maximized. It needed transformational, radical change to grow.

To create a strategic narrative, the change management team gathered market trends and customer inputs. This information was then handed to science fiction writers. These industry outsiders, without the constraints of risks or budgets, generated several ideas to position Lowe’s as the retailer of the future.

This strategic narrative was summarized in a comic book for presentation to the executive board. Clearly, the change team was taking risks with such a radical change in presentation style and their initial efforts were met with doubt and more than a few raised eyebrows.

The authors argue that comic books are excellent presentation tools for transformative change. There is a complete story present with both winners and losers. The format is visual but easily consumed. Comic books allow complex and futuristic ideas to be presented in a condensed manner and demonstrate – graphically – a future vision (Chapter 2).

Once the senior executives of Lowe’s adopted the future vision (from the comic books), the team was faced with a challenge that all of us face when introducing change: resistance. Even with senior management, the organization resisted change. Again, most of us prefer stability and predictability over change.

So, the Lowe’s change management team started small, got buy-in, and demonstrated successes. One of the key ideas generated in the future vision was using AR (augmented reality) to help homeowners envision their home improvement projects. The Lowe’s team started with a few tests, using QR codes for consumers to scan and “see” a home improvement project on their phones. Later, they tested various AR and VR (virtual reality) systems with much of their experimentation ahead of Google and Microsoft.

The authors applied neuroscience studies on top of the hardware prototypes to get in-depth customer feedback. They learned, for instance, that people prefer AR over VR, and less realistic simulations. When the simulation is too real, it’s “creepy” for users.

Each small experiment led to organizational and technical knowledge to advance the transformation. Equally important was the generation of “future KPIs”. These measurements and artifacts demonstrated small wins. With each incremental development step, the team realized decreased resistance.

Lowe’s won several awards for implementing advanced technology and gained market share with its novel ideas. The unique approach to radical transformation over incremental product and service development catapulted the company to first in its category.


Leading change is always challenging. “Leading Transformation” gives several unique approaches, based on experience, to guide engineers and engineering managers in creating disruptive transformation. Though the Lowe’s example was highlighted, the authors give other industrial examples and case studies of successful change built on neuroscience. Finally, they present (Appendix C) a comic book summary of the whole book – putting into practice their own theories.

What resistance do you face in creating transformational organization change?

About the Author

Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, PE (State of Louisiana), CPEM, PMP®, NPDP, is a passionate lifelong learner. She enjoys helping individuals and companies improve their innovation programs and loves scrapbooking. You can learn more about Teresa and her new Innovation MasterMind group by connecting on LinkedIn or visiting her consulting business website: Global NP Solutions, LLC.

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